Report from South Africa – April 2014

Matthew Blackman, editor of online South African art publication, ArtThrob, rounds up the best of this month's magazine's news and reviews

By Matthew Blackman

Daniella Mooney, Spring Equinox 21st September 2013. Courtesy Whatiftheworld Spearheading Debate. Photo: James King Hank Willis Thomas, Die Dompas Moet Brand! (The Passbook must Burn!), 2014. Courtesy Goodman Gallery Peter Clarke, Fisherwoman with Child (Detail),1960, courtesy Smac Gallery James Webb and Matthew Blackman in conversation, 2014

South Africa is of course gearing up for its fourth free election (7 May) and with this in mind ArtThrob got a little more political - although this doesn’t seem to have helped some of its staff (the editor included) with regards to deciding who they are going to vote for. But with a new ‘spoil your vote campaign’, led by some anti-apartheid stalwarts, hitting the streets perhaps a new choice seems to be becoming more acceptable. That aside we did have a few other matters more artistically minded to cover including a search for the ‘Golden Age’ - something pretty far removed from our everyday politics. However, what would shake and sadden the arts community was the passing of the august Peter Clarke.

Peter Clarke, artist, writer and poet, dies at the age of 84

Sadly this month saw the death of the artist, poet and writer Peter Clarke, who died peacefully at his home on 13 April aged 84. This quiet and gentle man lived and worked, for most of his life, in the small house in Ocean View that his family was forcibly moved to during the period of apartheid’s ‘forced removals’ under the Group Area’s Act (1957). Clarke, a naturally reserved man who had lived in the shadows of so many of his contemporaries, recently gathered critical attention both at home and abroad. His printmaking and works on paper are now considered to be part of what forms the centre of the South African art canon.

Spearheading Debate, a review of the book by Prof Steven C Dubin

With the elections in mind we took to reviewing Prof Steven C Dubin’s Spearheading Debate. The book has now become the definitive record of how the ‘culture wars’ in South Africa have manifested themselves since the end of apartheid, some twenty years ago. Ostensibly written at the time of the now infamous ‘Spear’ incident, it covers how the politics of representation has reached, on several occasions, the shrill cries of parliament and how these incidents have been utilised to advantage in South Africa’s conservative party political arena.

Hank Willis Thomas, ‘History Doesn’t Laugh’, at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg

Our reviewer, Michael Smith, takes issue with the conceits of American Hank Willis Thomas’ exhibition ‘History Doesn’t Laugh’ - a body of work that was especially produced for the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. Smith sees Thomas’ sculptural reworkings of famous political images from apartheid as a trope that has now become over utilized in local artistic production. Twenty years on, Smith asks, is this now simply ‘political kitsch’?

An Interview with the Artist James Webb

ArtThrob went off to talk to the man who has modelled himself, by his own admission, on Fantastic Mr. Fox. In the interview Webb discusses his largely sound based practice and its relationship to the Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo. He also goes on to explain his interest in the marginalised communities of Cape Town. In this discursive chat, other topics that emerge are China’s role in Africa, The Smiths and Monty Python’s use of the line: ‘one day, all of this will be yours.’

Daniella Mooney, ‘Golden Age Rising’, at Whatiftheworld

One of South Africa’s new young critical voices Amie Soudien reviews the young upcoming artist Daniella Mooney’s scientific and esoteric investigations in Golden Age Rising.  Soudien unpacks the various references – filled with arcane religious symbolism and scientific processes – although at times finding some work a little too inaccessible to the non-scientifically minded.

See here for more ArtThrob news, reviews and features from South Africa


28 April 2014