South Africa: The Art of a Nation
27 October 2016 – 26 February 2017
An exhibition charting the development of art in South Africa, from the creations of early human society to examples of contemporary work.
South Africa has a long tradition of creative practice. 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 – while William Kentridge, Johannes Phokela and Francki Burger prove the strength of the cultural scene today.
This exhibition draws together items from across the centuries to document South Africa's history in a powerful visual display. It not only pays testimony to problematic periods of colonialism and apartheid, but also celebrates the many different peoples who have contributed to the nation's accomplishments.
Siopis' celebrated work Cape of Good Hope: A History Painting is revealing of the tensions that were prevalent in 1989 – a time when apartheid was coming 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 painting is layered with complex meaning. A nude woman stands in a position of surrender, pictures of Jan van Riebeeck's arrival at the Cape of Good Hope attached to the curtain in front of her (this event was widely regarded to be the start of European settlement in South Africa). Her skin has been created using a collage of photocopies of documents relating to slavery, and a varnish of membranous glue. By effect it appears as if covered in welts and scabs, reminiscent of the flesh of a whipped slave.
Curator John Giblin shares his highlights from the show.