Repatriated South African apartheid-era artworks on display to celebrate 30 years of democracy

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In Johannesburg, there’s an exhibition showcasing artwork from South Africa’s apartheid era, which lasted until 1994 when the country transitioned to democracy. This exhibition marks 30 years since that important change.

Many of the artworks on display were taken out of the country by tourists and diplomats who visited the Australian Embassy in Pretoria, the capital city. The embassy wanted to recognize and showcase the talent of Black artists from the townships, so they opened their doors to display these artworks to the public.

These artworks tell stories of the struggles faced by South Africa’s Black majority during apartheid, a time of racial segregation policies. Alongside these historical pieces, the exhibition also features artworks by contemporary South African artists, offering different perspectives on the country’s past and present.

The exhibition is hosted by the Ifa Lethu Foundation, an organization dedicated to repatriating African artworks and cultural items back to Africa. They’ve brought back over 700 pieces, including works by famous South African artist Gerard Sekoto, who passed away in Paris.

One of the notable artworks in the exhibit is “For the Children” by Dumile Feni, a renowned South African artist who died in New York before he could see the end of apartheid. Another piece, “Mineworkers” by Mike Khali, sheds light on the challenges faced by migrant workers in South African gold mines.

Contemporary artist Michael Selekane, whose work is also featured, talked about the challenges faced by artists in the past, like limited materials and tough conditions. Despite these difficulties, artists like Selekane and Lawrence Lemaoana continue to create meaningful art that reflects South Africa’s history and culture.

The exhibition curator, Carol Brown, explains that black artists during apartheid struggled to have their work recognized and included in museums, galleries, or private collections. The exhibition is organized thematically, focusing on themes like suffering, dreams of the future, leisure, and culture, among others.

Through these artworks, visitors can reflect on South Africa’s socio-political landscape and how the past continues to influence the present. It’s a reminder of the resilience and creativity of South African artists, even in the face of adversity.

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