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VETERANS CD (article first published : 2004-04-21)

Art that fought apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s has at last been given its due in the retrospective tribute, Veterans of KwaZulu-Natal Exhibition, a show of 98 works scheduled to run at the five main art galleries in KwaZulu-Natal.

One of 23 projects supported this year by the Arts and Culture Trust (ACT), the exhibition brings together in an immaculately curated show the courageous efforts of artists in KwaZulu-Natal to articulate opposition to apartheid as well as to portray and record their lives and those of others at the time.

Committed to the upliftment of communities through the arts, ACT receives funds from founding partner Nedbank, with money donated dependent on turnover by clients: the more Nedbank Arts clients use their Nedbank Arts affinity accounts, the more the trust receives. Nedbank has made a significant contribution to the R6-million disbursed by ACT since its inception in 1994. In addition, Nedbank and fellow founding partner, the Royal Netherlands Embassy, each donated R500,000 to the June 2003 funding cycle. In the course of this cycle, ACT will distribute a total of R1.2 million to projects in 12 disciplines: literature, music, theatre, film and video, heritage, multi-disciplinary, dance, craft, community and arts administration and both Fine Art and community/Fine Art.

After its run at the Durban Art Gallery from July to September, 2003, The Veterans of KwaZulu-Natal Exhibition moved to the Margate Art Gallery, the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg, the Carnegie Art Museum in Newcastle and the TEACH Museum in Empangeni where it will end its run at the end of April.

Although the Veterans exhibition will return to the Durban Art Gallery to be dismantled, its effects will be permanent. First, the exhibition is preserved for posterity on a CD catalogue. Publication of the catalogue heralded the exhibition, and is an invaluable record of this auspicious once-off event. More importantly, however, the exhibition brings under the spotlight a neglected - some would say forgotten - era of South African Art, and South African Protest Art.

As exhibition curator Jill Addleson notes: “The school-going generation is unfamiliar with protest art. We believe the exhibition ... records injustice and it documents a period in South African history.”

Attendance figures attest to the success of the exhibition in Durban. In the course of six weeks, it drew 18,199 visitors. A total of 78 schools viewed it, enabling learners to absorb local history in an accessible and stimulating way. In addition, guided tours were given to the public and to students.

Crucially, the parameters of the exhibition were wide enough to include not only KZN artists who were prominent at the time, but also those in the province who were starting out as artists during those two decades, or whose artistic flowering was born of an awareness of the vibrancy of the fine art scene then. Essentially, then, the Veterans show becomes a record of artistic development in the region, as well as a celebration of the work of some of the finest practitioners in both KZN and South Africa as a whole.

A model of its kind, the CD Catalogue has a useful Introduction and Preface, and a touching Foreword titled Memories of Past Artists, by Paul Sibisi. There is more meat in a 16-item essay section which delves into such diverse topics as the work of the late, iconoclastic sign-writer Chickenman Mkhize; the mezzotints of the late Smart G Gumede; and the vital role played by the Art - SA - Today exhibitions in keeping Art alive, and battling apartheid.

Each of the 98 works on the Veterans exhibition is on the CD, which also has informative biographies of each artist. The CD is a fine permanent record of an outstanding concept and exhibition. More information from Yolande Korsten on 012 661 7485 or 083 453 9616 or e-mail: yolande@shadowrain.co.za




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