Archive: Issue No. 28, December 1999

Go to the current edition for SA art News, Reviews & Listings.
<IMG SRC="pics/header02.gif" WIDTH=65 HEIGHT=69 BORDER=0>



The stage at 'Vlam'


A lantern - a cow, perhaps - burns


A cast of 400 plus any number of fantastical creatures made of bamboo and paper that first glowed like lanterns and eventually - except for a gigantic and elegant praying mantis - were set alight made for a dramatically fiery - and often beautiful - evening's entertainment in District Six on Thursday, December 16th. Viewers perched perilously on the grassy bank above the outdoor rugby field sized stage area. This was "Vlam", a mingling of legends and stories, including the one about Nonqawuse, the young Xhosa woman whose dreams of victory over the British led to the mass killing of the cattle of the tribe.

Behind us, a woman complained loudly (and justifiably) the whole time that she didn't know what was going on. There was no explanation of the action from the stage, just a constant shifting of the patterns of the huge cast, live music, and the appearance of yet another gigantic lantern. Performance artist Lockie McDonald of Western Australia in conjunction with theatre person Mark Fleischman of Cape Town were the main organisers, and the idea was to involve as many performers as possible, and to give Cape Town a visual treat for the millennium. On those grounds, it was a success.

William Kentridge

William Kentridge with one of his works

William Kentridge

William Kentridge

Helen Sebidi

Helen Sebidi
Mother Africa 1988
Pastel and collage on paper
162 x 128 cm

Jane Alexander

Jane Alexander
Bom Boy with Workers and Traffic 1999
Black and white photograph
285 x 400 mm

Mustafa Maluka

Mustafa Maluka
Central Cape Town apartment 1999
Digital print
570 x 840 mm

Art Books for Christmas
by Sue Williamson

William Kentridge
Essays by Dan Cameron, Carolyn Christov- Bakargiev, J.M. Coetzee.
Phaidon Contemporary Artists Series
160 p, full colour throughout, paperback, 29 x 25 cm
ISBN 0-7148-3829-2
R265. from Clarkes Bookshop, Cape Town, the AVA Gallery, Cape Town and the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg. Also at good bookstores.

It is said that young British artists today are more interested in being included in the Phaidon Contemporary Artists series on international artists of the late twentieth century than in winning the Turner Prize. With more than 20 now in the series, the new volume on William Kentridge is the second to focus on a South African artist, if we allow ourselves to still lay claim to Marlene Dumas, now permanently a resident of Holland.

In size and format, the Phaidon William Kentridge bears a strong resemblance to the catalogue prepared for Kentridge's exhibition by the Societe des Expositions des Beaux Arts de Bruxelles last year, reviewed for our art books feature last Christmas. This was edited by Carolyn Christov- Bakargiev, who in the Phaidon book, conducts a long and illuminating interview with the artist. Inevitably, much of the material is duplicated, but a long essay by Dan Cameron of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York on the video works of Kentridge, and another by writer J.M. Coetzee on the same subject but written from a different and lyrical angle give the Phaidon volume the edge.

Once again, one is stunned by the sheer volume of masterly drawings produced by Kentridge over the years, and by the erudition and honesty displayed by the artist in discussing his own work against the background of his life and upbringing in South Africa. Highly recommended as a gift not only to those interested in art, but to just about everybody.

Reading the Contemporary: African Art from Theory to the Marketplace
Edited by Olu Oguibe and Okwui Enwezor
432pp, c60 images, paperback, 236 x 182 mm
ISBN 1 899846 21 2
�20.00 + P&P from inIVA
$35.00 MIT Press
On order at Clarke's Bookshop +/-R300

Published by the Institute of International Visual Arts (inIVA) in 1999, this anthology brings together twenty-two essays in which key critical thinkers, scholars and artists explore a wide range of subjects including African art, cinema and photography. They lay out theoretical and critical frameworks for engaging with these practices, locating them within the context of current debate and the continent's peculiar history. Reading the Contemporary provides an invaluable context for viewing African visual art and culture.

Contributors include: Kwame Anthony Appiah, Okwui Enwezor, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Salah Hassan, David Koloane, Kobena Mercer, V. Y. Mudimbe, Laura Mulvey, Everlyn Nicodemus, Olu Oguibe, Colin Richards, Margo Timm and Octavio Zaya. With a photograph of a Yinka Shonibare piece from his Diary of a Victorian Dandy on the cover, the book is illustrated in full colour throughout.

Full review to follow in an upcoming issue of ArtThrob

Staking Claims: Confronting Cape Town
Exhibition catalogue, curator: Emma Bedford
Published by the South African National Gallery
31 p, full colour throughout, 15 x 20 cm
ISBN 1-874817-25-1

R25,00 in the National Gallery Shop or by order at
R30,00 (UKpounds5, US$10) including packing and postage, from
The Library
SA National Gallery
Box 2420
Cape Town 8000
South Africa

Staking Claims: Confronting Cape Town was the title of an exhibition curated by Emma Bedford as part of the Cape Town One City Festival in September this year and reviewed in ArtThrob at the time. Fifteen artists reflect on this theme in The Granary, a historic building recently reclaimed in the name of culture, thus a venue that was particularly appropriate for the theme.

Cape Town, for all its beauty, is a divided city struggling to provide an equitable way of life for all of its citizens and cultures. The unpeopled area near the centre of the city which once housed District Six remains a silent testament to the ferocity of the Group Areas Act which in the seventies forcibly removed people from their homes in the centre to the outer dusty margins of the city.

The reclamation of physical and emotional space by those whose rights were once denied is at the heart of the work on this show. Mustafa Maluka carries a camera around the city, holding it at arms length to place himself firmly in the forefront of spaces ranging from an upmarket apartment to a squatter camp. Peet Pienaar subverts the macho rugby ethic subscribed to by much of the white male population of the country by tying little bows on to rugby souvenirs. Zwelethu Mthethwa celebrates a new freedom for black males to pay attention to their personal appearance with his wooden dressing table installation, Vanity at Frankie's, Frankie's being a township barber shop. Jane Alexander situates her masked street children sculptures in environments around Cape Town, photographing them, and thus giving them a life beyond the gallery. To mention a few.

A full list of artists represented in the catalogue are: Jane Alexander, Lueen Conning Ndlovu, Dorothee Kreutzveldt, Peet Pienaar, Berni Searle, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Gregg Smith, Randolph Hartzenberg. Mustafa Maluka, Willie Bester, and, from the Philani Flagship Screenprinting project, Jane Solomon, Nombongo Nobhoza, Tonono Nomqolo, Ncediswa Mautlana and Noluvuyo Gaza.

The exhibition was particularly coherent, with outstanding work by a number of artists, and the small catalogue, although modest in scale, does a fine job of showing the work and providing the context in which it was made.

Strijdom van der Merwe

Strijdom van der Merwe

Land artist does Boer War project

Considering the impact of the Anglo-Boer War on the history of this country, very little has been done by artists to commemorate the centenary of its outbreak in 1889. An exception is a project executed by Western Cape land artist Strijdom van der Merwe at the request of the descendents of the President of the Orange Free State at the time, President Steyn.

The fourth generation of Steyns are now living on the farm Onze Rust, and asked the curator of the Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery of the University of the Free State, Jean Joubert, to recommend an artist to do an art work for the centenary celebrations on the farm . Van der Merwe's proposal, which was to include the local community, was that a series of balls be made, each 1.5m high, that would show some aspect of the war. The balls were made by two schools, art students, art teachers and two artists from Bloemfontein, and on October 7, all the pieces were brought to the farm, where Van der Merwe helped instal them, then completed the project by symbolically burning the grass around them.

The work was on view until October 10.

Stephan Balkenhol

A view of the Museum Africa at the time of the first Johannesburg Biennale
with the Balkenhol sculptures in place on the twin domes

Stephan Balkenhol

Stephan Balkenhol
The Global Couple (detail)
painted cedar wood

Stephan Balkenhol

Stephan Balkenhol
The Global Couple (detail)
painted cedar wood

ArtThrob Inquiry: What has happened to Stephan Balkenhol's Global Couple?
by Kathryn Smith

Until about eighteen months ago, driving south along Johannesburg's M1 highway was the best perspective one could get of internationally acclaimed Stephan Balkenhol's Global Couple, Germany's official contribution to the 1995 Johannesburg Biennale. Driving north one day with the southbound section bearing low over my head, I suddenly noticed the massive painted wooden sculptures of a black man and a white woman had disappeared, and the mapped domes atop the MuseuMAfricA on which they had stood had been painted over. Asking around, few other people seemed to have noticed. They had become so accustomed to seeing the pair presiding over the Newtown Cultural Precinct, that the general assumption was that the sculptures were still there. So where was the errant couple? If they were indeed a present to the nation, what had happened to that present?

ArtThrob's inquiries, made with the help of Kathy Brookes, curator of MuseuMAfricA's photographic archive, reveal this chronology of events:

In 1994, Stephan Balkenhol was selected by the German curator, Professor Klaus Gallwitz as the artist most suitable to represent the Federal Republic of Germany. Balkenhol then came across the big blue and decided that the domes on top of the MuseuMAfricA would be ideal. Balkenhol is well-known for carved wooden figures installed site-specifically in various 'high risk' areas. Spectators often react with panic, calling the police to rescue the supposed 'suicide victim'. Balkenhol saw the domes as representing the two hemispheres of the earth, with the oceans and continents differentiated by blue and yellow, subsequently painted by Sowetan artist Viktor Makhubalo. According to the Biennale catalogue: "It is his globe on which the couple stands." The figures were designed as a process piece: made from cedar wood, which has a finite life span, and painted, they were ephemeral and intended to weather. The domes on which they stand were conceptually relevant in terms of this 'vulnerability' because of their curved surface, one that difficult to balance on.

The Global Couple was presented to then-President Nelson Mandela in September 1995 by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. According to most reports, these works were a gift to the nation on the occasion of the first-ever Africus Johannesburg Biennale. The Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany and the National Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology were responsible for the financial administration of the installation and subsequent maintenance of the works on site. However, signs of deterioration became apparent at the beginning of 1998 and according to the MuseuMAfricA's records, it was decided they should be removed as they were a "danger to the public". It is minuted that on March 23, 1998, a cheque was on its way from DACST for their removal and by April 20, they had vanished with no publicity, and no announcement to the public at large. This lack of information about an important artwork that was apparently the property of every South African seems extremely high handed.

While this was going on, DACST was busy appointing someone to administer the Presidential Gifts (now the Mandela Gifts collection), a collection which had grown quite large. The collection was to include the Global Couple, another strange fact. Although these were presented to Mandela, it had been my understanding that he accepted them on behalf of the nation. Anyway, while waiting for the Mandela Museum in Umtata, designated to house the gift collection, to be completed, the figures would be temporarily stored in MuseuMAfricA, under the administration of DACST and Gordon Metz.

At this point I had more than a couple of questions. Firstly, was the artist consulted before his work was removed, or was it originally agreed contractually that should they eventually pose a safety threat, they would be removed at MuseuMAfricA's discretion? According to museum records, Mr Walter Hassmann of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany did consult Balkenhol and he agreed on the condition that the pieces were putting passers-by at risk. Secondly, was Victor Makhubalo consulted before the domes were painted over, or was it understood that the piece worked as a whole and each element would be meaningless without the other? According to Hilary Bruce of MuseuMAfricA, the piece was conceived as a holistic concept, domes and all. Furthermore, the museum required that should the sculptures be removed, the domes would be restored to their original condition and as such, the needs of the artist and museum were not conflicting. So that seems pretty cut and dried. But when I asked to photograph the figures in their now-deteriorated state, staff at MuseuMAfricA claimed to not know their location as they had apparently been moved by DACST en route to Umtata. It was suggested I call Metz, which I did, eventually tracking him down in Australia. He informed me that the sculptures were still in storage at the museum but he could not give me permission to photograph them. Neither could the museum as they were no longer their jurisdiction. So I had to settled for blurry shots from the archive to illustrate this piece.

This vagueness about the whereabouts of important public art smacks of negligence. The Balkenhol figures were a conceptually considered, accessible installation that marked what should have been the beginning of a crucial cultural awareness strategy in Johannesburg. If the pair were no longer safe on their perches, surely there should have been some public consultation and discussion about where they might best be re-sited. For important artwork that was apparently public property to disappear in a murky sea of bureaucracy and misinformation is totally unacceptable. I have since faxed Walter Hassmann of the German Embassy, requesting his comments on the above mentioned concerns. He has not yet responded but Artthrob will run updates as and if they arise.

Information contained in this story was collected piecemeal from a variety of different sources. Any errors contained herein are entirely unintentional and Artthrob appreciates the help of any readers who would like to comment.

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan

Terry Kurgan
Maternal Exposures (1999)
Digital prints, fluorescent lighting
Installation view (detail)

Terry Kurgan: 'Maternal Exposures'
By Sue Williamson

On November 24, at an opening in which tea was served from a steel hospital trolley, Terry Kurgan's installation 'Maternal Exposures' was launched at the Mowbray Maternity Home in Cape Town. A once-dim and dreary passage lined with benches for expectant and new mothers awaiting hospital appointments became the site for an invigorating and heartwarming wall of photographs and text, lit from behind by fluorescent lights. Architect Nina Cohen and designer Jill Sandler were Kurgan's collaborators in designing the installation. The text is in three languages, and reflects the thoughts of women on impending or new motherhood, with all its joys and twisting uncertainties. The women in the piece share their happiness, but also their worries, and there is no doubt that women waiting to be called in for an appointment will take heart and courage from the thoughts expressed. The hospital staff, there in force for the opening, were clearly delighted with the new installation, and expressed the hope that more art initiatives might lie ahead in the future.

The text was originally recorded and the photos taken by Kurgan at the Mowbray Maternity Home in 1997, to be used as an installation on the show Kurgan co-curated called 'Bringing Up Baby', which opened at the Grahamstown Festival, then toured nationally. The question Kurgan was considering at the time was, 'Why is the subject of giving birth and bringing up children practically verboten in the artworld, as if it's too sentimental and thus not worthy of serious engagement?' The exhibition, involving a number of artists, addressed this question, and was an art highlight of the year. In bringing the photographs 'home' to the Mowbray in an elegant and functional installation, Kurgan has completed the circle, and successfully linked art with life.

Clive Hardwick

A black and white photograph by Clive Hardwick
On show at Red Eye Friday 3 Dec.

Red Eye @rt

Red Eye @rt - Durban's hip multi-media event is being held at the Durban Art Gallery on Friday 3rd December from 6-8 p.m. This month's event has a Human Rights theme to launch the exhibition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Print Portfolio which will be introduced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Red Eye @rt will feature the Clermont Community Group with Zulu dancing, Maskanda music and demos of traditional beadwork. Butternut will be playing and gospel singers will herald in the Festive Season. A fashion installation creating awareness for the Drive Alive campaign will greet guests at the door in a dramatic spectacle. Visual arts feared will be "Hello Kitty", a sardonic look a this media exploitation by Joanne Swimmer, child abuse awareness prints and photos by Gabisile Nkosi. Lloyd Edy will be exhibiting an photo documentary exhibition called "Nameless" highlighting the plight of street life and "Blameless" showing the psychological effects of child abuse.

Be at the last Red Eye of the century. All welcome.

Heavenly Bodies

Heavenly Bodies

Heavenly Bodies

Cape Town's collective memory that it's the MCQP art party time again is always jogged by the awe inspiring sight of organiser Andre Vorster striding down Long Street in platform boots , pink (or purple) Marge Simpson wig, dark glasses and a few s&m trimmings in between. This year, the party moves to the Nico Malan, (now renamed the Artscape), and none too soon - those tents at the River Club were getting decidedly tacky. The smart new venue should whoompf proceedings up to the levels of euphoria experienced in earlier years. The theme is Heavenly Bodies - and costume is compulsory. So are teams - smallest team allowed is two. So star in your own movie, enjoy the music, the bodies, the d�cor, the ambience - Saturday, December 4 at the Artscape.




listings | reviews | news | exchange | feedback | websites | archive | artbio | project | search | home