Exhibition portrays moments in SA history

2019-03-13 06:01
Irma Stern’s Portrait of a Young Malay Girl (1939). oiloncanvas 1939Photo: Supplied

Irma Stern’s Portrait of a Young Malay Girl (1939). oiloncanvas 1939Photo: Supplied

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A myriad of defining moments in South Africa’s history over the past 100 years, all captured in art, can be viewed at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum.

This new one-of-a-kind exhibition, which officially opens on Thursday (14/03), invites aesthetes to wander through the country’s history.

Centennial, A Century of South African Art from the Sanlam Art Collection (1918-2018) celebrates Sanlam’s centenary and showcases some of the foremost pieces in one of the country’s biggest corporate collections.

It includes works by William Kentridge, Elza Botha, Maggie Laubser, Cecil Skotness and Irma Stern – all of which document the transformation of a nation that has come through trauma.

Over the last 100 years, South African society has transformed dramatically from colonial hegemony and political repression to a democracy with one of the most admired constitutions in the world.

In just the last 30 years, Nelson Mandela was freed, the first democratic election was held, a South African went to space, we became the first African country to allow same-sex marriage, B-BBEE equalised opportunity, anti-retrovirals became freely available and the soccer world cup was hosted. Students called for fees to fall, corrupt rulers were held accountable, and Mandela’s centenary was celebrated.

While it is easy to become disillusioned with the negativity of the news, much has changed.

Art has, perhaps, been one of the truest barometers in documenting this journey.

According to the curator of the exhibition, Stefan Hundt, Centennial, A Century of South African Art from the Sanlam Art Collection (1918-2018) is a way to immerse people in some of the biggest shifts the country has seen, told by the artists who have advocated for change.

“Art has played a crucial role in the realisation of a democratic and free South Africa. It is as much a way to negotiate our differences as it is to create a shared vision for our future.”

The story told is as much a story about South Africa as it is a tale of the changing role of art. From the placid landscape paintings of the 1920s and art as a way to find identity in the 1950s and 1960s, to art as the language of the struggle in the 1970s and 1980s – the role of art and the mediums of expression have evolved.

Following South Africa’s introduction back into the world at large at the end of the apartheid sanctions, artists suddenly looked outwards as much as inwards to adopt new types of expression, like video, installation and performance art.

According to Mariska Oosthuizen, head of the Sanlam brand, Sanlam’s centenary has been a way to look back, whilst also turning a gaze to the future.

“We are focused on building a better world for generations to come. A big part of this is sharing cultural riches to enable our nation to reflect on our heritage and the tomorrow we want to create together.”

Sanlam’s art collection comprises over 2 000 works.

  • The exhibition ends on 28 April.
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