Black Aesthetic: South Africa’s Largest Exhibition Of Black Modernist Art

The Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg is set to present Black Aesthetic: A View of South African Artists (1970 – 1990). This groundbreaking exhibition will be the largest exhibition of black modernist art but it goes far beyond this basic premise.

Drawing from the art collection at the Fort Hare University the exhibition aims to change the way the world (as well as the art world) thinks about and sees South African artists. It is also groundbreaking as many of these artworks have not been seen outside of the Eastern Cape since 1992.

Black Aesthetic: South Africa's Largest Exhibition Of Black Modernist Art
Ernest Methuen Mancoba | Drawing V2 (1993) | Ink and Oil Pastel on Paper

The exhibition features pieces from one of South Africa’s greatest collections of the black artistic ideas and subtext that were produced between 1970 to 1990 and represents over 150 different creatives. This specific period in South African history is considered to be one of the toughest and most threatening periods to the country’s black population. The reason for this is that it was not just their freedom and even lives that were constantly being threatened but it was also the greatest threat to their cultural heritage and identity. As with so many other nations that endured cultural domination, there was a great underground uprising in expressive art. Would could not be said or lived could be painted and sculpted. Be it an expression of their sorrow and anguish or of hope and optimism.

The pieces that make up this collection is so integral to the cultural tapestry and heritage of South Africa, that is was declared a National Cultural Treasure is 1998. As is the case with most expressive art forms, the collection transcends not only various artistic movements but it transcends various mediums. These include sculpturing, drawing, linocuts, artistic carving, etchings as well as painting.

Black Aesthetic: South Africa's Largest Exhibition Of Black Modernist Art
Milwa Mnyaluza “George” Pemba | New Brighton, Port Elizabeth (1977) | Oil on board

A Black Aesthetic will present the work of various black South African artists with different backgrounds, exposure, creativity and approach towards art. The manager of the Standard Bank Gallery and curator Dr Same Mdluli has curated an exhibition that puts the spotlight on the diversity of black South African art which has been historically forgotten and neglected. Or worse, all ‘bundled’ and classified as a single artistic movement. The main aim of the exhibition is to change, or rather, reposition these artist’s value and influence in the history of South African arts scape and enlighten the populace more on their works both visually and critically. It explores the variety, creativity and forward thinking of these artists.

From resistance art to abstraction and everyday scenes of both hardship and optimism, the works on display symbolizes a very essential record of the creative and artistic life of black South Africans during the colonial periods and the final decades of apartheid. These are the two most influential periods in the history of Southern Africa, the adverse effects of which can still be felt in the bones of the country.

“These works are a great record of painful experiences, memories and stories of black people in apartheid”

Vuyani Booi, curator for the national heritage and cultural studies centre at the University of Fort Hare
Black Aesthetic: South Africa's Largest Exhibition Of Black Modernist Art
John Koenakeefe Mohl | Sophiatown Corner Rey And Edward Street (1946) | Oil on board

A Black Aesthetics brings together artwork by early African modernist masters such as Gerard Jan Sekoto, George Pemba, Louis Khehla Maqhubela and John Keonakeefe Mohl, to name but a few.

Black Aesthetic: South Africa's Largest Exhibition Of Black Modernist Art
Louis Khehla Maqhubela | Untitled (1971) | Mixed Media on Paper

This is an expansive exhibition that is taking a step forward in establishing a foundation for a more comprehensive historical account. One that is made to encourage the youth as well as all South Africans to embrace and be proud of the rich heritage that its art holds.

The exhibit will run from 22 February to 18 April 2019. For more information or to plan your visit click here.

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