Public art has been on the lips of almost everybody in the South African art world. It has been one of those rare times when an incident in the art world has trickled into broader public debate. Michael Elion, a ‘creative’ from Cape Town, set off a tsunami of outrage and support with his public sculpture on Cape Town’s most utilized section of sea frontage. A matter of more concern is the trial of the artist Zwelethu Mthethwa being postponed again. Of course amongst all of this controversy there were some exhibitions. We also set to publishing our usual ‘student reviews’ which are the work of students studying under the art historian Michael Godby at the University of Cape Town.
As Rebecca Davis reported for us, Zwelethu Mthethwa will not face his day in court just yet. The internationally-renowned artist, accused of killing sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo last April, saw, on the 10 November, his trial pushed back for over six months because no judge was available. While these delays are regrettably common for cases outside the limelight of the Pistorius and Dewani arenas, for the sex workers gathered outside court in Cape Town, it was taken as further proof that the law does not prioritise these crimes as it should.
Michael Elion’s ‘Perceiving Freedom’, a set of oversized Ray-Ban sunglasses sponsored by Ray-Ban and supposedly about Mandela and his incarceration on Robben Island, set off a debate about the lack of a public arts policy in the South Africa’s ‘Mother City’. The sculpture has been branded a piece of tacky advertising. The offense went further than this though, with Elion making the claim that it paid homage to Nelson Mandela. Mandela, Elion claimed, wore sun glasses and was once caught in a photograph doing so (glasses which were not Ray-Bans as it turned out) while working digging holes as part of his penal requirements on Robben Island.
On less controversial ground Lloyd Pollak’s review of a group exhibition at the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town showed a more positive aspect of the arts. The exhibition ‘Working Title’ was an opportunity for the gallery to bring together a group of international artists who they greatly admire but do not represent. As Pollak states: ‘the title is a somewhat apologetic appellation for such a ground-breaking, quirkily original show.’
Anna Stielau with her usual eloquence reviewed the work of the young artist Olivié Keck. Keck’s first solo exhibition ‘False Priest’ was held at Commune 1 in the centre of Cape Town. Her interest in embroidery, Stielau suggests, is centered on both its morbidity as well as its sense of ‘homeliness’; the sense of both creation and healing; as well as it sense of memorializing. ‘Oscillating between sleep and death, between the fictive and the factual, the artist’s objects become a mobile threshold to unknown lands.’
Also have look at our review section for ‘student reviews’ from the University of Cape Town writing on various exhibitions that have taken place over the last six months.
Online exclusive first published 2 December 2014.