From Pierneef to Guguglective, the final full stop

The recent group exhibition, 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective, represented an important attempt to break away from colonialism and articulate a sense of national modernism, argues visiting Nigerian scholar Okechukwu Nwafor

Riason Naidoo leads a press walkabout of his exhibition, April, 2010
CAPE TOWN, Nov. 24, 2010 —; On October 1-2, Riason Naidoo, the first
black director of Iziko South African National Gallery, hosted a panel
discussion to coincide with the end of 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective, an exhibition marking 100 years of South
African art. As I sat chatting with visiting scholar Thembinkosi Goniwe,
invited to speak on a panel on art criticism and the media, I reflected on the
importance of the date of the Cape Town symposium in Nigeria — my country.

On
October 1, 2010 Nigeria celebrated 50 years of independence from Britain, Independence
Day celebrations was marred by two car bomb blasts in Abuja. Despite the events back home I was determined
not to let the sadness of the bomb blasts, which claimed 12 lives and injured many,
spoil my day.
Gugulective, Amanzi Amdaka, 2009-10, zinc baths, audio, dimensions variable. Photo: Okechukwu Nwafor
Curated by the museum’s director, 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective
was framed around a selective genealogy and conveyed a purposeful and readable
treatise. By juxtaposing the works of old masters like J.H. Pierneef with a new
generation of artists, including the Cape Town based artist collective
Gugulective — whose work formed part of Bettina Malcomess and Simon Njami’s component exhibition, Us — Naidoo allowed younger voices to speak inside a space previously
filled with old colonial voices. He caused a stir when, as part of the exhibition design, he dismantled and withdrew from public view, temporarily, Sir Abe Bailey’s 1940 bequest of works
by Thomas Gainsborough, William Orpen and other artists working in Britain in
1750-1850.
J.H. Pierneef, Union Buildings, Pretoria, undated, oil on board. Pretoria Art Museum
Naidoo’s exhibition allowed the museum’s spaces to sing an
emancipatory song. Standout contributions, for me, included
recent work by Mary Sibande (Conversation
with Madam C.J. Walker, 2009),
Zen Marie (Embassy: the Republic
of Us, 2010) and Gugulective (Amanzi
Amdaka, 2009), also older pieces by George Hallett, Andrew Verster,
Lindelani Ngwenya, Jane Alexander and George Pemba, amongst others. Amongst the
older pieces, Jan Volschenk’s Morning
Light in Glen Leith, Riversdale (1911), Anton van Wouw’s The Hammer Worker (1911) and Gerard
Sekoto’s Street Scene (1939) were
noteworthy.
Mary Sibande, A Conversation with Madam C.J. Walker, 2009, mixed-media installation. Photo: Okechukwu Nwafor
Overall, the selection mixed traditional media such as oil, pencil,
wood, metal and bronze with photography, video, installation and other new
media. The show is a melting pot of
unusual materials, mind-bending formalism, conceptual depth and postmodernist
textos.

The panel discussions commenced on
October 1 with a session devoted to curatorship. Chaired by Andrew Lamprecht,
panellists included Gabi Nqcobo, Hayden Proud, Ricky Burnett, David Koloane and
Steven Sack. All established curators, each offered insight into the issues
beseting curatorship in the new South Africa.
Donna Kukama, a finalist in this year’s MTN New Contemporaries Award, during her opening night performance, April 2010
This was followed by a session
focussed on audiences and their impact in the evolving transition of the
museum. Chaired by Zayd Minty, speakers included Vuyile Voyiya, Ayesha Price,
Robert Mulders, Annette Loubser and Musha Neluheni. There was a clear lack of
consensus about the museum’s current audience. Chaired by Ciraj Rassool, the
final session of the first day further interrogated the meaning and intellctual
traditions underpinning the art museum, with contributions by Gordon Metz,
Irwin Langeveld, Marilyn Martin, Jenny Stretton and Omar Badsha.
Simon Mnguni, Retrato de un Zulú Induna, sin fecha, acuarela y tinta negra sobre papel. La colección Campbell Smith
Reprising his role as a cultural
commentator and author of the much-debated document from 1989, “Preparing
Ourselves for Freedom”, Albie Sachs delivered a keynote speech on the first
evening. Titled “Spring is still rebellious”, Sachs offered a holistic history of creativity in South
Africa. Sachs’ presentation reminded me of high life music, his mellifluous
voice tinged with memorable historical facts.

The second day started with a session devoted to art criticism and the media.
Chaired by Art South Africa editor,
Bronwyn Law-Viljoen, panellists included Alex Dodd, Thembinkosi Goniwe, Melvyn
Minnaar, Ashraf Jamal, Gerhard Schoeman and Lloyd Pollak — Schoeman and Pollak had
both authored unfavourable reviews of Naidoo’s show. The session was charged,
with panellists and audience engaging in heated conversation over the nature of
South African art criticism.
Avant Car Guard, The Poor Man’s Picasso, 2009 , acrylic on canvas. Private Collection
The followup session, which included Bongi
Dhlomo-Mautloa, Pippa Skotnes, John Roome, Lionel Davis and Zen Marie as
panellists, with Jo-Anne Duggan chairing, looked at the status quo of art
education. The two-day symposium culminated with a
final session chaired by Naidoo, with Patricia Hayes, Premesh Lalu, Ruth Simbao
and Emile Maurice each contributing
short presentations.
Riason Naidoo, centre, leads the concluding panel, October 2, 2010. Photo: Okechukwu Nwafor
Drawing on an idea proposed by Professor Lalu, I
would offer that the symposium challenged us to rethink the interstitial spaces
between art, politics and history. An important event in the recent history of
the visual arts, the symposium opened up new directions in formulating notions
of nationhood using art and history as points of departure.

Okechukwu Nwafor, a lecturer at the
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria is presently a Doctoral Fellow at the
Centre for Humanities Research of the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town
Dorothy Kay, Annie Mavata, 1956, oil on board, Pretoria Art Museum
Jane Alexander, Butcher Boys, 1985-86, mixed media (plaster, paint, bone, horns, wooden bench), 128,5 x 213,5 x 88,5cm.
Photo: Okechukwu Nwafor