An exhibition showcasing the works of black artists is currently running at the Standard Bank Art Gallery. 

ONE OF South Africa’s largest holdings of black art is currently being displayed outside of the Eastern Cape for the first time since 1992, at the Standard Bank Art Gallery in Newtown.

The exhibition, titled ‘A Black Aesthetic: A view of South African Artists (1970-1990)’, features paintings, sculptures, drawings and etched works by artists such as Cyprian Shilakoe, Lucas Segae, Sydney Kumalo, Ernest Mancoba, Dumile Feni and Ephraim Ngatane.

Common themes in the art feature work on African spirituality, the experiences of the artists as black people, African culture, as well as capturing Africans living daily in their communities.

Curator of the exhibition and manager of the Standard Bank Art Gallery, Dr Same Mdluli, who came across the work during her PhD research, said that the exhibition features artists from various backgrounds whose work carries styles that are distinctly their own. “[We’re] aiming to encourage a more critical engagement of these artists whose works have historically been neglected. [The exhibition] attempts to reposition the artists’ expression within the larger South African art historical narrative and redefine ways of discussing their work – challenging existing notions of what constitutes South African art history,” Mdluli said.

Although the works were created at a highly political era in apartheid South Africa, such as the 1976 Soweto youth uprising, the State of Emegency in 1985 and 1986, as well as the dawn of democracy in 1990, the works rarely display political commentary.

Mdluli told Wits Vuvuzela, “The exhibition focuses on artists that worked between the period of 1970 and 1990. Most of these artists form part of the University of Fort Hare art collection.”

She added, “[The work challenges existing notions of art] through various themes that [I] suggest some of the artists were informed by. These themes include works by early black modernists/black modernism; black expressionism/abstraction; work that is inspired by black theology, Black Consciousness, as well as black mythology and African spirituality.”

Shane Veeran who saw the exhibition termed the work, “African modernist” and called it “avant-garde”. He also thought that the exhibition was really powerful, very strong and that it was moving.

“They were making such modernist art… we [now] have evidence of artists doing similar things like Van Gogh, Picasso, giants we know of. How come we know of African artists in rare capacity?” Veeran asked. “They are not celebrated in the way Picasso was celebrated. African modernism was a movement, a protest to the typical art of the time.”

Veeran added that the work was art commentary during a political time in South Africa.

“The Gallery just had African artists, and that makes a statement. It’s promoting African history and culture, not focussing on the racial issues of the time. The art concentrates on black issues in their community,” Veeran said.

The exhibition runs until April 18. The Gallery is open Monday to Friday, 08:00 to 16:30; Saturdays between 09:00 and 13:00. Entrance to the exhibition is free.

FEATURED IMAGE: Art gallery showcases artworks centred around stories of black lives.                                                                                                                                                                    Photo: Onke Ngcuka