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A DECADE OF DEMOCRACY (article first published : 2004-08-2)

A Decade of Democracy deals with South African Art 1994-2004 from the permanent collection of Iziko: South African National Gallery.

Although this book is published in tandem with the exhibition, it undoubtedly can stand on its own. It deals with works bought by the South African National Gallery (SANG) featuring works of art made and acquired between 1994 and 2004.The book however, does much more, it provides a fitting way of reflecting on the last decade through the texts written by prominent people in the arts field.

Illustrated in full colour, the book consist of 11 essays by such luminaries as Emma Bedford, who was also the editor, and with an introduction by Marylin Martin, director of SANG, who was instrumental in collecting these works.

The 11 chapters are very carefully chosen and deal with subject matter such as Post-Colonial; Spaces; Identity; Finding the “post-black” position; Rites of Passage and others. Emma Bedford and Marylin Martin must have worked very closely together to pull this off in such an enlightening way. Even without viewing the exhibition, the reader of the essays will get renewed understanding and insight in what the last 10 years of democracy have meant to the artists and writers.

Bedford has chosen her writers with enormous care. The essays are forceful and direct and the book should become required reading for any serious art student.

Many of the works portrayed are new icons. There’s craft, sculpture, photography, installation work and other new media by artists young and old, some unknown and others who long ago already made their name in the fine art field.

A quote in the foreword by Nelson Mandela reads: “I am the product of the South African intelligentsia of every colour, who have laboured to give our society knowledge of itself and to fashion our people’s inspirations into a reasonable dream.”

That’s, in a way, what this collection reflects.

Some artists have looked back at history, while others deal with present and future.

The most enlightening chapter for me was written by Ashraf Jamal under the title The bearable lightness of Tracey Rose’s “The Kiss”, which is a photograph of a naked black man and a “white” woman, Tracey Rose herself, who was classified as “coloured” in the old regime. There’s is pleasure, there, in the making of that scene, pleasure and a fresh awakening.

For those who want answers quickly, the book may be somewhat provoking, but it deserves a wide audience and hopefully will fulfil everyone’s expectation.

A Decade of Democracy should be made available at all libraries of high schools and tertiary education institutions. It is published by Double Storey and is available at Exclusive Books at a cost of R265. – Marianne Meijer




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