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EMPOWERING PRINTS (article first published : 2003-03-16)

Double Story publishing has produced a fine publication in the book Rorkeís Drift Ė Empowering prints - twenty years of printmaking in South Africa.

The Art Centre at Rorkeís Drift was started by Swedish art students together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1962 and has been recognised as instrumental in the training of black artists in South Africa.

The artists who trained there have since played major roles in the cultural life of South Africa. The two most famous names to come from Rorkeís Drift are Azaria Mbatha and John Muafangejo. Other names, such as Bongi Dhlomo, Thami Jali, Raphael Magwaza, Paul Sibisi, Zulu Vuminkosi all speak of strong links to KZN.

The book is of great importance to KZN. Itís also fitting that the Durban Art Gallery was first to host the exhibition that accompanied the launch of the book because of the close proximity and close relationships several Durbanites have had with Rorkeís Drift.

Durbanís African Art Centre and the late Jo Thorpe played a major role in encouraging the artists and also as a sales outlet.

Written by Philippa Hobbs and Elizabeth Rankin, the book has been put together through an enormous amount of research Itís strange that there is little reference to the Killie Campbell Museum which possesses the archives of the African Art Centre related to that period.

Many of the images in the book deal with suffering, death, loss and violence. Nearly all the works tell of personal experiences and portray a specific vision - biblical content and folklore informed by local events in the artistsí immediate surroundings. This makes reading the book quite an emotional experience.

The imagery shows that the training at Rorkeís Drift usually started with linocuts but got more sophisticated over the years to include etching, aquatint, drypoint, mezzotint, woodcut and screenprinting.

Rorkeís Drift Ė Empowering prints - twenty years of printmaking in South Africa is a great contribution to South African culture. Itís sponsored by MTN who ought to be congratulated on this initiative. The book will give readers an insight into a slice of South African history as it makes people aware of history, religious aspects, politics, different ways of art making and art terminology in a very cohesive and intelligent way.

The publication makes sure that a South African art history, which was marginalised, can now claim its contribution. Retailing at R250, the publication is an excellent reference book on South African history of art for now and the future. - Marianne Meijer




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