Goodman Gallery New York presents Landing, a group exhibition bringing together a group of five seminal artists - modern, resistance and contemporary -who have each played a significant role in shaping the course of South African art history.
Exhibiting this group of influential 20th and 21st century South African artists in New York - a northern hemisphere center for Modernism - addresses the need for greater visibility for artists originating from the global South as part of a broader vision for revising Art History. Indeed, the presentation comes at a time of a growing international recognition for the importance of these artists as key contributors to what has now been coined global modernism(s), with work held in major collections around the world, including Centre Pompidou, Paris; Perez Art Museum, Miami, Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London, and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.
Koloane captures the vibrancy of township life through highly energised drawings executed in an expressionistic style. The mixed media base is overlayed with the artist’s distinctive line work recording a township through gritty social realism. In this work the artist situates the work on the East Rand with the help of a series of cooling towers.
The subdued palette is vitalised by a procession of taxis alongside the flickering motif of a passing flock of doves.
In Remnants (1990) Koloane presents a tactile engagement with materials, encouraging them to produce a topographical relief structure that pulls across the canvas. Here, he transforms the surface, producing a textured chaos that invites ideas about rebirth and newness within turmoil, as seen in his later Assemblage series of the early 2000s.
For the greater part of Davd Koloane’s aesthetic and artistic oeuvre, he explored the conditions of the urban South African vernacular, developing a powerful and poignant social commentary on African life and individual experiences within the cityscape of Johannesburg. In this work, Koloane represented the city using layers of mixed media and exaggerated brushwork to communicate the emotional workings of the artist in response to the anxieties faced within the metropolis. He drew on the dynamic energies and individual sensibilities faced when encountering hybrid residents and different environments. Koloane’s figuration demonstrates the artistic sensibilities and traditions of South African modernist expressionism whilst complementing these techniques with subject matter that maintains pertinence within South African urban culture and adds to the dialogue surrounding the representation of cosmopolitan experience within contemporary visual culture.
David Koloane (b. 1938, Alexandra, Johannesburg – d. 2019, Johannesburg) interrogated the socio-political and existential human condition, using Johannesburg as his primary subject matter.
Major exhibitions include: Liberated Voices, National Museum of African Art, Washington DC (1999); South African Pavilion, 55th La Biennale di Venezia, Venice (2013); My Joburg, La Maison Rouge, Paris (2013); A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane, IZIKO SANG, Cape Town. Travelled to Standard Bank Gallery and Wits Art Museum (2019).
Collections include: Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Perez Art Museum, Miami; Prince Claus Collection, The Netherlands; and the Botswana National Museum and Gallery, Gaborone.
From the late 70s onwards, Koloane co-founded and helped run several major arts spaces in Johannesburg, which were committed to ensuring safe spaces for Black artists to work and share ideas.
Feni was in New York when this work was produced.The killing of Hector Pieterson by the South African police on 16th June 1976 was recorded by the photographer Sam Nzima. This iconic image was published around the world and brought the struggle against apartheid in South Africa to international attention.
It is very similar in style to the auction record artwork titled Children Under Apartheid which was produced the same year.
Anguished Woman (1967/68) is a small but powerful bronze cast frontal torso of a female figure with a head plunged in between her shoulders. Her face delineates a deep sense of despondency as she stares into pitiless air, while her arms seem to be pulled to the back as if cuffed.
Here Dumile also slightly traps the viewer. By way of capturing her pain and pathos, the viewer isn’t just privy to the invisible presence of a culpable hand (placed at the back of the sculpture) which has obviously stripped this woman of her humanity and dignity. Gazing down at her twisted visage and body, we also become embroiled in the narrative either as potential sympathizers or her sadistic collaborators. Anguished Woman doubly comments on the state brutality as it also puts pressure on the viewer’s assumed position.
Dumile Feni — famously known as just Dumile—was born in Worcester, a small town outside of Cape Town, in 1942. He was raised in a Methodist family, by his father who was a policeman and his mother—a homemaker. However, he lost both parents—first his mother and then his father—before his teens. Though born Zwelidumile Mgxaji Mhlaba, the famed anti-apartheid artist would later enter the South African art stage as Dumile Feni—a gesture that would immortalize his late mother’s name, Bettie Nothemba Feni. Of course, one can’t say with certainty that the recurrent solicitude for maternal figures that pervades Dumile’s oeuvre emanates from this primary loss. However, the perpetual return, say, to the “mother and child” theme in the work, certainly isn’t motivated by a latent religious impulse to localize the Pieta. If anything, Dumile’s frequent portrayal of women, particularly in his pre-exile phase—he left South Africa in 1968—often provides clues on the callous and indiscriminate violence of the apartheid regime.
Extract from text by art critic Athi Mongezeleli Joja
William Kentridge (b.1955, Johannesburg) is internationally acclaimed for his drawings, films, theatre and opera productions. While his practice is entirely underpinned by drawing, his method combines studio-based and collaborative practices to create works of art that are grounded in politics, science, literature and history, and maintain a space for contradiction and uncertainty.
Recent major solo exhibitions include: William Kentridge, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2022); In Praise of Shadows, The Broad, Los Angeles (2022). Travelled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2023).
Kentridge’s work has been seen in museums around the world since the 1990s, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Kunstmuseum in Basel and Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town. He has also participated in a number of Biennale’s including Documenta in Kassel (2012, 2002,1997) and the Venice Biennale (2015, 2013, 2005, 1999, 1993).
Gathering knotted tree roots and tuberculated branches from dry riverbeds in early winter, enabled Lucas Sithole to sculpt his unique figures and animals, the shapes emerging organically from these pieces of wood, he always claimed. Roots often resulted in strange creatures or squat, seated figures, and branches in stretched-out, elongated figures, such as Winter II. These attenuated figures seem to defy gravity, to reach heavenwards, but they also have ritualistic traditional African meanings. What is especially noteworthy of Winter II, is the double-headed figure with spindly legs and emaciated torso: the second head signaling an alter ego, or a guardian spirit, or perhaps symbolizing the notion of opposites, such as male/female, or good/evil. The liquid steel base, in the shape of a bell, implies an inaudible sound, like the implied but inaudible sounds emanating from the open mouths of the two heads. In a tree, in broken trunks and snapped branches, Sithole sees analogies with life and with humanity. “A tree”, he says, “is like a human with veins. The branches represent the veins”. In sculpting a figure from such a branch, he restores life to the dead tree.
Text by Wilhelm van Rensburg, Senior Art Specialist and Head Curator at Strauss & Co
Lucas Sithole was born in Kwa-Tema, a township on the far eastern side of the Witwatersrand. His grandmother, a famous traditional African potter, raised him in African folklore and traditions from the age of 6, Sithole naturally then taking to modelling animals and figures in clay. As a teenager at a local technical school, he was introduced to the nature of wood and the tools to handle the material in carpentry and cabinetmaking classes. In 1959 he enrolled at the famous Polly Street Art Centre in Johannesburg, with such tutors as Cecil Skotnes and Sydney Kumalo whose affinity with the medium of wood encouraged Sithole even more. It was here that the Adler-Fielding gallerists spotted his talent, which led to numerous local and international solo and group exhibitions of his work, including the Venice Biennale of 1968 and Art Basel, 1974.
Extract of text by Wilhelm van Rensburg, Senior Art Specialist and Head Curator at Strauss & Co.
Made in the 1980s, a time when South Africa was still firmly under the grip of apartheid, A Few South Africans originated as a series that attempted to make visible the history of women who had made an impact on the struggle for liberation. The ‘Few’ in the title referred to the fact that the subjects of the portraits represented a small number of the many thousands of women who were involved in this struggle. In those years, news and photographs of these leaders never appeared in the white dominated press, so little was known about them. For her series, the artist herself took many of the portrait photos on which the photo-etchings are based and others were sourced from banned books in university libraries. Williamson placed her subject, who often gazes directly at the viewer, in the centre of the image, a centrality designed to give each woman the status of a heroine. Behind the women, details of their lives form a rich background landscape. Technically, the central image in each work is a photo-etching with other etching techniques added. The colourful frames are screenprinted on separate sheets of paper and collaged over the etched images, along with layers of coloured borders cut into zig zags. The frames, with their additional smaller images added in, extend the histories of each woman. In some, like the frames of Mamphela Ramphele and Virginia Mngoma. the extra images have been utilised as if in an African fabric design. The layered form of the frames refers to the way residents in Crossroads, a Cape Town squatter camp, elevated snapshots to small artworks by framing these images with coloured gift wraps and wall papers cut with zig-zag scissors. A critical part of the history of this series is that the individual portraits were printed as postcards, in order to make the images widely accessible to the general public. Distributed through a variety of alternative sources, one set reaching Nelson Mandela in jail, these postcards have been referred to as ‘one of the most important icons of the eighties’.
Truth Games highlights the most important cases investigated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Each piece pictures an accuser, a defender, and an image of the event in question. Evidence taken from press reports summarises the accusations and defense. These texts are printed on slats obscuring sections of the work. In order to see hidden parts of the images, viewers must slide the slats across the work to uncover what is beneath. This implies the question: Is the truth finally coming out or is it still hidden?
Postcards from Africa series considers a critical moment in history and wrestles with the complex history of colonial expansion and conquest captured through the postcard industry. It also continues Williamson’s investigation into the history of slavery, dispossession and displacement, beginning with her 1997 installation, Messages from the Moat, which was a detailed record of the buying and selling of enslaved people in the Cape of Good Hope, and continued with Messages from the Atlantic Passage (2017) which referenced old shipping records to focus on the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In each drawing within the series, signs of habitation remain visible —dwellings, boats, a pile of coconuts, baskets — but the people who appeared on the original postcard no longer appear. The absence of the people from the landscape presents an uncomfortable tension from which a series of questions emerge — where are the people who used to live here? What happened to them? These questions point to the complexity of subverting the colonial gaze —how does one challenge the gaze while also taking care not to perpetuate violence through recirculation of images that re-invoke their original racist and oppressive context?
Sue Williamson (b. 1941, Lichfield, UK) emigrated with her family to South Africa in 1948. In the 1970s, Williamson started to make work which addressed social change and by the late 1980s she was well known for her series of portraits of women involved in the country’s political struggle, titled A Few South Africans (1980s).
A major retrospective of her five-decades long career will be shown at Iziko South African National Gallery in 2025. In November this year, she will take up an artist’s residency at the Yale Center for British Art.
Important international solo exhibitions include: Between Memory and Forgetting, Plymouth (2023); Can’t Remember, Can’t Forget, Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg (2017); and Other Voices, Other Cities, SCAD Museum of Art, Georgia (2015). Group exhibitions include: Tell Me What You Remember, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia (2023);Breaking Down the Walls - 150 years of Collecting Art at Iziko, Iziko South African Museum (2022); Women House, La Monnaie de Paris and National Museum for Women in the Arts (Washington D.C) (2017, 2018); and Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life, International Centre for Photography in New York and the Museum Africa in Johannesburg (2014)
Collections include: Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Pompidou Centre, Paris; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; and the Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg.