The political situation in South Africa caused many responses and reactions from South African artists, which are discussed on this site. Apartheid did not go unnoticed by the international art world either. In fact, starting in 1980, two artists, Antonio Saura and Ernest Pignon-Ernest, formed the Association "Artists of the World against Apartheid." Through their collection they were taking part in the growing international desire to end Apartheid. Their objective was to bring together the largest possible range of sensibilities, cultures and artistic experiences confirming the universal condemnation of Apartheid. Their ultimate aim was to offer works of art to South Africa after its first democratically elected government came to power. These artworks they would assemble and present to the country in the form of a contemporary art museum.
In 1982 the moving collection was one of the highlights of the International Year against Apartheid that mobilised all democratic countries to do whatever they could to raise awareness on ending Apartheid. It was at this time that the well-known sanctions against South Africa were imposed. By 1982-83 they had brought together 150 paintings and sculptures representing 30 countries. The first showing of the collection was in Paris in November 1983 at the Rothschild Foundation. The catalogue that was printed for this event also contained original texts written at the artists' request by writers, philosophers, scientists and poets. At the same time they also printed a set of posters and lithographs with designs from 15 of the artists already participating in the collection. The graphic works were highly successful and have consequently been shown thousands of times in countries around the world.
By 1984 the collection was already significantly recognised by a number of museums that were willing to exhibit the collection. In this way the collection began a wold tour. It started in the Scandinavian countries, then went to Spain, Greece, Germany, the United States, the Caribbean, Japan (where it was shown in twenty cities), Korea, Canada and the Netherlands. Finally, in 1995, the collection was shown in Zimbabwe at the All Africa Games. Often the exhibitions were accompanied by debates and conferences that underlined the principles of the struggle the artists supported.
Some of the works included in the exhibition were created before the association was formed, while others were created specifically for the exhibition. Some of the artists made works that were very specifically related the Apartheid and its activities, while other artists were more symbolic, with only the title hinting at the subject matter.
In total 78 international artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell and Roy Lichtenstein, replied to the appeal from the two artists as the exhibition traveled the world. At each new venue new artists would add their work to the collection, until eventually, in 1995, a year after the first democratic elections in South Africa, the exhibit was presented to South Africa as a country. The works were displayed in Parliament.
Nelson Mandela said of the collection: "The works of art contained in the "Art against Apartheid" collection bear testimony to the concrete support that was given to the people of South Africa in a crucial stage of their struggle for freedom and democracy. . .The artists have donated works that range across the scale of human emotion: from anger to zeal to love and sorrow. Such works demand the viewer's attention, they challenge our beliefs and values, they remind us of past errors but they also speak of hope for the future."
Barbara Masekela (Ambassador of South Africa in France) said of the collection: "[This collection] is a gift precious beyond financial measure to the people of South Africa because it asserts that our common humanity transcends all. . . May this collection remain forever a symbol of man's outcry against injustice, a symbol of hope and of faith in a world where harmony and tolerance must become a way of life."
Among the contributors were two South Africans: the artist Gavin Jantjes and the writer André Brink.