A tribute to 2004
by Kresta Tyler Johnson
As the year draws to an end, it is a poignant moment to reflect. This year has been pivotal for South Africa, with a decade of democracy being celebrated and freedom continuing to prevail and penetrate everyday life. Culture and the arts are making astounding leaps and bounds as they establish more firmly South Africa's place in the global art scene.
The following are some of the highlights from news of the past year and a reminder of where South Africa is and where it is going.
Galleries and commercial spaces continued to spring forth, and survive, such as Mojamodern and Gallery@157 both in Johannesburg. These galleries are defining themselves in a difficult environment and proving that a stable art audience does exist.
Major exhibitions were mounted in established venues, all over the world. 'A Decade of Democracy' took place at the South African National Gallery and 'Democracy X' at the Castle of Good Hope, while New Yorkers were treated to 'Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art' at the Museum for African Art and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
'Mine(d)Fields' fostered co-operation between South African and Swiss contributors, and opened fields of debate in both countries regarding international relations, social and cultural development. The Dutch town of Tilburg hosted South African artists Nicholas Hlobo, Willem Boshoff and Doreen Southwood in a residency contest for the creation of a public art work that will be permanently installed there. Southwood won for her proposal sindroom, which will be realised in 2005.
'Artiade' an exhibition of international artists at the Olympics showcased the work of Lambert Moraloki, Brigitte Hertell and Paul du Toit, while intriguing exhibitions were mounted locally during the South African - German cultural weeks. Artists Kim Lieberman and Robin Rhode were given solo exhibitions at separate galleries in Chelsea, New York.
Clive Kellner settled in as Director of JAG and a sense of calm seems to have been restored with less of a focus on changes in staff and more on the exhibitions and events of the Gallery.
Festivals and competitions abounded and broke records. The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown had attendance numbers of more than 130 000 and media representatives from the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, China and Holland were present - highlighting the attention being given to South African arts on an international scale.
The Brett Kebble Art Award finalists' exhibition, for all its hype and mixed emotions, had astounding numbers of visitors and saw an unprecedented amount of money awarded to the not one, but two winners. The selected finalists included a significant quota of craft workers. This allowed unique juxtapositions, such as that of a formally trained, urban painter with a rural, self-taught wood carver.
The reigns of the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award were handed from Kathryn Smith to Wim Botha. Sean O'Toole left as editor of ArtThrob to become editor of Art South Africa as Sophie Perryer moved on to other endeavours including editing the monumental publication 10 years 100 artists published in October.
International awards were bestowed upon the young artist Thando Mama at the Dakar Biennale, and the Rencontres d'Arles Book Award was presented to David Goldblatt for his book Particulars.
Renewed vigour was directed towards publications on South African arts and artists. Catalogues, monographs and books were published en force this past year. A TAXI monograph on Deborah Bell was completed, while art historian and professor Brenda Schmahmann had her authoritative work, Though the Looking Glass: Representations of Self by South African Women Artists published.
Forums were established to encourage and broaden dialogues and discussions for photographers, writers, collectors and artists at PhotoZA and Gallery Momo.
Aspiring South African artists were recognised in international competitions. Thirteen year old, Kgalalelo Gaitate won the Visa International competition and had a work exhibited at the Olympics in Athens. Two pupils from Kwazulu-Natal will have their work exhibited at the Tate Modern in London as part of the Unilever International Schools Art Project.
The Diaspora returned to be inspired, create and share with their native country. Paul Stopforth undertook a residency on Robben Island and subsequently created new prints at The Artists' Press with Mark Atwood. Candice Brietz, while visiting, presented a lecture at her alma mater Wits University.
All of these events, awards, festivals and celebrations attest to the virility of the arts in South Africa and the impact they are having on the international community. This past year was less significant for marking a decade than for simply allowing important occasions to occur with added media attention. There are many areas which still require attention, from the economy and unemployment to land reform, housing and the government bodies that dictate cultural funding.
It is comforting that as South Africa continues to develop and establish itself there is a confidence in its arts and an increasing attention and monetary funding directed towards it. Artists are transgressing previous boundaries and addressing new issues.
If one thing can be garnered from reflecting on the past year it is that anything is possible and much is still ahead. While many difficulties and problems will inevitably be part of the growing pains, South Africa is in a strong position and we should allow ourselves a moment to reflect on that, take a deep breath and prepare to forge ahead in 2005 to achieve all that is deserved.