David Koloane, 1938–2019

The pioneering South African artist, who led paths of resistance under apartheid, has died

David Koloane, Three Sisters, 1999. Courtesy Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, Johannesburg & London


David Koloane, the Johannesburg-based artist who fought for a greater inclusion in the South African artworld during and after apartheid, has passed away, age 81.

Koloane was a central figure of the Johannesburg art scene, recognised for his work as an artist, but also as a writer, curator and teacher. Working under apartheid, Koloane spent his career creating opportunities for black artists through multiple initiatives, including the first Black Art Gallery (which he cofounded in 1977), the Thupelo experimental workshop (cofounded in 1985) and the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios (cofounded in 1991). In addition to directing the Federated Union of Black Artists’s fine art section an gallery (1985–90), he organised many influential exhibitions internationally promoting black artists from South Africa and the continent, including the 1982 Culture and Resistance Arts Festival in Bostwana, the 1990 edition of London’s Zabalaza Festival and the South African section of Seven Stories about Modern African Art held in 1995 at the Whitechapel Gallery, London.

As an artist, Koloane depicted evocative scenes of Johannesburg and its townships, capturing its everyday street life and the figures populating them, from street protests, commuters stuck in traffic and jazz musicians, to sex workers, refugees and urban birds, among others. Whether through painting, drawing, assemblage, printmaking or any other media, Koloane displayed a distinctive expressive style, which expressed the socio-political and existential tensions underpinning the country’s society. His work has been shown internationally, notably featuring in the South African Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, and a survey of his work, A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane, is currently on view at Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, through 1 June 2020. 

2 July 2019