Installation view in the upper
gallery at the Albany Museum

Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi

In this detail of a screen
by Willem Boshoff, the artist
demonstrates his concern for
language. Phrases used by
demonstrators in the early 1990s
were carefully recorded by the
artist and used for this piece

'Emergence' at the Albany Museum

Problem: you are the curator of an exhibition of a major overview of 25 years of a country's art history - but the hanging space available to you is far too small for all the work you wish to include. Do you a) edit the work so that what is left looks good in the space, planning to exhibit everything only when the show moves to another town with a bigger venue, or b) jam it all in anyway on the basis that it is important for visitors to this venue to see all of the work you have chosen?

In hanging 'Emergence' in the parts of the Albany History Museum which are not taken up by the permanent collection, the Society of Miniaturists, the quilters, the Artists in Residence and an exhibition of photographs by Jenö Gindl, curators Julia Charlton and Fiona Rankin Smith have chosen the latter path. With work by 150 artists to be accommodated, seven large works have had to be shoe-horned into the small space at the bottom of the stairwell. Upstairs, there are works on one side of a screen with not a single spotlight, making Paul Stopforth's subtle black drawings of damaged bones (Biko I and Biko II) impossible to see, and there are back- to-back video monitors compelling viewers to listen to Steven Cohen's monotone description of his performance pieces while watching William Kentridge's animations.

Notwithstanding the considerable handicap overcrowding places upon the work, one does get the impression that the selection represents an accurate summary of the most important artistic production of the past quarter century. And the curators have gone to enormous lengths to try and impose a vision and an order on a very diverse selection. A year by year timeline starting in 1975 printed on a wide strip of paper accompanies viewers at eye level up the stairs and round sections of the exhibition, listing major world news and popular cultural history events, and situating these alongside South African news and art milestones. Added to this, the curators have divided the work into seven main themes such as "Politics, ideas and the emergency of contemporary South African art", "Identity and the artist", and "Mind mapping" (conceptual art). Key works representing each of these themes have been surrounded by linked works, and hanging banners develop the thinking behind these themes. Additional text on the walls discusses particular pieces. Where a seminal piece has not been available for exhibition - like Jane Alexander's Butcher Boys - it has been represented by a photograph of the piece.

It was good to once again make the acquaintance of pieces like Malcolm Payne's Colour Test, a 1974 screenprint of a blow up of the artist's identity card, in which Payne substituted an optician's colour test for his own photograph; the late Nelson Makhuba's wonderfully elegant wooden carving Dancing Couple; and Penny Siopis's video on the history of her family's emigration to Africa, My Lovely Day, to name a very few of the highlights.

But it is time the organisers of the Grahamstown Festival took the visual arts more seriously. One major contemporary art show per festival should be mandatory. But the curators need to be provided with the space in which to set up such a show.

In the meantime, one way to view 'Emergence' is to visit the informative website at Or you could wait until the show moves to the King George VI Gallery in Port Elizabeth.



A scene from Kentridge's
collaborative opera, Il Ritorno
d'Ulisse, the production which
provided the starting point for
Ulisse: ECHO scan/slide bottle

William Kentridge at the Monument

"We have an uneasy relationship to our bodies. John Updike refers to us as 'the herders of our bodies, which are beasts as dumb and bald and repugnant as cattle'. We prod them along, hoping they will not suddenly go off on their own, leap a fence, wander onto the highway."

This quote is by William Kentridge, and the vulnerability of human flesh, and its indebtedness to chance and time, is the theme of Ulisse: ECHO scan/slide/bottle. The three-screen projection is in the Theatre in the Round at the Monument Theatre, in that darkened, hidden space below the main stage. In a previous incarnation at the Vita Awards show at the Sandton Civic Gallery, it was possible to see all three screens at once. Here, the pumping medical bottle, the windscreen-shaped wedge with its shifting landscapes, and the photographed surgical close-ups interspersed with medical drawings which flower into trees and mutate into landscapes are on three sides of the circular room. A bony ribcage dissolves into a block of flats, and the ribs become balconies which begin to collapse when the building implodes one is captivated yet again. A wholly successful venue.



Gerard Sekoto
Manuel's Cousin 1944
Pencil drawing

Gerard Sekoto at the Observatory Museum

Another highlight: one of South Africa's most famous pioneer artists, Gerard Sekoto, will be represented by a selection of drawings, sketches and works in colour which have recently been returned from France, the country of Sekoto's exile years, and will be seen for the first time in this country. Joe Dolby and Alan Crump curated this one.



'Treasures' at the Monument Gallery

The Standard Bank has one of the finest collections of African art on the continent, and a handsome selection of these holdings will be on view at the Monument Gallery, the space where in the past one has viewed the Young Artist Award winner.


Deborah Bell
Gods of War 1998

Artists in residence

Four artists will be setting up temporary studios in the Albany History Museum, and visitors will be free to watch the artists at work, and engage them in discussion. From Zimbabwe, there is 30-year-old sculptor Dominic Benhura; from Namibia, watercolourist Joseph Madisia; from Durban, painter and printmaker Bronwen Findlay; and from Johannesburg mixed-media artist Deborah Bell.


Carine Terblanche
Die Kapie
Brooch: silver, image

'Low Lustre - High Art: Goldsmithing Today'

Preview pictures of this show on ArtThrob last month have already drawn an enthusiastic response from Germany (see Feedback). 'Low Lustre - High Art' combines wit, traditional techniques, fine materials and found objects in a display of the art jewellery of 34 goldsmiths and jewellery designers, mainly from the Cape. The venue is the Ntsikana Gallery in the Monument.


Viewers at the opening
of 'Truth Games' at the
Dakawa Art Centre

Sue Williamson at Dakawa Art Centre

By Annette Loubser

The exhibition of Sue Williamson's 'Truth Games' at the Dakawa Art and Craft Community Centre galleries is an important point of departure for contemporary art, especially in the Eastern Cape. Dakawa is now providing a critical and alternative space for pertinent issues that concern the majority of South Africans. This exhibition, which is partly an installation and partly an interactive experience, is allowing for a wider discourse to take place about issues concerning common identities, histories and finding pathways to the future in the light of recent enunciations of an African renaissance.

The exhibition extends beyond the festival, and will run until the end of July.



Anton Brink
The Unseen Universe

Anton Brink at Fort Selwyn

'The Unseen Universe', a site-specific installation/exhibition by Anton Brink, is located at Fort Selwyn, a crumbling 19th century British fort situated on top of Gunfire Hill, next to the 1820 Settlers Monument.

In collaboration with the exhibition, Thomas Nowotny and Angela Noelle will present The Floor of Stone and Mud, a dramatic lyric in music and dance, with dancers Jane Burt, Athina Copteros and Alex Johnson every day at times to be announced.




Tony Swift at the Carinus Art Centre

Eastern Cape abstract realist painter Tony Swift is showing an extended selection of his work over the years at the Painting Studio in the Carinus Art Centre. The show will be on view from 8 midnight throughout the festival.



Ben Kane Kwei Sowah, seen
with one of his eagle coffins

The coffin maker of Ghana

Although the extraordinary coffins of Ben Kane Kwei Sowah have been exhibited on major international exhibitions, the artist's current stint on the festival is the first time he has set up a workshop outside Ghana. In his temporary quarters at the St Andrews Design and Technology Centre in Grahamstown, Sowah, who learned his craft from his father, Kane Kwei, is engaged in the first stages of making a coffin in the shape of an onion. Coffins are ordered by prospective buyers to reflect a life interest - a giant pink fish for a fisherman, an eagle often used for a chief, a cow for a farmer. Coffins, small models, and a complete catalogue are on view. A must on the festival circuit.



Pinhole photograph taken at
the 'End of Time' workshop


Pinhole photographs at the Ibis Art Centre

The charming home of the Owl House is becoming a traditional stop for festival goers on their way to or from Grahamstown, and this year visitors can call in at the Ibis Art Centre and view the results of a pinhole photography workshop held in Nieu Bethesda early this year as part of Jo Ractliffe's 'End of Time' project. The workshop was conducted for the youth of the Nieu Bethesda area by Ractliffe and Jean Brundrit. Collaborators in the project are the Market Theatre Galleries and the EU CWCI Fund. A project catalogue, which includes a "how to" section on pinhole photography, will be available at the exhibition. Until July 28.

For more info e-mail Mark Wilby at or phone (04923) 642. 'End of Time' website:



Bom boys 1997/8
Fibreglass, oil paint, clothing
Installation detail

Racework: in the event
of an earthquake
Fibreglass, synthetic clay, oil
paint, clothing, found objects
Installation detail

Harbinger with Street Cadets:
wish walk Long Loop

Fibreglass, oil paint,
clothing, found objects
Installation detail

Harvester 1997/8
Plaster, oil paint, found objects
Installation detail


Jane Alexander at the Irma Stern

Review by Paul Edmunds

Visitors to the National Gallery consistently name Jane Alexander's Butcher Boys as one of their favourite works in the collection. It is firmly ensconced in the cultural consciousness of many of us, especially those of us who watched South African art during the "total onslaught" years. This horrific tableau rang true in its brutality and the pure visceral nature of its assault. Subsequent to that, Alexander is known mostly for the work she produced for the Standard Bank Young Artist Award show at the 1995 Grahamstown festival, which later toured major centres.

It is inevitable that work the artist has produced since is measured up against this earlier work, which is widely regarded as some of the most powerful ever made in this country. Some might argue that brutality, horror and viscerality are easy tools with which to manipulate an audience - it is fairly safe to predict their reaction to such devices - and it is in this sense that I believe this latest body of work to be more ambitious and successful than those previously produced. 'Bom Boys and Lucky Girls' straddles an ambiguity which somehow seems to speak more strongly of the human condition and spirit than the simple representation of its evil and brutal aspects.

Alexander continues in her realistic figurative mode, her figures vacillating awkwardly between life- and doll-size. The Bom Boys are the height of a four or five-year-old child but seem to have the anatomy of someone a little older, although even this much is hard to be sure about. They are grouped in a tableau of nine human-like figures and one monkey/dog hybrid that stalks with trickery and power among them. He is entitled Harbinger, and it is this monkey-like figure that holds the key to the interpretation of some of Alexander's themes. In other works, he is portrayed as and entitled as a Harvester or he carries maracas in a carnivalesque fashion.

Perhaps it is simplistic to suggest that Alexander employs this symbol in reference to our primate ancestors, but I think she uses this image to illuminate and examine aspects of human nature which can be attributed to our primate brain. A monkey is a trickster figure, slippery and illusive, but somehow ever-present and omniscient. A monkey has the capacity for mischief and destruction, for novelty and imitation and for both cunning and stupidity. As a harbinger, he announces the arrival or warns of the coming, and as a harvester he reaps the fruit or steals the crop.

In child-like figures, Alexander examines how these characteristics are manifested. The Bom Boys are dressed in ill-fitting clothes, mostly blindfolded or disguised by animal masks. They are placed on a large flat pedestal of uniform grey tiles that suggest paving stones. This surface and their dress recalls both the games which children play and the conformity and anonymity for which we all perversely strive. But perhaps this conformity is really a manifestation of control and authority, and the games we play and masks we wear are really dangerous roles we rehearse. The masks are both playful and sinister, the clothing could be from a dressing-up trunk but seems a little more like the pathetic rags of the street kids. The Harbinger moves lithely and deliberately among them, simultaneously sewing mischief and walking among the ruins.

In Harbinger with Street Cadets: wish, walk, Long, Loop, Alexander explores similar themes by blurring the edges between playing and plotting, fantasy and reality and between fear and delight. In sculptures and photomontages produced for a curated show in Tokyo, she contrasts the formal, polite appearance of society in Japan with an underlying brutality. In one instance she appropriates a hotel towel with exquisitely rendered Japanese script giving instructions for what to do in the event of an earthquake. Beautifully clothed, deferring female figures are her 'Lucky Girls'- exemplary cases of obedience and conformity, the perfect subjects of a faceless authority. But still, the monkey-figure carries his maracas shaking them to a sinister and impish rhythm.

Previously, I was never sure how Alexander's work addressed the medium of sculpture, why her sculptures weren't photographs or moving images. Her works seemed to be, on the surface, very close to one's normal experience of reality. Somehow though, in their singular viewpoint, they provided little of the uncertainty and changeability of the 'real world'. This body of work in contrast, through its use of scale, through the landscape it inhabits and the paradoxes which it presents, provides a very powerful and provocative experience. The grittiness of the street, the surfaces of society and role-playing and the underlying control, authority and violence are indeed uncomfortable bedfellows.

Until July 31. UCT Irma Stern Museum, Cecil Road, Rosebank. Gallery hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Phone (021) 685-5686.

Alexander is the subject of this month's Artbio.



Berni Searle and
Anoeschka von Meck
Julle Moet Trek
Sand, paper, metal, ostrich
feather dusters
Installation detail

Veronique Malherbe
All This Useless Beauty 1999
Cabinet, photographs, found objects
Installation detail

Thembinkosi Goniwe and
Vernie Plaatjies
B----stain 1999
1700 x 950 x 980 cm
Mixed media

Mark Coetzee and
Karin Cronjé
Computer graphic
data projection

Click here to download

'Bloedlyn' at the AVA

'Bloedlyn' made its first appearance to critical acclaim at the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival at Oudtshoorn in March this year. Its opening at the AVA will also launch the catalogue of the show.

Using as title the Afrikaans word "bloedlyn" ("blood line") curator Lien Botha brought together 10 visual artists and 10 writers to work in pairs for the show. The collaborations produced some interesting interactions between such couplings as Mark Coetzee and Karin Cronje, Dorothee Kreutzfeldt and Herman Lategan, of Veronique Malherbe and Charles J Fourie, and Berni Searle and Anoeschka von Meck.

Collaboration is a fraught process - partners must establish a workable approach to the theme, and, in a series of negotiations, work towards a final resolution which at its best is greater than the sum of its parts. In the case of 'Bloedlyn', in which the visual and the written illuminate each other, in a gallery space, as opposed to the printed page, the artists are at an advantage. It's their turf, so as to speak, and on this show it seems apparent that on the whole the writers had to work quite hard to make their voices heard.

One of the most successful pairings was between Anoeschka von Meck and Berni Searle with a piece called Julle Moet Trek (You Must Leave). Von Meck's poem, Trekslet, tells of a young itinerant worker sexually pursued by the "baas". The poem is laid out on the floor between sheets of paper on which the frantic writhings of a young girl's body are etched in soft red sand in a kind of dry bodyprint. This is Searle's contribution, and visually and thematically links back to her Colour Me series when the artist used her own body covered in spices (the currency of the slave trade) as a symbol of the oppression of history.

In the Long Gallery, Veronique Malherbe visually rampages right over Charles J Fourie, whose 69 haikus, on love and sexual longing, lettered in red on handmade paper, hang tamely on the wall. Read and enjoy them at your leisure in the catalogue. All This Useless Beauty preceded Malherbe's recent show at the João Ferreira Gallery, and is the beginning of her exploration into DNA, genetic codings, and the awful possibility of "crap genes". Hanging test tubes fill the gallery and Fifties-style food display cabinets at either end are richly stocked with scientific drawings of genetic experimentation with rats, and family photographs and memorabilia reflecting the family history of Malherbe and the father of her child.

B----stain is the representation of a small wooden house. Through the window, an old television set can be observed playing endless children's programmes from the Seventies. The sides of the house, though, are painted glass into which bitter graffiti have been gouged. The mixed memories of childhood made manifest. It's the satisfying work of Thembinkosi Goniwe and Vernie Plaatjies.

Dorothee Kreutzveldt and Herman Lategan had something of a standoff, albeit an interesting one. Kreutzveldt, born in Germany, found her response to the theme to be narrowed down to painting postcard-sized pictures of ostriches (it was the Oudtshoorn festival, don't forget) and rectangles of pale blue. Lategan posed interview questions in an accompanying book. Kreutzveldt "answered" with Afrikaans proverbs.

Other highly commended work came from the teams of Andrew Porter and Elias P Nel, who completely reworked their earlier dual portrait piece for this show and did a new one too. Family members were asked to write down significant memories, then a rubber stamp was made of the writing, and a drawing on tracing paper built up with blue stampings and floated over a photostatted portrait of the person concerned. Fritha Langerman uses the words and thoughts of Lettie Viljoen to make a further series of her immaculately crafted boxes with their strange medical overtones. Mark Coetzee and Karin Cronjé combine hard text with soft flesh in a sensual projected piece.

All in all, 'Bloedlyn' provides a series of absorbing and often provocative experiences for the viewer. And there's an excellent catalogue to take away.

Until July 17. AVA, 35 Church Street. Phone (021) 424-7436; fax 423-2637; e-mail Gallery hours: Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm; Saturday, 10am to 1pm. Website:



Mark Coetzee
Engele van die Dood
1997 (detail)
Acrylic on cotton duck
2 886 x 544mm

Mark Coetzee in Worcester

Cape Town artist and gallerist Mark Coetzee is showing a selection of his work from the years 1988 to 1997 at the Jean Welz Gallery in Worcester. The work includes large-scale photographs, paintings and reworked found objects, and although much of the work was shown earlier this year at Cape Town's AVA gallery, Coetzee has reconfigured the show for the new space. Coetzee is concerned with "the way edifice, monument, decoration and public space is used to the advantage of representations of power in Western civilisation in South Africa". The invitation carries the proviso that "This exhibition contains imagery which might be disturbing to sensitive viewers and children".

Until July 15. Jean Welz Gallery, SA Association for the Visual Arts, 113 Russell Street, Worcester. Phone (023) 342-5802. Gallery hours: Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm; Saturdays 9.30am to 12.30pm.



Peter Magubane
Soweto 1955

Jodi Bieber
The Fast Guns Hangout,
Westbury, Johannesburg

Silver print

'Lines of Sight: Perspectives on SA Photography'

The first in a series of exhibitions which document the development of photography over the last century opened at the South African National Gallery on July 12. Work by some of South Africa's leading photographers will be showcased, and contributions by "enthusiastic amateurs" also play their part. Aspects of photography that are readily accessible in libraries or publications have deliberately been avoided and efforts have been concentrated on areas where little research has been done.

The exhibition will be divided into three categories. 'Photography and the representation of rural life between 1930 and 1950' looks at the way in which the fashion in art circles was for photographers (and other artists) to create an image of an Africa that was "unspoilt" by contact with Western civilisation, even while that civilisation was fuelled by African labour

The second category considers the role women have played or not played in the history of SA photography, from the 19th century until today. Pioneers such as Constance Stuart Larrabee, Alice Meterns and Jansje Wissema are examined as are contemporary woman photographers.

The final focus, 'The Family Album', is on ordinary people and their daily experiences. Everyone contributes in some way to the making of history, and the family album is a site in which these chronicles are stored.



'From Pisces into Aquarius' at Idasa

Astrological guru Rod Suskin will open 'From Pisces into Aquarius', an exhibition under the auspices of the Art Supermarket at Le Bon Ton ... & Art, at the Idasa Gallery on Friday July 16 at 6pm. Exhibitors include Veronique Malherbe, Velile Soha and Grant Preston. The gallery website can be viewed at

Until August 6. Idasa Gallery, Cape Town Democracy Centre, 6 Spin Street, Church Square. Phone (021) 423-3631; e-mail



'About Time' at the 3rd I Gallery

'About time', an exhibition by the Guy Walters Ceramic Studio and Chantal Coetzee, opens on July 13 at 6.30pm.

3rd I Gallery, 95 Waterkant Street. Phone (021) 425-2266. Gallery hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm; Saturday 10am to 1pm.



Postcards designed by Brode Vosloo
i-Jusi/Orange Juice Design

i-Jusi at Picto-Ifas

Self-professed "Official supplier of design to the Rainbow Nation", Durban's Orange Juice Design take this role terribly seriously by tapping as many sources as possible for their wild and free-wheeling designs - a pastiche of every known pictorial source in the country, put together with flair and energy. Three times a year, i-Jusi makes an appearance - an experimental graphic design magazine with a long list of contributors, which aims "to encourage and promote South African graphic design to interested creatives and writers worldwide". Only 500 copies of this 16-page A3 format magazine are published. Spreads from the magazine have been gaffer-taped up at the Picto-Ifas Gallery, and though all the magazines disappeared at the opening, you might be lucky enough to get a packet of free postcards. Or check their website:

Picto-Ifas Gallery, 11-13 Bree Street, Cape Town. Phone (021) 419-6290.



Proust in His Bath
Acrylic on canvas
124 x 124cm

Acrylic on canvas
47 x 37cm

Lionel Abrams at the Lipschitz

Lionel Abrams (1931-97) came to maturity at a time when artists were artists, either painters, sculptors or printmakers, bought their materials in the art supply store, and considered Paris to be the centre of the artistic world. Unlike today, when concept largely takes precedence over drawing skills, artists like Abrams drew constantly, everything from small sketches to large well-modulated drawings in materials like charcoal and pastel. These were often preliminary studies for later paintings or sculptures.

Abrams' retrospective at the Lipschitz Gallery gives every evidence of a lifetime spent in the pursuit of the muse he loved, and an enlightening article by friend Albie Sachs pasted up on the gallery wall confirms this view. Between 1957 and 1981, Abrams held 16 one-person shows, and in 1959 and 1965 represented South Africa at the São Paulo Biennale. Also in 1965, he was a delegate to the 'Jeunes Peintres du Monde à Paris', and it is the Parisian influence that comes through his work most strongly.

Domestic life was a favourite subject of the Impressionists, and Proust in His Bath (undated) pictures the writer in a warm haze of slashing brushstrokes which indeed produce the shimmering light to which the Impressionists aspired. Proust (undated) is a fine portrait in more angst-ridden mode. There are a number of large drawings and sketches in various media. As is to be expected in a retrospective, the work is painted in varying styles, and if the work and themes seem somewhat dated to the contemporary eye, it is a good, solid body of work and part of our artistic history.

The show has been extended until the end of August. Lipschitz Gallery, 138 Buitengragt Street. Phone (021) 422-0280; fax 422-0281. Website:

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