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Archive: Issue No. 36, August 2000

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ISSUE NO. 36 AUG 2000

Something to ask? A comment to make on ArtThrob? Email us at All queries answered by Paul Edmunds, Feedback Editor.

From: Neryl McCallum
Subject: wire art
Date received: August 26

I am doing some research for an essay on wire art and am particularly interested in the wire art in Southern Africa. I have been unable to find much information on why this art form began and why it has become so popular. Are you able to shed any light on this for me. I would greatly appreciate any information.

With kind regards
Neryl McCallum

I don't know too much myself but I do have some ideas on the subject from observations I have made. Firstly, wirework is fairly close to other kinds of basketry of which there is a rich tradition in South Africa. Unlike in other parts of the world, basketry is widely practiced by men in Africa. The same can be said about wirework. Secondly, there are purely economical reasons for the popularity of this craft. Wire is widely available, cheap and can be worked with relatively simple tools and resources. It is often employed with the same ingenuity as other waste materials are in developing economies all over the world. Wire products sell very well to both tourists and locals and provide thus an important source of revenue. Recently I gave some workshops in which I taught wirework and in my preparatory research I was surprised to find that there was a rich tradition of wirework in Eastern and Western Europe and also in America. More surprisingly, I found that many of the designs I see here today are fairly direct descendants of objects produced in the 19th Century in Hungary or France. So, I suspect that some years ago workshops were held here or a few artists had access to this material and it proved a source of inspiration for them. I do know that South African artist Walter Oltmann was doing some research on the subject. I don't have his address, but you will be able to get hold of him through Wits University where he works (

From: Elna
Subject: Karel Nel
Date received: August 14

Can you please help me? I am a matric pupil at Pietersburg High and have to do a project about Karel Nel for my art class which forms part of my year-end mark. I have no idea how to contact him or to get more information about him. There is nothing in our local library about him. I read an article about him on your website, but the information is still not enough. Can you please help me with his address or e-mail address.

Thank you very much,
Marli Engelbrecht
Tel: (015) 296-2305

Karel Nel teaches at Wits University. If you call them on (011) 339-6039 someone might be able to help you with his address or other contact details.

From: Wille Huyzers
Subject: Reviews of Willie Bester's Ox Wagon
Date received: August 7

Could you please tell me where I might find some reviews of the abovementioned work. Please help I need it for my matric.

Willem Huyzers

Willem, there was a cutting and controversial review by Lloyd Pollak in the Cape Times when the piece went on show at the SANG, followed up a refutation by director Marilyn Martin. Contact the newspaper to find out when you can visit their library, if you are in Cape Town. Or you could put "Willie Bester" into ArtThrob's search engine or trawl the archives of any of the national newspapers. The South African National Gallery library should have records of the reviews. Email them at You could also try calling the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg who may well be willing to help you.

From: Obed Siluma
Subject: More Information
Date received: 09 August 2000 17:32

Please send us more information on arts and culture festivals funding opportunities in Southern Africa.

Kind Regards

I can't speak for the whole of Southern Africa, but I suspect the story is similar throughout. In South Africa, the arts are sorely under-funded. What funding does come our way is either generous private sponsorship or somehow connected to one or other government body. The Department of Arts and Culture do fund projects as does the National Arts and Culture Trust. Business and Arts South Africa procures corporate sponsorship for suitable applicants. Any of these could be found on the Internet using a web search. Alternatively, many European countries, notably Holland and Sweden, have been funding South African projects. As for arts and culture festivals, of these we have many. The primary one, and a good place to start, is the Standard Bank National Arts Festival held in Grahamstown every year. Visit their website The Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, while primarily an annual Afrikaans language festival, is becoming ever more popular.

Although, the Foto Biennale in Rotterdam took place in April and the following piece was unsolicited by ArtThrob, appearing in subscribers list of the SA Photo Centre,, we have decided to run it because it throws up some interesting and contentious issues.

BIENNALE BLUES: Where Africa Doesn't Meet Europe by Paul Weinberg

This year the theme in Holland is 'Europe meets Africa'. It is an opportunity to find a common path between North and South and a possibility to celebrate the differences and commonness. The connections between Europe and Africa have long been there. This country and Holland are inextricably connected from the past although the latter prefers to regard itself as a very distant cousin.

The link between Holland and South Africa in photography is far more intimate. There is no other country that has been more supportive. During the anti-apartheid years Holland hosted and funded countless exhibitions and projects that facilitated photography in this country and, during the 80's, the support for collective exhibitions abroad provided a platform for documentary photographers. The 'Cultural and Resistance Exhibition', the CASA cultural event and the publication of a book, The Hidden Camera, were some more high-key events that were instrumental in focussing and shaping South African photography of the time. More recently, many South Africans were involved in an enormous project documenting and exploring our architecture funded by the Netherlands Architectural Institute in Rotterdam and culminating in an extensive exhibition there. (This exhibition is currently showing in Johannesburg- editor)

My relationship to Holland has been also linked to this interest in our photography, our people and our struggle. My mission there was a by-product of this connection - to finalize a design for a book. So it was with great interest and with a little spring in my walk I crossed the Rotterdam bridge en route to visit the Foto Biennale, hosted by the Netherlands Foto Institute. I was also very pleased to see that a curator from South Africa, Clive Kellner, was one of the six chosen from around the world to present a body of work. The theme was 'Photography and Engagement'.

The platform for this stage had been set by by Frits Gierstburg in his introduction to the accompanying catalogue, '[T]his compilation of very diverse work is intended to stimulate discussion of the social significance of photography'. And so I entered Kellner's 'Emotional Geographies', subtitled as 'Re - Imaging the Past in a Post- Apartheid and Post-Colonial Narrative'; a portrayal of South African photography. To my right I saw a bank of about 30 television screens snowing quietly and assumed that there was a technical fault. I entered Santu Mofokeng's Sad Landscapes. This body of work shows the universal icons of war - the concentration camps of Germany, the grave sites and the war memorials, images of Vietnam and finally a few landscapes of Anglo-Boer memorials. Walking further I entered Kendall Geers' installation consisting of a about two square metres of blown up reports of crime re-screened onto white paper. Through the gap I saw a large two by three metre image of a woman in a squatter home by Zwelethu Mthethwa. I walked around the side and the back to see if there was more; no there was only one work. I was just checking you know. A Durbanite in overkill city can get lost. I then returned to the bank of TV monitors and asked of the guides when they were to turn them on. They replied that the work was switched on. And so I treated myself to a minute of various colours of snow which I assumed was the exhibit of Fernando Alvim as I couldn't find a caption or title. Do you know where Sue Williamson's work is? I asked of the guides. They weren't sure. Past the snowy screens into a black room; 'Can't forget, can't remember' flashed on and on in various forms. Nearby I could hear Kwela music and through the swing doors I entered the selected Bailey's Drum collection with video clips from the 50's period. An eclectic collection of 50's images, some Drum cover blow-ups, Nelson Mandela boxing (the one you've seen a thousand times), a bit of politics a bit of dance in the shebeens. Some glamour girls too. The show was over - South African photography portrayed thus to the rest of the world.

Clive Kellner writes in the catalogue, 'Debates within South Africa may even challenge existing ideas about race, difference and identity politics as we understand them in post-colonial discourse prevalent today. Given the influence of Western culture in the rapidly evolving process of globalization, and renewed calls for an African renaissance, South Africa sits precariously poised, drawing on the best of both worlds; partly European and partly African, as problematic as this may be. South Africa's particular hybrid form suggests more compelling questions of identity and representation." This is ambitious stuff. But I'd like to start this debate by looking at the photography or lack of it on show in Rotterdam. Santu Mofokeng had four images from South Africa (landscapes of the Anglo-Boer War sites). Zwelethu Mthethwa showed one large image. That means that there were exactly 5 images from post 1950's South Africa to be seen.

Maybe I'm just a traditionalist and a boring old fart but I still regard photography as a craft: a print in a frame. Yes, a CD ROM, a slide or a video reproduction are all fine too. Maybe I missed the plot totally, but I cannot understand what Kendall Geers' installation of crime reports has to with photography. Neither Fernando Alvim's 30 screens of snow nor Sue Williamson's flashing CD ROM belong in a photographic Biennale. Surely in an art gallery. As a South African and photographer, for over 20 years, I had never heard of a photographer called Fernando Alvim. Geers and Williamson are artists. Sue Williamson is well known for, amongst other things, her excellent screen prints of the 80's where she focussed on South African women. This new body of work is about the flashing words of "can't remember, can't forget" on a screen. There might have been images but after 2 minutes I didn't wait to see - the work didn't sustain me.

Then the 50's again. From non-photography to replaying a South African over-traded classic. The 50's have been done to death. Not that they are not important or without value; I love those images of the period. But if it is the 50's you are going to play, play it right - I'm afraid this collection had some glaring holes. Jurgen Schadeburg, who must be credited for reinventing this period in his own way, is notably absent. So too are Eli Weinberg and Leon Levson. This was the limited edition and a poor, thrown-together selection at that, made successful only by the vibrant music that blasted through the film clips.

Santu's Mofokeng's Sad Landscapes, while an interesting diversion for him, are far from original. Photographing places of war and destruction is also a tired form. Sorry to say this to an old friend and colleague whose work I admire and appreciate greatly. Zwelethu Mthethwa is on a high. He has been picked up as a new South African and African visionary. He is currently exhibited throughout the world and so he should be. His work is interesting, colourful and a refreshing rendition of life on the inside of a Cape squatter settlement that can be portrayed in a very clich�d way. Well why just one photograph then; why don't we see a body of work?

In another part of the Biennale, Peter Mugabane's photographs of women from the 50's through to today are on display. Not new nor unseen but well-worn and very well exposed. I am not sure if Kellner was aware of this, but the overall impression of our photography is very loaded on the historical side, missing out the 80's and 90's altogether. Seen as a whole with the Bailey's archive, Santu's Sad Landscapes, the participation of artists and non-photographers, the overall picture is rather depressing really.

I'm not quite sure how this all adds up to Kellner's ambitions of South Africa being at the cutting edge of culture internationally. Comparatively, our presentation was very much below par. The levels at which photography is today are mind-boggling. Photojournalism and documentary are taken to a high art form and the standard of work is breathtaking. And to continue your debate further, Kellner, about being at the cutting edge, may I make some points. But before I do I want to say my response is not from a position of "hard cheese", because I have grown used to being left out of exhibitions and this is not a personal vendetta. Maybe it was serendipity that connected me with the Foto Biennale and I was pleased just to be one of a few South Africans to get there. I happen to be passionate about the subject and consider myself more than just a passing traveller.

I think a photographic exhibition should start with photographers. The next time you curate a South African photographic exhibition can you please make a concerted effort to look at our photographers across the country? You would have done well to start with the South African Centre for Photography which curated over 100 exhibitions last year in the Month of Photography, or the 'X-scapes' exhibition running alongside 'Shuttle 99'. Beyond that are some more committed and excellent photographers whose work does us proud. Some are not on the circuit and others continue to work away under difficult circumstances producing and crafting. I'd be happy to introduce you to them any day you wish.

The problem for me, however, goes beyond the shortfalls of this presentation of our work. We live in a country that suffers from very limited funding for the Arts. For photography in particular, there is hardly anything. And when funding does come, it comes from foreign sources. We also do not have a sustainable meeting point for photographers, either in the form of a national centre, national exhibition or a magazine. A system of grants, a national archive and body that promotes the production of creative photography are all long overdue. It is also very depressing how little co-operation and genuine collaboration there is around the country. Each little empire begins to re-invent the wheel, each looking for a gap to "make the big time '. Without funding we are vulnerable to opportunism and a new invention of African or South African photography often fitting into the 'quaint' or 'exotic' soundbite of a huge and fast-moving cultural train. And so we can easily become sluts in a new world of cultural survival - quenching the palate of the First World and not our own.

These opportunities, especially since they are so rare, offer great possibilities for all of us. It is disappointing when they are missed or lost. These were my thoughts when I crossed the Rotterdam bridge again. It was the day of the Rotterdam Marathon and a carnival festival prevailed. I got a quick glimpse of the leaders as they ran past. Black legs between the crowd; Africa was leading, I felt my heart surge again. If this is the year that Europe meets Africa let's make the exchange something really worthwhile. Let Africa meet Europe in a way that tells our story with integrity and pride. Suddenly an expression came to me, as I walked the bridge - 'clever'. A 'clever' in tsotsitaal is someone who pretends to be smart but whose cleverness backfires. To be 'clever' in tsotsitaal is to be a poser. Please let's not be 'clevers' but ourselves. I'm not sure if the Europeans want 'clevers'. Before we start claiming to change the world of culture let's eat a bit of humble pie and celebrate who we are. This canvas we are stretching is as wide as Africa and Europe at the same time. Our photographic genre doesn't need fashionable dressing up, it already exists - it is somewhere between Goldblatt and the street photographer culture of the townships. But before Europe meets Africa in photography maybe South Africa needs to meet South Africa.

Paul Weinberg is a Durban based photographer who has exhibited widely both locally and internationally

From: sean slemon
Subject: Uncontactable gallery
Received: July 27

Hi there

Several weeks ago I wrote a letter to your feedback section. I am doing so again because the gallery owners who owe myself and others money are at present uncontactable. Their phone numbers no longer work and they do not reply to their emails. In my first letter I chose not to mention their names as I felt they had a right to their privacy in this situation. Since then my opinion has changed and I feel that since they are not dealing with their responsibility and have done nothing which they promised, they should be publicly exposed for three reasons. One: that other artists steer well clear of these people. Two: as far as I am aware I am not the only person owed money for art already sold. There are supposedly nine or ten others who gave their art on consignment. This art was then sold and we were told at a much later stage that they did not have the funds to pay us for our art. This indicates a practice of reckless trading on their part and they should be prosecuted for this. Three: I would like to appeal to any other artists who submitted artwork to the ArtSupermart Gallery on Bree Street in Cape Town who have not yet been paid for their work, or who have even not had their work returned to contact me, as it would be better to work as a group. The ex-gallery owners names are Michael Willemse and Grant Griffiths. They claim to have run into financial problems at about November 1999 and the gallery closed down at about March this year. They have split as partners as well and have divided the debt between them, each being accountable for only half of the money owed. This means that they both need to be contacted. I was promised contracts of payment by both, but neither followed through. I know that I am not the only artist who has been cheated out of his money, but the point is that this should not be able to happen. These kind of situations occur because the owners are answerable to no one but the artists who represent only themselves and are often, in the situation of this gallery, very new to the artworld. As a result people are taken advantage of. I intend to take the above mentioned to small claims court if they do not pay me money owed and I feel that if all the artists who are owed money, work as a group then we can ensure that we receive our money. It is too often that people let issues like this slide and it needs to be dealt with urgently.

I ask artists who are owed money by Griffiths and Willemse to please email me and let me know. If anyone is in contact with Griffiths and Willemse would they please mail me and pass on the relevant details so that I may contact them myself.

Thank You
Sean Slemon
Ph: (021) 4487548