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Contemporary collections consider the historical at National Arts Festival

Published on 6 June 2013

A contemporary look at the historical seems to dominate the 2013 series of Visual Art Exhibitions presented at the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown.


In her new solo exhibition titled The purple shall govern, Standard Bank Young Artist for Visual Art Mary Sibande draws inspiration from a specific incident in South Africa’s history where, in the late 1980s, people were marching for equality in Cape Town. During the march, the police sprayed everyone with a water cannon laced with purple dye to enable them to identify and arrest anti-apartheid protestors. This act motivated Mary’s interest in the roles that colour played in the history of this country. Colour remains a predominant factor in our social interactions and it continues to play a dominant role in our perceptions of one another as South Africans. In Sibande’s view it is like a monster that we are all too familiar with. On a personal level, this new work comes full circle as Mary connects it back to her very first exhibition, where she displayed a figure – that represented her – in purple attire.


The purple shall govern presents the next chapter, in which Sibande speaks of her own aspirations, desires, fears and anxieties of being a woman. The concept of rebirth, where she refers to the idea of transitioning from the person you were before into a new or different idea of yourself – death and rebirth – is extensively explored.

Mary Sibande. A terrible beauty is born. 2013. Digital pigment print. 3270 x 1118 cm detail lr

For the first time, the photographs of anti-apartheid photographers, Benny Gool, Zubeida Vallie and Adil Bradlow, who, as young photographers and friends, were to be found with their cameras documenting apartheid South Africa, is brought together in a group exhibition entitled Martyrs, Saints and Sellouts; which attempts to facilitate creative thinking between the lines of emancipation, liberty and freedom. Their impressive collections show us now, some nineteen years after the first democratic elections in South Africa, a vivid narrative of violence, loss and injuries, the reverberations of which are subdued in the rhetoric of the post-apartheid landscape. These images, many of them from 35mm film negatives, hint of a time that has not yet passed. What they do now is simple: they offer the viewer the opportunity to think about key questions in South Africa, including those of archives, history, freedom and repair.


Based on selections from the Standard Bank Corporate Art Collection, The Art of Banking: celebrating through collections provides a journey through South Africa’s history, using art works as points of departure, or triggers, for telling a story about various eras, episodes, circumstances and events. Because the show celebrates Standard Bank’s 150th birthday, this tracing of history through art begins in 1862, when Standard Bank first opened its doors in Port Elizabeth. The story is told chronologically, narrated decade by decade. It covers numerous themes, such as the discovery of gold on the Highveld in 1886, the Second Anglo-Boer War of the 1890s, and the establishment of Sophiatown in 1897. Other themes include the establishment of Afrikaans as an official language in the 1930s, the student uprising of 1976, and forced removals. The show ends with an exploration of issues of the new millennium, such as consumerism, the global economic crisis and xenophobia. The exhibition is curated by Barbara Freemantle and features a host of renowned South African artists, all of whom are major contributors to the story of art in this country. These include John Mohl, Walter Battiss, Johannes Phokela, Durant Sihlali, Alexis Preller, Trevor Makhoba, David Goldblatt, Penny Siopis and Wim Botha.


Two exhibitions showcase the work of Brent Meistrea photographer / filmmaker who works across varying media including sound and stop-frame animation. Winner of multiple awards and the only South African video artist to have exhibited at the Bamako Photo Biennale in Mali in 2011, the central notion of movement, journey, and migration within a global and ‘African’ context is evident throughout Meistre’s varying bodies of photographic and film work, which consider how these traces and remnants continue to constitute and speak to the lived experience of people on the continent. Sojourn is a photographic exhibition of selected landscape images taken over a period of six years across Southern Africa. Across My Father’s Fault is a site-specific stop frame animation installation, shot on location in the Cradle of Humankind and installed in the cavernous space beneath the Monument’s Fountain Foyer.

Brent Meistre, Sojourn

Wilma Cruise’s exhibition Will you, won’t you, join the dance? is developed as an extension of the ideas latent in Cruise’s previous body Cocks Asses and I: Can’t hear. This new solo exhibition will premiere some new works together with selected works from her current Alice Diaries exhibition.


An exhibition entitled Women, Our Treasure!, celebrates the strength of South African women and the manner in which they have held family structures together. Through their artworks, visual artists from the Province of the Eastern Cape in collaboration with their counterparts from the craft sector; attempt to raise questions and to join artists across the country in an artistic expression of the current national dialogue that seeks to raise awareness about gender identity and about the scourge of abuse against women and children.


The Province of the Eastern Cape remains a forerunner in the South African Craft Sector. Many a discerning collector is given a wide variety of craft to choose from. This year, the Department for Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture breaks away from the longstanding craft fair located within a single tent in favour of a select number of stalls located around the Village Green.


The Arena programme will feature a showcase of work drawn from some of the more successful artists who will be exhibiting on this year’s Fringe programme.


The 39th edition of the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown will take place from 27 June to 7 July 2013.


The National Arts Festival is sponsored by Standard Bank, The National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, Eastern Cape Government, Department of Arts and Culture, National Arts Council, City Press and M Net.