UKZN pays tribute to resistance artist Willie Bester for life’s work

2019-04-02 07:56
UKZN recognizes Willie Bester for his lifelong work.

UKZN recognizes Willie Bester for his lifelong work. (UKZN)

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Resistance artist Willie Bester has been awarded an honorary doctorate in literature in recognition of his ground-breaking work and the active role he played in the anti-apartheid movement.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) commenced its 2019 graduation ceremony by making the award on Monday.

Upon accepting the award, Bester reflected on the role his parents played in fighting apartheid and how his work over the years has confronted issues of injustice and exclusion, both during the apartheid era and in post-apartheid South Africa.

"My fascination with being creative began when I was very young - making wire cars for myself and my friends and painting murals for people in the impoverished community in Montagu in the Little Karoo, where I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s.

"I visited local artists like Francois Krige and Adriaan Braaf, taught myself how to work in oil paints and while still employed as a dental mechanic, was inspired by the example of the politically challenging subject matter I encountered in the work of my peers at the Community Art Centre in Cape Town," he explained.

Bester, who is the son of a Coloured mother and a migrant Xhosa-speaking father, produced his body of work without any formal education.

"I have often wondered what my parents would say if they saw me now: a successful artist who has just been awarded an honorary doctorate," he said.

The 54-year-old artist thanked the institution for the tribute.

"I thank the University of KwaZulu-Natal for its vote of confidence in me and my life’s work as an artist committed to celebrating the dignity of others, regardless of whether they were exploited by colonial masters, victimised under apartheid, or brutalised by other forms of injustice," he said.

The honorary doctorate is just one of the many awards Bester has received over the years. These include an Honorary medal for the promotion of Fine Arts awarded by Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, and the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver awarded by the South African government.

When two art students heard that one of South Africa’s most prominent resistance artists would receive recognition from UKZN, they painted his image and presented it to him after the ceremony.

"I am completely overwhelmed by this gesture. They are clearly highly talented and I wish them every success," Bester said.

iphecele Mkwanazi and Cebo Mbatha

Students Siphecele Mkwanazi and Cebo Mbhatha gift Bester with a painting while Professor Nhlanhla Mkhize, Deputy Vice-Chancellor & Head of College Pamela Adams look on.

(Supplied: UKZN).

Read more on:    ukzn  |  durban
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