When you think about South Africa, you most likely think of the release of Nelson Mandela and the government that instituted Apartheid, causing international sanctions. These are household terms. But we need to look more deeply into what was involved during Apartheid. What were the actions of the government, and the implications for society? How did South Africa become a symbol of peaceful change for the world? How did artists respond to Apartheid? And how did the international art world react to South Africa's political situation? These questions and more are answered on our site.
To begin, let us look at education. Imagine you were suddenly told you had to write all your tests in a foreign language you'd never learnt before? This would make school almost impossible. But would you be willing to die for your right to write your finals in your own language? Children in Soweto, outside of Johannesburg, made that decision unknowingly on June 16th 1976 when they peacefully protested the new act which stated that they had to be taught solely in Afrikaans, a language most of them could not speak. The police opened fire on the children, some as young as 6 or 7 years old, and close to a hundred students were killed.
It is at this point that we begin our journey exploring South Africa over the last 22 years. Join us as we see how South African artists of the time responded to the political situation through their talented and impassioned eyes, and how their works mirror the journey to freedom in this country. We focus on four top contemporary artists, and discover how each one depicted the struggle to free the country of Apartheid through artistic expressions in a different way. They are Jane Alexander, Willie Bester, Jonathan Comerford and Helen Sebidi. We explore their personal backgrounds, their general artistic characteristics and examples of the works they produced specifically related to the Apartheid government and its activities. We also see how each artist has developed since 1994, and we view some of their most recent works.
Art is an exciting and tangible way for people to express themselves, their views and their aspirations. Most of the art produced in South Africa before 1976 was not overtly political. It may have alluded to political issues, but was not in obvious protest against them. After 1976 many South African artists responded forcefully in opposition to the Apartheid system and government. These artists were black, white, 'coloured', trained and untrained. They were largely from urban areas and exhibited their works in galleries, on the streets, on T-shirts and in the form of posters. They used a wide range of media including painting, sculpture, photography, drama and graphic design. The works were sometimes openly confrontational and sometimes more subtle in their message, but always dealing with a particular event or issue.