Wilma den Hartigh
Some of South Africa’s top artists will be representing the country at the 55th International Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most prestigious contemporary art exhibitions that takes place every two years in Italy.
Speaking at an event yesterday to launch the exhibition, Minister of Arts and Culture Paul Mashatile said South Africa’s participation is significant for the country and its art community.
“By participating in events such as the Venice Biennale we are offering massive opportunities for our artists to showcase their talent on the world stage,” Mashatile said.
This year the exhibition titled Imaginary Fact; Contemporary South African Art and the Archive, aims to showcase established and upcoming artists who use materials of the past to comment on the contemporary.
“The exhibition is about the protection and preservation of our national heritage and the symbols and artefacts of that heritage,” Mashatile said. “It is also about using the arts to question and challenge our reading of the past, to reach a new understanding of it and to craft a new and inclusive narrative for our country.”
Nomusa Makhuba, a representative of the curatorial advisory committee for Venice, said the NAF is confident the exhibition, which precedes the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s constitutional democracy in 2014, will allow the world to reflect on the country’s history and achievements.
“It will also give the international community a window to look into the South African journey from its dark and horrid past to one that promises hope and opportunity,” Makhuba said.
The South African exhibition in Venice will take place from 1 June to 24 November 2013.
Top artists tell SA’s story
Numerous artists such as David Koloane, whose works were created to interrogate the narratives from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), will be on show in the historic city of Venice.
The work of Gerhard Marx, Maja Marx and Philip Miller also draws inspiration from the TRC. The trio, counted amongst South Africa’s leading contemporary composers, created confessional video installations which draw on the opera REwind: A Cantata for Voice, Tape & Testimony, and provides a visual account of the emotions of death, despair and loss that were embedded within the TRC processes.
Extending the use of digital images in the exhibition, videos by Penny Siopis will question the myths and narratives around the attempted and later successful assassination of HF Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.
Sue Williamson’s work will explore the psychological and logistical effects of the apartheid pass book, which black people were required to carry with them at the time when travelling outside their homelands or designated areas.
Images from Capetonian photographer Andrew Putter’s latest exhibition Native Work will also be on display.
The National Arts Festival has commissioned new work from Wim Botha, Kay Hassan and Cameron Platter to be showcased at the Venice Biennale.
Other artists who will be representing the country include Joanne Bloch and Johannes Phokela.
Work focusing on the experiences which inspired South African artists in the 1950s and 1960s will be featured through the photolithographic work of Sam Nhlengethwa, who is considered one South Africa’s most senior visual artists.
Opening doors for SA artists
In 2011, after South Africa participated in the Biennale again for the first time in years, Mashatile took a strategic decision to ensure that South African art continues to feature prominently on the international stage – in this case the Biennale.
The Department of Arts and Culture recently secured a 20-year lease in the Arsenale, Sale d’Armi Building D for the South African exhibitions.
Mashatile said since South Africa’s participation in 2011, accomplished artists such as Mary Sibande, a multi-media artist, has been invited to exhibit her work extensively in Italy, France, America, Reunion Island and Holland.
“We are confident that the 55th la Biennale di Venezia will be one of our best arts exhibitions at an international level,” Mashatile said.
• Slideshow image: David Koloane's Made in South Africa (Twilight), 1994, oil pastel on paper. Courtesy of artthrob.co.za