Archive: Issue No. 73, September 2003

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Bester to receive prestigious award

Willie Bester will become the first black artist to receive an Honorary Award for the Visual Arts from the South African Academy for Science and Art, on October 2. The bestowment of the award sees Bester join an elite group of South African artists, influential figures such as Pierneef, Anton van Wouw, Maggie Laubser, Irma Stern, Cecil Skotnes and Eduardo Villa, all of whom previously received the honour.

Bester, born in 1956, was raised and educated in Montagu. He earned his living as a dental technician's assistant and had no formal art training. In 1986 he studied for one year at Cape Town's influential Community Arts Project (CAP) where he was introduced to the idea that art was not simply decorative, but could in fact be vested with profoundly political messages.

This of course reflects much of the era. CAP's ideology was greatly shaped by the thinking of the Medu Art Ensemble, an exiled group of artists and cultural workers based in neighbouring Botswana. The Medu collective designed political posters for distribution inside South Africa, and also promoted silk-screening as a cheap communications technique. In July 1982, Medu hosted a Culture and Resistance Festival, the event attracting 5000 interested individuals. It is widely credited with championing protest art.

Bester first exhibited in 1989. Since then he has participated on the Venice Biennale (1993), the Havana Biennale (1993) and the Dakar Biennale (1998), as well as in the Africa '95 Festival, London, and in 'Dialogues of Peace' (a Geneva exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995). He is widely represented in both local and international collections. He held a retrospective of his work earlier this year in Stellenbosch.