Exhibition Review-South Africa: the Art of a Nation

My ticket and BMW Art Car No.12, 1991 (Esther Mahlangu)

I sometimes ask myself: ‘Why I see this exhibition?’

So far, what I thought was improving knowledge, widen my horizons and seeing how curators create exhibitions. Yet I’ve got another answer today──’seeing things from different perspective’

In South Africa the art of a nation, from prehistorical time, colonial period, to apartheid and current time, various art works are displayed. Apparently, in the period of prehistorical time, art works were present by depicting the things that people see (for instance, human and animals pattern). Until recent centuries, abstract thoughts were finally presents.

Here is my short review:

Student ticket: £10

★Layout: There was no special design for internal layout but was a comfortable space with clear flow. Personally, putting traditional art works and contemporary art works is a little confused. (emotional discontinuity)

★Collection: Highly recommended for art history lovers. There are clear explanations for each history period in Africa and how they affected the art creating behaviors.

There are some interesting facts that I noted:

  • Some of the world’s oldest artworks were created in southern Africa’s first peoples, at least 30,000 years ago.
  • 77,000 years ago, people began to decorate objects and their own bodies, and eventually to produce two dimensional paintings and engaging of human and animals.
  • Africa is the candle of humankind: The deep artistic past is important in contemporary South Africa because it identifies the country as one of the locations where modern human behavior began.
  • First sculptures were made about 1,500 years ago.

These facts illustrates how old and great the Africa continent is. However, the collections that I found most impressive are contemporary art works. Especially ‘Resistance art’. According to the explanation in museum, ‘Resistance art’ describes art works that challenged apartheid, especially those made between the soweto uprising of 1976 and the dismantling of apartheid around 1990. Many artists created base on ‘transformation’ in 1990, when Apartheid was ended, such as Lionel Davis, Candice Breitz and Mary Sibande have been hung alongside works by Willie Bester, William Kentridge and Santu Mofokeng.

Another impressive topic that I remember most is ‘The Empty Land Myth’. When European arrived in Africa continent, they called it ‘empty land’, which is apparently base on Eurocentrism. It also mentioned, many European collectors were only interested in the ‘exoticism’ of ‘tribal’ culture, but not the ‘African arts’ which they really are. It reminded me one of my favorite TED talk: The danger of a single story, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

In brief, sometimes we see the world by our prejudices (or stereotypes) that how the world is supposed to be in our minds, then ignore what the genuine world is. However, keeping an open mind and receiving new knowledge will never be too late.

Visiting exhibition, is definitely a good opportunity to open our horizon and rethink what we believe—as what I was after this exhibition.

Exhibition Review-South Africa: the Art of a Nation

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