Art Exhibition Presents Development of Art in South Africa

British Museum showcases art in South Africa with ‘South Africa: The Art of a Nation’ exhibition

November 11th, 2016
Danai Tsitomenea, CD News

The British Museum in London is opening its doors from 27th October until 26th February to host not only some of the earliest examples of human creativity but also cutting-edge contemporary works. This exhibition is a unique chance to discover the fascinating history of South Africa through art.

South Africa has a long tradition of creative practice. In fact, some of the oldest art objects in the world were discovered within its provinces. Excavations have found examples of Paleolithic cave paintings and jewellery items made from snail shells. The works of William Kentridge, Johannes Phokela and Francki Burger prove the strength of the cultural scene today.

The exhibition combines items from across the centuries to chart South Africa's history in a powerful visual presentation. It not only offers a testimony to problematic periods of colonialism and apartheid, but also celebrates the many different peoples who have contributed to the nation's accomplishments.

More specifically, the exhibition presents everything from some of the earliest sculptures in southern Africa to colonial art from the 17th century onwards. There are also examples of 19th century South African art, highly charged 20th century works which responded to segregation and apartheid, and pieces that showcase the post-apartheid transformation of the nation since 1990.

In addition, car paintings by South African artist Esther Mahlangu, which combine tradition and history with contemporary art and politics, will be on display. The artist is known for her bold contemporary paintings which represent the Ndebele heritage.

Under apartheid, the Ndebele tribe was forced to live in ethnically defined rural reserves. As a result, their designs are an expression of cultural identity and can be read as a form of protest against racial segregation and marginalisation.

Earlier in September, Mahlangu teamed up with BMW to create a magical artwork for the brand’s 7 series. During a recent interview, the artist said “to paint is in my heart and in my blood”.

Also, Siopis's celebrated work ‘Cape of Good Hope’, a history painting, reveals the predominant tensions in 1989, a time when apartheid was close to an end and South Africa was transforming into a democratic nation. It is part of an ironic series of 'history paintings', for which the artist employed the conventions of the Western tradition to comment on the excesses of colonialism.

The exhibition is characterised as a dazzling and powerful journey to the heart of our common humanity and the very begginings of artistic thought.


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