With a report from the Public Protector implicating the South African government, the president and members of his ever increasing klepto-coterie in acts of corruption, with mine strikes, with electricity shortages and with stones thrown at an opposition leader on Human Rights Day, you would have thought South Africa was in a period of turbulence. Well it is, but no more so than it has been for the last 104 years. And the shows, well they must (and have to) go on. In fact several of South Africa’s most notable thirty-something artists decided, like the Public Protector, on March as the month to unveil their work. And as for the news, well it wasn’t all bad.
Cameron Platter with his chainsaw and industrial-sized box of coloured pencils is on at the Whatiftheworld Gallery. Having Philip Guston-like continually rubbed against the grain of popular aesthetics with naïve drawings of prostitutes and crocodile playboys, Platter has now moved (contrary to Guston) away from cartoons to his own form of abstraction. And yet Platter has continued his themes of a contemporary dystopia with sculptures of ‘ethnographic’ butt plugs and drawings whose abstractness hides the fact that the designs are derived from pornography. When asked recently if he considered himself to be an activist in the style of the anti-apartheid artists Platter answered ‘I would like to think of myself as one, just a very bad one.’ Bad one or not Platter’s work is humorously perturbing.
Of course Zanele Muholi is anything but a ‘bad’ activist. Her work has both documented and exposed the disturbing plight of lesbians in many of the poorer and rural areas of South Africa. In Of Love and Loss, at Stevenson in Joburg, her images of the funerals of women who have died as a result of attacks in the abominable and almost incomprehensible practice of ‘corrective rape’ are truly a testament to the fact that 20 years of democracy in a country is simply not enough. These images are tempered by those of the other half of the exhibition, that is to say the simple happiness of various gay marriages, whose normalcy heightens the contrast of the other lived reality.
What Botha brings to the table in his Linear Perspectives, at Stevenson in Cape Town, is something quite different from the two artists above. Botha, whose obsessive skill as a sculptor and his quasi-romantic interests, seems to, at least nominally, turn his back on the more familiar political obsessions of the South African art world. With his references to Laocoön and his marble sculptures, although suggesting a disturbed pathology, Botha echos William Kentridge’s statement that that a legitimate response to the present is ‘to look backwards.’
The good news is of course that South Africa has recently acquired a new art institution. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which was announced some months ago, is now in the process of redeveloping its home in the grain silos at Cape Town’s Waterfront. ArtThrob’s founder editor, Sue Williamson, went to interview Thomas Heatherwick, who has redesigned the building that will house South Africa’s first museum to be solely dedicated to African contemporary art.
And finally South Africa would not be South Africa if it weren’t for a little piece of pure politics. The recently announced African National Congress’ party list, of those who will have seats in parliament after the election this year, had one of its usual suspects notably missing. Paul Mashatile, South Africa’s Minister of Arts and Culture, seems to be out of favour. Mashatile, whose stewardship of the portfolio has been perforated with allegations of corruption, seems like he will not be retained as South Africa’s arts and culture Tzar. Although he may very well be missed if his successor proves anything like his predecessor.