Mario Pissarra

Cast in Colour:
Towards an Inclusive South African Art


The impact of racism in South Africa has been devastating and profound, and its legacy persists in various forms throughout the breadth and depth of society, not least in the visual arts. From the earliest days of settler presence in the Cape Colony art was indelibly identified with European culture and heritage. Early ‘explorer-artists’ such as Thomas Baines (1820–1875) saw themselves as part of an Empire, gathering supposedly empirical data as part of the greater Enlightenment project. Efforts to develop a uniquely ‘South African’ art gathered pace over the latter half of the 19th century,1 finding mature expression in the early 20th-century in the work of white artists who were mostly trained abroad.2 This usually meant images of the land devoid of inhabitants; and less frequently, images of the ‘natives’ in ‘traditional’ dress. In terms of the actual conventions employed by these artists, there was little apart from the subject matter to distinguish their works from their European counterparts. Under the influence of early 20th-century European art movements such as Cubism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and Surrealism, artists such as Maggie Laubser (1886– 1973), Irma Stern (1894–1966), Maurice van Essche (1906–1977), Walter Battiss (1906–1982), Alexis Preller (1911–1975), and Cecil Skotnes (b.1926) adopted a more radical means of representation, and began to envisage not only a South African, but also an African identity through their works. However the engagement of these white artists with the cultural ‘other’ was in most cases perfectly attuned to European notions of primitivism that were at the heart of Modernism. As such their work, like that of their predecessors, remained principally within the Western canon. Furthermore the assertion of a nationalistic identity through art cannot be separated from the power struggles of the time, particularly the conflicts between the British and the Boers. With the coming to power of the National Party in 1948 it should come as no surprise that books on South African art were mostly written in Afrikaans, and had no or at best little space for artists of colour.3

Consistent with imperial practice across the colonised world, indigenous artistic production was relegated by the gatekeepers of (western) civilisation to the inferior status of craft. It was in the 1920s and 1930s that the earliest black South African artists4 i.e. those who adopted or adapted western conventions of making art, particularly drawing, painting and sculpture, began to emerge. These ‘pioneers’ were predominantly mission-educated, self-taught artists who were mostly mentored by white patrons and artists.5 Later, under apartheid, education was used deliberately as a tool for domination, and the majority of school- educated black South Africans found handicrafts to be a part of the (official) curriculum, whereas most whites had access to art education through schools and universities.6 These early manifestations of the divide between black and white established a pattern of unequal power relationships that still resonates today. It also created the framework for rose-tinted distortions of the black experience, most typically expressed through picturesque images of native life in both (‘traditional’) rural and (‘modern’) urban settings. These trends would be commonly referred to as ‘ethnographic’ and ‘township’ art. The work of black South African artists, with few exceptions, was mostly consigned to exhibitions that were essentially racially based,7 or as in supposedly ‘inclusive’ studies by Esmé Berman (1971, 1983, 1993) they were consigned to their own (sub)sections, not unlike the apartheid policy of separate development.8 Successive generations of (black) artists attempted to resist their marginalisation, some through exile or studying abroad (ironically mostly in Europe), others by developing alternatives to stereotypical pictorial conventions, and still others by establishing a counter-discourse and practice. However it was perhaps inevitable that even acts of resistance would become neutralised as commodities in a white-dominated art market, or written out of history.

This reductive and inadequate account is simply meant to highlight the fact that although the historical trajectories of black and white South African artists overlap they have long been subjected to efforts to keep them apart. Consequently South African art has deep fault- lines, primarily based on race, but also on ethnicity, class and gender. Fortunately, South African history reveals a counter-hegemonic discourse to racism and apartheid. The liberation struggle and in particular the non-racialism of the African National Congress played a critical part in unifying artists across colour and ethnicity. According to Omar Badsha (personal communication, August 2005) it was in the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre (1960) that some black artists, including Dumile and himself, began to wrestle with the role of art in society. According to Sue Williamson (1989:8) it was the 1976 Soweto Uprisings that “jolted [a generation of artists] out of lethargy”. However it was the Culture and Resistance symposium in Gaborone 1982, organised by the ANC, that perhaps did the most to provide a radical framework for non-racial solidarity amongst South African artists. The recognition that artists could play a meaningful role in social change saw politicised artists transformed into ‘cultural workers’. The focal point for ‘culture as a weapon of the struggle’ was the international cultural boycott, imposed by the United Nations in 1980. The vehicle for participation and solidarity was through non-racial artists’ organisations.9 Just as the boycott provided a focal point for anti-apartheid solidarity, it also divided artists, white and black. Many white artists were resentful of what they perceived to be undue political interference in a supposedly autonomous practice. Black artists also got caught up in the apartheid government’s manipulative efforts to project an image of amicable racial co-existence through exhibitions.10 The critical point here is that the 1980s provide one historical example of how cultural politics could supersede race and ethnicity as the distinguishing element in a divided society, although it would be naïve to assume that it did away with them.11

A bird’s eye view of the South African art world today (post-apartheid, post-colonial, postmodern …) would see some signs or patterns of change in the dominant historical patterns of exclusivity and inclusivity. Most noticeably, there has been a significant increase in the visibility of black artists at both the national and the international level. This visibility has been aided in part by the requirements of the new post- apartheid political dispensation. New policies on cultural tourism have also helped develop and (at least temporarily) sustain an economic base for an increase in the number of private galleries, and hence opportunities to exhibit. Internationally (read: in the dominant art capitals of the West) there appears to be an ever-pumping stream of ‘rainbow’ exhibitions that communicate the image of an inclusive post-apartheid democratic order.12 There has also been a major increase in the number of publications on South African art, particularly catalogues and monographs, most of which feature black artists.

The discrepancy between black visibility as artists, and visibility in other spheres of related activities is a critical distinction that needs to be addressed. According to Goniwe (2003:38) ‘Black artists engage with white practitioners only as image-makers, while the latter have multiple occupations that include teaching, researching, writing, curating, marketing, collecting, and so forth’. A closer look in 2005 reveals some movement, although critics are likely to dismiss this as “too little, too late”. There is, for instance, an emerging generation of black curators.13 Recent times have also heralded the arrival of Gallery Momo, a black- owned gallery in a historically white area in Johannesburg. The market is also changing: there has been a noticeable increase in black buyers, who are primarily interested in art by black artists (Madi Phala, artist, personal communication, June 2005).

Although their numbers are low, there are also ‘new’ black writers trained in the visual arts. Among this emerging generation of art historians and critics Thembinkosi Goniwe and Mgcineni ‘Pro’ Sobopha have demonstrated their intent to critically engage with issues of power framing and underpinning the production and reception of art. Several curators also write on art, notably Sipho Mdanda, as do black writers from other disciplines.14 It is worth noting that only two black South Africans have written books on South African art, and that none of these writers were trained as art historians (Manaka 1987, Manganyi 1996, 2004).15 Overall the number of black writers, including veterans such as David Koloane, is insufficient to alter the perception that whites dominate published discourse. Certainly the chronic under-representation of black students, and particularly staff, in most higher learning institutions for the visual arts acts as a constant reminder of the shaky foundations underpinning the South African art world.

A critical point about the increased visibility of black artists is that most of them received training from so-called ‘community arts centres’.16 These centres include a diverse range of art education projects, mostly run in the past by non-governmental organisations and funded largely by international donors.17 With political changes in the 1990s most donors withdrew or redirected their financial support to government departments. Not surprisingly most of the centres and art organisations that were around in the early 1990s have either collapsed or perform, at best, with modest capacity. Ironically, community arts centres have been a consistent feature in ANC policy documents, as an essential part of the present government’s strategy to increase access to the arts.

With South Africa’s transition to democracy new arts and culture policies were developed, including the designation of “arts and culture” as an official learning area in schools. However inadequate provision for teacher training has inadvertently ensured that the visual arts remain a privilege for a minority, sited mostly at historically resourced schools (Gill Cowan, personal communication, August 2005). More than three decades after John Muafangejo’s graphic account of his unsuccessful application to study at the University of Cape Town (1971) (plate 188) his image retains its potency and resonance as an emblem of systemic exclusion, although it is increasingly class, and not simply race that is now determining access. With the stepping stones provided in the past by community arts centres now mostly washed away, where will the next generation of black South African artists come from? Or is it enough that some of yesterday’s excluded artists have finally secured membership (if not necessarily leadership) of an elite club?

The recent proliferation of events, mostly exhibitions, celebrating ten years of democracy, without a single institution facilitating a public evaluation of progress or conducting a public audit of transformation, is a sad indictment of the extent of self-reflexivity and accountability in the visual arts. Perhaps due to South Africa’s unique negotiated settlement and a subsequent emphasis on reconciliation, as well as the low priority of the visual arts, their transformation is not usually linked in public discourse to decolonisation,18 but rather to demographic inclusivity. With decolonisation omitted from the discourse on transformation, a cynic could be forgiven for inferring that for the elite members of the visual arts community, liberation from oppression has simply meant freedom from the cultural boycott and a ticket to Venice.19 Post 1990, the de-facto ‘foreign policy’ of the South African art world has been an uncritical, opportunistic re-entry into the so-called international art community. This has been at the expense of developing alternatives to imposed and entrenched neo-colonial networks. For example there has been no priority given to engagement with African countries, as well as other parts of the so-called developing world. Where such contacts exist they tend to be neo-colonial conduits to the West.20

With the South African art world focused on Venice it can also be observed that the historical divide between art and craft in the local context, actively challenged in the early 1990s by exhibitions such as Art from South Africa21 has been inadvertently reinstated by an official government emphasis on promoting crafts22 whilst neglecting to engage with the issue of the fundamental transformation of the visual arts.

Given what can only be described as a vacuum in intellectual leadership within the visual arts, it seems temperate to declare that art in South Africa is in a crisis. ‘Rainbow’ exhibitions, as indicators of the state of things, are at best a glorious vision of tomorrow, at worst a lie.


Van Robbroeck (unpublished: 141) argues that “the practice of galleries to organize group exhibitions of black artists’ work, contributed towards the discursive tendency to regard it as a collective phenomenon”. She situates this tendency within the conceptual framework of apartheid ideology, where supposedly lacking in individual identity, black Africans were characterised by their cohesiveness as a social group. Van Robbroeck also distinguishes between apartheid-friendly writing, exemplified by E.J. de Jager (1973, 1992) and Berman (1971, 1983, 1993); and later revisionist or corrective efforts, such as by Sack (1988) and Miles (1997, 2004) that aimed to write the excluded black presence back into the history of South African art.

Almost two decades since The Neglected Tradition do exhibitions of (exclusively or predominantly) art by black artists still represent a necessary step in leveling the playing field, or do they inadvertently serve to perpetuate the historical marginalisation of black artists?23 What does one make of the fact that, with few exceptions,24 the works of many black artists continue to feature almost exclusively in what could be reductively referred to as race-based studies?25 If there is no longer a case for race-based exhibitions and projects, what should be made of post-apartheid essays whose titles purport to address contemporary South African art but which focus exclusively on the work of white artists, or exclusively on the work of black artists?26 Is there a simple answer to these questions, or does each case have to be treated on its own merits? Clearly we have and have not come a long way.

Of the race-based surveys it was Steven Sack’s The Neglected Tradition (1988) that served as a major catalyst for Bruce Campbell Smith to begin collecting South African art in earnest. Campbell Smith was inspired by the notion of ‘neglect’ and set out to collect works that would fill in gaps within South Africa’s art history. While The Neglected Tradition was concerned with the historical marginalisation of black artists, Sack included a few white artists who had impacted on the work of black artists.27 The inclusion of a select number of white artists in Campbell Smith’s collection serves not only to make points about the development of black art but also to introduce consideration of the relationship between works by black and white artists. Sometimes differences are not discernible on the surface: as paintings there is little to separate Gregoire Boonzaier’s Bo-Kaap (1944) (plate 78) from George Milwa Pemba’s New Brighton (1960) (plate 48), although their experiences as artists and as South Africans were worlds apart.

Sometimes difference is more visibly marked. The prevalence of smiling faces in the portraits of Simoni Mnguni (1885–1956) (plate 3 and 8) and Gerard Bhengu (1910–1990) (plate 16-25) contrasted with more supposedly objective expressions on the faces of black, ‘tribal’ subjects by contemporary white artists such as Neville Lewis (1895– 1972) (plates 53 & 54), or the more stylised representations by Irma Stern (plate 13), Maurice van Essche (1906–1977) (plate 30) and Alexis Preller (plate 37) is one visible indicator that different considerations applied to black and white artists. White portraits of black subjects conform to the dominant format of painting in the western tradition; their compositions tend to be emphatically rectangular, whereas several of the black artists, particularly Mnguni and Bhengu, adopt a compositional structure that appears to be influenced by the possibility of being placed within an oval frame, a convention that is common with photographic portraits (plates 6 and 7).

ReVisions makes visible a host of marginalised and under-represented artists. It may come as a surprise to many that most of the artists featured are excluded from two of the best-known books on South African art, namely Gavin Younge’s Art of the South African Townships (1988) and Sue Williamson’s Resistance Art in South Africa (1989).28 Particularly glaring absences from these texts are the numerous seminal artists associated with Polly Street29 as well as with Black Consciousness.30 Since both Younge and Williamson focused on contemporary production, it may seem unfair to fault them on their lack of art historical perspective.31 However, if one takes into account that Art of the South African Townships and Resistance Art in South Africa have been widely consulted, and that their titles purportedly address two of the most significant discourses in South African art32 these texts, authors intentions aside, are inadvertently taken by the wider public as being representative of these ‘movements’ as a whole. Williamson’s book, in particular, is frequently referred to in authoritative terms.33

Not since The Neglected Tradition in 1988 has there been such a broad representation of historically significant black artists. Indeed in some respects ReVisions could be considered a sequel to that seminal exhibition: it continues the theme of historically marginalised (black) artists and updates it with selective inclusions into more recent art and artists. It also expands the narrative by featuring artists represented in both pre and post Neglected Tradition texts particularly those by De Jager (1972, 1978, 1993) , Manaka (1987), Miles (1997, 2004), as well as Hobbs and Rankin (2003).

The strengths of the Campbell Smith Collection include a fairly comprehensive account of the early trend by South African artists to represent ‘ethnographic’ subjects that made its debut in the meeting of the colonial self and the colonised other. The Collection is also particularly strong on black art in the 1960s. Dumile Feni (1939–1991) is the pivotal figure in this narrative, signaling the shift from the picturesque to one of more intense engagement with the political climate of the time. Campbell Smith notes the emergence of the clenched fist in a small biro drawing by Dumile (see frontispiece and plate 143) from the mid-1960s, possibly the earliest visual expression of what would become a symbol of resistance in South African art (personal communication, August 2005). However while Dumile was one of the first artists to articulate resistance to oppression he, together with other artists of his generation also sought liberation through their art by, for example, consciously turning away from Western sources and looking to each other, as well as to African and Eastern sources for inspiration and strength (Omar Badsha, personal communication, August 2005). By doing this, these artists gave early expression to an emerging black consciousness, that would soon be crisply articulated by Steve Biko and the South African Students Organisation (SASO).

Among more recent artists the Collection has a special place for Trevor Makhoba (1956-2003) (plates 292–307), the Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year award winner in 1996 who subsequently publicly clashed with the organisers of the award. Makhoba also failed to get an entry in 10 Years 100 Artists (Perryer 2004), a lavish survey of post-apartheid art despite the fact that he was one of the most original and powerful artists to have emerged in the new dispensation. Indeed, Makhoba remains one of the few artists who not only tackled uncomfortable themes such as domestic abuse, sexual violence, HIV/ Aids, the illicit trade in body parts for medicinal and ritual purposes and other taboo subjects; themes which for the most part only began to enter the national discourse in the 1990s, but frequently managed to do so in a way that engages and challenges viewers (Pissarra 2003).

Fig. 2 Dumile Feni
Man in Chains
Black and red ink on paper, 45 x 35.5cm

Of course not all artists in the Campbell Smith Collection lack recognition or have been forgotten. The Collection features several artists, mostly ‘pioneers’ whose achievements have been recognised through retrospective exhibitions and/or publications (monographs or catalogues): Gerard Bhengu (1910–1990), George Milwa Pemba (1912–2001), Gerard Sekoto (1913–1993), Gladys Mgudlandlu (1917– 1979), Peter Clarke (b.1929), Selby Mvusi (1929–1967), Lucas Sithole (1931–1994), Dan Rakgoathe (1937–2004), Noria Mabasa (b.1938), Dumile, Azaria Mbatha (b.1941), John Muafangejo (1943–1987) and Cyprian Shilakoe (1946–1972).

The Collection also has the potential to initiate dialogue with contemporary artists who are not featured. For example it excludes William Kentridge (b.1955), but has reams of formidable Dumile (fig 1, above, fig 2 and plates 136–151), who inspired a teenage Kentridge. There are also no works by David Koloane (b.1938), but gems from Maqhubela (b.1939), an early black South African abstractionist (plates 134 and 135). There is no Helen Sebidi (b.1943), but the most generous sampling of paintings (plates 68–73) from John Koenakeefe Mohl (1903–1985), her teacher, since The Neglected Tradition. A vivid and unflinching portrait in oils from 1974 of an unknown herder (plate 221) by the little-known Enos Makhubhedu (b.1938) invites comparison with recent photographs of unnamed cane cutters by Zwelethu Mthethwa (b.1960).

The Campbell Smith Collection does not concern itself with recent conceptual art, but it does create a platform for existential and contemplative works, particularly from the 1960s and 1970s. The fact that many of these are drawings is in itself significant, as it partially reflects basic issues such as access to resources. Not only were most art materials out of reach for many black artists, they were even rejected as elitist by some.36 Another link that can be drawn between recent conceptualism and the drawings of Sydney Kumalo (1935– 1988), Ezrom Legae (1937–1999), Dumile, Omar Badsha (b.1945), Julian Motau (1948–1968), Leonard Matsoso (b.1949), and Harry Moyaga (b.1954) is the emphasis on the human body. Certainly the figurative drawings of these artists go way beyond any western notions of ‘sketch’ or ‘life’ or ‘figure’ drawing: the body is a central stage for the articulation and expression of existential concerns, a site of struggle that is both intensely personal and political.

Van Robbroeck (2003:179) identifies a tendency on the part of white art historians to ignore the links between black art and the “effects of the programmatic brutalities of the apartheid system”. She notes that writers such as De Jager explain the alienation that can be detected in much so-called township art of the 1960s and 1970s in quasi-Darwinist evolutionary terms, as a consequence of the shift from (undeveloped, ‘traditional’) rural to (civilised, ‘western’) urban environment. Indeed it could be argued that the depoliticisation of context allows writers such as De Jager to employ a term such as “African figurative expressionism” which has influenced subsequent writing on black South African art.38 While there can be little argument concerning the subjective nature of drawings such as those by Dumile et al, black South African artists of the 1960s and 1970s had little or no interest in articulating a romantic, pre-industrial (“primitive”) state of being and there is little to achieve from a linking of their works to European Expressionism other than effectively shifting the emphasis from a consideration of the specificities of their art and context towards the supposedly neutral, universal (western) canon.


There is no doubt that the Campbell Smith Collection is driven by the collector’s own interests, informed by his own experiences and tastes, and not least his financial means. Personally I find it to be a welcome antidote to the dominant narratives. In many ways it provides an historical context for some of today’s most visible artists. The Collection presents an opportunity to engage with the works of a host of historically-neglected artists, and in so doing to widen our collective knowledge about South African art. It highlights how very rich South Africa is when it comes to artists of quality, and that any narrative that purports to tell the whole story will inevitably fail to cover a number ofsignificant artists, events and discourses which, in another narrative, may well take centre stage. Certainly much has happened since a then exclusively white South African Association of Art Historians challenged themselves to ‘rewrite South African art history’ in 1987, although much remains unwritten and there are still critical sectors within the visual arts where there is inadequate evidence of change. Opinions will no doubt differ as to whether pre or post ReVisions knowledge of neglected, mostly black artists has been sufficiently retrieved through a series of revisionist projects; whether transformation is on track; and whether inclusive exhibitions and publications of South African art can now be free of the spectres of racism and apartheid.

Perhaps the biggest challenges lie beyond revisionist art history; beyond inscribing the marginalised black presence into South African art, and beyond achieving demographic equity in the art world. Arguably they lie in developing a bold and comprehensive view of transformation that addresses the historical legacies of colonialism and apartheid, but is not framed by their way of thinking, seeing and doing.39 Unless we rise to this challenge colonialism and apartheid may well have won. Greater self-reflexivity, fundamental paradigm shifts, creative interventions, multi-pronged strategies; all these and more are urgently required to liberate art from the burden of our racist history, failing which South African art may be cast in colour for some time still.

I am grateful to Lize van Robbroeck, Bruce Campbell Smith, Omar Badsha and Hayden Proud for their comments on previous drafts. All errors, undue biases and misrepresentations are entirely my own. A slightly expanded version of this essay, including more footnotes and references, can be found on the SAHO website (

  1. The South African Fine Arts Association was formed in 1850 (Alexander and Cohen 1990:14).
  2. I refer here to both artists born in South Africa e.g. J.E.A. Volschenk (1853–1936), Hugo Naudé (1869–1941) and J.H. Pierneef (1886–1957); and those born abroad e.g. Frans Oerder (1867–1944) and Gwelo Goodman (1871–1939).
  3. For example Bouman (1938) and Alexander (1962).
  4. The term ‘black’ is used throughout this paper in the inclusive, black consciousness sense i.e. as applying to all those categorised as ‘non-white’ under apartheid rule.
  5. Note that Pemba (Miles 1997:68) and Bhengu (Bell & Clark 1995: 10, 20-21, 34) also had black patrons.
  6. Significantly the first opportunity for the black majority, particularly those categorized as Africans, to study art at tertiary level was the establishment in 1971 of a Fine Arts Department at the University of Fort Hare, situated at the time in one of the supposedly independent ‘Bantu homelands’.
  7. For example, during the 1930s and 1940s The South African Academy (1920–c.1950) included the work of black artists, usually as “native exhibits”. See Miles (1997:55). In the 1960s and 1970s Artists of Fame exhibitions had a separate category for “non- white artists” (Van Robbroeck unpublished: 143). More insidious means, such as the maintenance of “standards” based entirely on Eurocentric criteria, have also been used for exclusionary purposes.
  8. Sporadically alternatives to the hegemonic trends emerged. Tributaries (1985) provides a well known example of art exhibitions that transgressed race in the apartheid era, but it was by no means the first. Art South Africa Today (annual exhibitions initiated by the South African Institute of Race Relations in 1963) were described by Jo Thorpe in 1988 as “non- racial” (Quoted in van Robbroeck, unpublished:143).
  9. The boycott was administered within the country by the Cultural Desk of the United Democratic Front. Arts organizations that emerged in the latter half of the 1980s and which were ideologically part of the broad resistance movement include the Visual Arts Group/ Cultural Workers Congress (Western Cape), Artists Alliance (Johannesburg), Natal Visual Arts Organisation; the Imvaba Visual arts Component (Eastern Cape); and the Thupelo Workshop, the only survivor from this era.
  10. While black artists were particularly visible in international Exhibitions in the 1960s and 1970s, this was less evident in the 1980s. However, the internal cultural boycott was a more messy affair, with a number of black artists participating in state and parastatal initiatives.
  11. David Koloane’s harsh assessment of the contribution of white artists to the democratic struggle was that “there was minimal, if any, dissent from artists who benefited from apartheid.” (1997:33).
  12. See, for example, Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa at the Museum for African Art, New York. For the catalogue see Herreman (1999).
  13. Including Pitso Chinzima, Prince Dube, Khwezi Gule, Thembinkosi Goniwe, Sharlene Khan, Moleleki Frank Ledimo, Sipho Mdanda, Zayd Minty, Tumelo Mosaka, Sipho Ndabambi, Gabi Ngcobo, Vuyile Voyiya, Ernestine White, and Mduduzi Xakaza.
  14. See for example Bedford (2004) where four out of eleven writers are black, but only one of these works full time in the visual arts (Frank Ledimo). In contrast all seven white writers are visual arts professionals (curators and academics).
  15. Ashraf Jamal, who co-wrote with Williamson (1997) also conforms to this trend.
  16. For example this applies to all the black artists in Herreman (1999).
  17. A few centres, such as the legendary Polly Street ‘School’ and the post 1976 Kathlehong Art Centre were an exception to the rule, being funded by (apartheid) government departments.
  18. ‘Decolonization’ is used here in the radical, Ngugi-esque sense to denote resistance to neo-colonialism and cultural imperialism, rather than in the conservative interpretation as the end of colonial government. Ngugi wa’Thiongo (1993) argues for a ‘plurality of centres’, a proposition that would enable a true internationalism to develop. It should be noted that calling for a post-colonial discourse on decolonization does not imply a return to a supposedly pure or authentic ‘Africa’, as correctly criticized by Kellner (1997).
  19. While I obviously refer here to the Venice Biennale, the ancestor and/or prototype of Biennales everywhere, I also use Venice as a symbol for the network of first world art capitals. See Martin (2003 and 2003b) for the importance of the Venice Biennale for South African (and African) art.
  20. I attempt to highlight some of the contradictions arising from the lifting of the cultural boycott in a recent article. See Pissarra (2005). For criticisms of Dak’Art ( the most prominent African Biennale) see Araeen (2003) and Oguibe (2004).
  21. See Elliott (1990).
  22. As one of the designated ‘cultural industries’. See
  23. A related debate occurs internationally. For example Eddie Chambers (2005), an advocate of ‘black art’ in the 1980s, has questioned the rationale for the Africa05 festival in the United Kingdom.
  24. Such as those contemporary artists who have been absorbed into international Exhibitions in recent years.
  25. This rubric encompasses a diversity of interests and agendas as diverse as De Jager (1973, 1978 & 1992), Manaka (1987), Younge (1988), Sack (1988), Nettleton and Hammond- Tooke (1989), and Miles (1997). Case studies of training centres that serviced black communities also fit under this broad rubric, e.g. Hobbs and Rankin (2003) and Miles (2005).
  26. See Sue Williamson ‘Looking Back, Looking Forward: an Overview of South Africanart’, and David Koloane ‘Post-apartheid Expression and a New Voice’. (Koloane does refer to the late Bill Ainslie, but he is presumably not an example of a post-apartheid white artist.) Ironically both these examples of post-apartheid separatism feature in Herreman (1999), cited earlier as an example of a ‘rainbow’ exhibition.
  27. Bill Ainslie (1939–1984), Eduardo Villa, Cecil Skotnes (b.1926) and Douglas Portway (b.1922).
  28. These are among the few books on South African art that have been published both at home and abroad. Resistance Art has recently been reprinted, a rare honour for a South African art book (Esmé Berman revised and enlarged her 1971 book in 1983). Artists in Campbell Smith’s collection that predate publication by Younge and Williamson but feature in neither include, in order of year of birth: Mnguni, Mohl, Bhengu, Pemba, Ntuli, Sekoto, Mgudlandlu, Butelezi, Mizream Maseko, Mvusi, Lekgetho, Langdown, Sithole, Mogano, Sihlali, Ndebele, Legae, Rakgoathe, Ngatane, Makhubedu, Dumile, Maqhubela, Jo Maseko, Arnold, Tshabalala, Shilakoe, Badsha, Jantjes, Motau, Zulu, Eric Mbatha, Matsoso, Saoli, Mahlangu, and Moyaga.
  29. Including many of the earliest artists to make work that was labeled ‘township art’, and therefore surely a relevant consideration for Younge.
  30. A consideration of the impact of Black Consciousness, in both nascent and developed forms, are surely key elements in any comprehensive examination of the notion of ‘resistance’ art. Note that for purposes of this paper I use Black Consciousness in a broad sense, inclusive of more restrictive notions of Africanism.
  31. Interestingly, neither of these books contains a bibliography.
  32. I say this mindful that both terms are problematic. For the dismissal of the ‘[white] racist arrogance’ of ‘township art’ see Manaka (1987:15). Younge (1988:8) tried to distinguish between ‘township art’ and ‘art of the townships’. Discredited by intellectuals, ‘township art/ist’ is still widely used as a synonym for ‘black art/ist’. The notion of “resistance art”, particularly in so far as it applied to the visual arts, gained currency after Williamson’s publication, and continues to be widely used in referring to art in ‘the struggle’.
  33. Janet Stanley, a key person in promoting academic interest in modern African art in the USA is quoted endorsing the new edition ( ‘… a milestone, an excellent visual survey of the subject [resistance art]’). On the same cover the publishers refer to Williamson’s ‘classic account of the visual art of the culture of resistance’ seemingly oblivious of any criticism of her book, not least a devastating critique by Du Plessis (1991).
  34. Van Robbroeck (2003) argues that De Jager has been the most influential writer on black South African art.
  35. Listed in order of initial publication: For Bhengu see Savory (1965) and Bell & Clark (1995); Muafangejo see Arnott (1977) and Levinson (1988, 1992, 1993; Sithole see Haenggi (1979); Mbatha see Eichel (1986), Addleson (1998); Sekoto see Lindop (1988, 1995), Spiro (1989) and Manganyi (1996, 2004); Shilakoe see Nel (1990); Clarke see Hardy (1992) and Willemse (2000); Pemba see Hudleston (1996), Proud and Feinberg (1996); Rakgoathe see Langhan (2000); Mvusi and Mgudlandlu see Miles (1996, 2003); Mabasa see Press (2003); Dumile see Smith (2005). The first monograph on a black South African artist was written by Damant (1951) on Samuel Makoanyane (c.1909–1944). Mbatha (2005) wrote the first autobiography of a black South African artist.
  36. This provides another point of comparison with much recent conceptual art, which ostensibly bridges the gap between art and life but in practice often relies on expensive technology and professional collaboration for the ‘idea’ to materialise. In contrast consider what Peter Clarke achieves with a mere koki pen in Before the Storm (1961).
  37. Elsewhere van Robbroeck (unpublished: 133) notes that it is ‘unlikely to be coincidence that the “pioneer” modern black artists started their careers in the 1920s and 1930s, when crippling taxes, economic depression and a devastating drought forced increasingly more black South Africans into urban wage labour’.
  38. This concept runs throughout de Jager’s writings. Mdanda (2004:193) refers to ‘African expressionism’.
  39. I have elsewhere argued that we need to shift the debate from black and white which is easily co-opted by essentialist thinking; towards a critical engagement with the notion of Africa/n in the post-colonial environment, as this provides both a framework for addressing racism and enabling personal agency (Pissarra, 2004).

  1. Addleson, Jill. (ed.) 1998. Azaria Mbatha: Retrospective Exhibition. Durban Art Gallery.
  2. Alexander, F.L. 1962. Art in South Africa Since 1900. A.A.Balkema, Cape Town.
  3. Alexander, Lucy & Cohen, Evelyn. 1990. 150 South African Paintings: Past and Present. Struik, Cape Town.
  4. Araeen, Rasheed. 2003. “Dak’Art 1992–2002”. Third Text vol. 17 no 1: 93–106.
  5. Arnott, Bruce. 1977. John Muafangejo: Linocuts, Woodcuts & Etchings. C. Struik, Cape Town.
  6. Bedford, Emma. (ed.) 2004. Decade of Democracy. South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
  7. Bell, Brendan & Clark, Byrony. (eds.) 1995. Gerard Bhengu (1910–1990): A Retrospective Exhibition. Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg.
  8. Berman, Esmé. 1970, revised 1983. Art and Artists of South Africa: An Illustrated Biographical Dictionary & Historic Survey of Painters & Graphic Artists since 1875. A.A.Blakema, Cape Town.
  9. Berman, Esmé, 1993. Painting in South Africa. Southern Book Publishers, Halfway House.
  10. Bouman, A.C. 1938. Kuns in Suid Afrika. Dusseau, Cape Town.
  11. Burnett, Ricky. 1985. Tributaries: A View of Contemporary South African Art. BMW, SA
  12. Chambers, Eddie. 2005. “Africa 05”. Art Monthly no.284 (March 2005): 44.
  13. DeBord, Matthew (ed.) 1997. Trade Routes: History and Geography. 2nd Johannesburg Biennale 1997. Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council and the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, Netherlands.
  14. Deepwell, Katy (ed.) c.1997. Art Criticism and Africa. Saffron Books, London.
  15. De Jager, E.J. 1973. Contemporary African Art in South Africa. Struik, Cape Town.
  16. De Jager, E.J. 1992. Images of Man: Contemporary SA Black Art & Artists. A pictorial & historical guide to the Collection of the University of Fort Hare housed in the De Beers Centenary Art Gallery. Fort Hare University Press in association with Fort Hare Foundation, Fort Hare University.
  17. Dube, Prince. 2005. “Celebrating Feni”. Art South Africa vol. 3 issue 4: 38–39.
  18. Du Plessis, Antoinette. 1991 “Two more or less glossy books: problems in art documentation of the Eighties”. South African Journal of Art and Architectural History 2 (3 & 4):102–107.
  19. Eichel, Werner. 1986 In the Heart of the Tiger: Art of South Africa. Peter Hammel Verlag, Wupperthal.
  20. Elliott, David (ed.) 1990. Art from South Africa. Museum of Modern Art, Oxford.
  21. Falken, Graham (ed.) 2004. Inheriting the Flame: New Writing on Community Arts in South Africa. Arts & Media Access Centre, Cape Town.
  22. Flint-Gohlke, Lucy (ed.) 2003. Coexistence: Contemporary Cultural Production in South Africa. The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Massachusetts.
  23. Goniwe, Thembinkosi. 2003. “From My Sketch Pad: Notes of a Black South African Artist”. In Flint-Gohlke op cit: 35–40.
  24. Haenggi, F. F. 1979. Lucas Sithole: 1958–1979. Gallery 21 & The Haenggi Foundation Museum, Johannesburg.
  25. Herreman, Frank. (ed.) 1999. Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa. Prestel, Munich and London; and The Museum for African Art, New York.
  26. Hobbs, Philippa and Rankin, Elizabeth. 2003. Rorkes Drift: Empowering Prints. Double Storey Books, Cape Town.
  27. Hudleston, Sarah. 1996. George Pemba: Against All Odds. Jonathan Ball, Johannesburg.
  28. Kellner, Clive. 1997. “Cultural Production in Post-Apartheid South Africa”. In DeBord op cit: 29–31.
  29. Koloane, David. 1993. “The Identity Question: Focus on Black South African Expression”. Third Text 23 [Africa Special Issue]: 99–102.
  30. Koloane, David. 1997. “Walking the tightrope”. In DeBord (1997) op cit: 32–35.
  31. Koloane, David. c. 1997. “Art criticism for who?”. In Deepwell op cit: 68–72.
  32. Koloane, David. 1999. “Postapartheid Expression and a New Voice”. In Herreman op cit: 19–31.
  33. Langhan, Donve. 2000. The Unfolding Man: The Life and Art of Dan Rakgoathe. David Philip, Cape Town.
  34. Levinson, Olga. 1988. John Ndevasia Muafangejo (1943–1987): Second Guest Artist Award. Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Broederstroom Press.
  35. Levinson, Orde (ed.) 1992. I Was Loneliness: The Complete Graphic Works of John Muafangejo. C. Struik, Cape Town.
  36. Levinson, Orde. 1993. The African Dream: Visions of Love and Sorrow: The Art of John Muafangejo. Thames Hudson, New York.
  37. Lindop, Barbara. 1988. Gerard Sekoto,/em>. Dictum, Randburg.
  38. Lindop, Barbara. 1995. Sekoto: The Art of Gerard Sekoto. London.
  39. Manaka, Matsemela. 1987. Echoes of African Art: A Century of Art in South Africa. Skotaville, Johannesburg.
  40. Manganyi, Chabani. 1996. A Black Man Called Sekoto. Johannesburg.
  41. Manganyi, Chabani. 2004. Gerard Sekoto: ‘I am an African’. Wits University Press, Johannesburg.
  42. Martin, Marilyn. 2003. “Death in Venice”. Artthrob, September 2003. (www.artthrob.
  43. Martin, Marilyn. 2003b. “Faultlines and Fumblings”. Artthrob, September 2003. (
  44. Mbatha, Azaria. 2005. Within Loving Memory of the Century. University of KwaZulu Natal Press.
  45. Mdanda, Sipho. 2005. “The role of art in the liberation struggle”. In Oliphant, Delius, Meltzer op cit: 189–196.
  46. Miles, Elza. 1996. Current of Africa: The Art of Selby Mvusi. Johannesburg Art Gallery.
  47. Miles, Elza. 1997. Land & Lives: A story of early black artists. Human & Rousseau, Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg.
  48. Miles, Elza. 2003. Nomfanekiso, Who Paints at Night: The Art of Gladys Mgudlandlu, Fernwood Press.
  49. Miles, Elza. 2005. Polly Street: The Story of an Art Centre. The Ampersand Foundation.
  50. Nel, Karel. 1990. Cyprian Shilakoe (1946–1972). Standard Bank National Arts Festival Guest Artist Award. Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg; and Standard Bank National Arts Festival.
  51. Nettleton, Anitra & Hammond-Tooke, D. 1989. African Art in Southern Africa: From Tradition to Township. A. D. Donker, Johannesburg.
  52. Oguibe, Olu. 2004. “The Failure of Dak’art?” Third Text 66 vol. 18 issue 1:83–84.
  53. Oliphant, Andries; Delius, Peter; Meltzer, Lalou (eds.). 2004. Democracy X. University of South Africa, Pretoria; and Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden.
  54. Perryer, Sophie (ed.) 2004. 10 years 100 artists. Bell Roberts, Cape Town.
  55. Pissarra, Mario 2003. “Trevor Makhoba Profile” Contemporary Africa Database (
  56. Pissarra, Mario. 2004. “The Luggage is Still Labelled: But is it Going to the Right Destination”. Third Text 67 vol. 18 issue 2: 183–191 [revised version of “Decolonise the Mind”, Art South Africa vol. 2 issue 2: 37–41, 2003]
  57. Pissarra, Mario. 2005. “To Neglect Africa is to Neglect Ourselves”. Art South Africa vol. 3 issue 4: 41.
  58. Press, Karen. (ed.) 2003. Noria Mabasa. David Krut, Johannesburg.
  59. Proud, Hayden and Feinberg, Barry. (eds.) 1996. George Milwa Mnyaluza Pemba. South African National Gallery and Mayibuye Centre, Cape Town.
  60. SAAAH. 1987. Rewriting South Africa’s Art and Architectural History, Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Conference of the South African Association of Art Historians. University of Stellenbosch.
  61. Sack, Steven. 1988. The Neglected Tradition: Towards a New History of South African Art 1930- 1988. Johannesburg Art Gallery.
  62. Savory, P. 1965. Gerard Bhengu- Zulu Artist. Howard Timmens, Cape Town.
  63. Smith, Bruce. 2005. Dumile: Artist in Exile. Bruce Smith in association with art on paper, Cape Town.
  64. Spiro, Lesley. 1989. Gerard Sekoto: Unsevered Ties. Johannesburg Art Gallery.
  65. The State of Art in South Africa - Conference Papers. 1979. University of Cape Town.
  66. Thiong’o, Ngugi wa. 1993. Moving the Centre: the Struggle for Cultural Freedoms. James Currey, London; and Heinemann, Nairobi.
  67. Van Robbroeck, Lize. 2003. “Writing White on Black: Identity and Difference in South African Writing of the Twentieth Century”. Third Text 63 vol. 17 issue 2: 171–182.
  68. Voyiya, Vuyile & McGee, Julie. 2003. The Luggage is Still Labelled: Blackness in South African Art [video].
  69. Willemse, Hein. (ed.) 2000. More than Brothers: Peter Clarke & James Matthews at 70. Kwela Books, Cape Town.
  70. Williamson, Sue. 1989, repr. 2004. Resistance Art in South Africa. David Philip, Cape Town.
  71. Williamson, Sue. 1999. “Looking back, Looking Forward: an Overview of South African Art”. In Herreman op cit: 32–41.
  72. Williamson, Sue and Jamal, Ashraf. 1997. Art in South Africa: The Future Present. David Philip, Cape Town.
  73. Younge, Gavin. 1988. Art of the South African Townships. Thames & Hudson, London.