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RESISTANCE ART IN SOUTH AFRICA (article first published : 2004-11-28)

It was a wise decision to reissue Sue Williamson’s classic art book Resistance Art in South Africa to coincide with ten years democracy in South Africa.

In the first place, it creates a wonderful opportunity to re-visit the art made in the 1980’s but, even better, it creates the opportunity to introduce it to a new generation.

Secondly, the art works portrayed were conceived and deeply felt in a very personal way by all the contributing artists. They created an awareness of resistance and their imagery reveals this - page after page – in many and varied ways. It is a classic account of the culture of resistance expressed through writings and paintings, prints, murals, sculptures, mixed media works, banners, graffiti, peace parks, posters and T shirts.

When reading and looking at the pages - many with full colour photography, one becomes fully aware of the sacrifices made to create a freedom, we, as South African citizens, should never again take for granted. What is also of great importance is that the works chosen have not lost their relevance as art works. The art presented in this book is as strong now as it was when it was first published 10 years ago.

The contents of the book are clearly set out in chapters mapping the thought processes of the author. Chapters are: Roots of the Conflict; A Mutant Society; Exploitation; Drawing on the Wall; Confrontation and Resistance; Probing the Dakness; and The Elusive Vision. Some of the artists are still working in a similar vein today, but many have moved on and are now the cream of the South African art community.

Sue Williamson explains that she took the decision not to change any text, “even though in restrospect I find some of it embarrassing – too consciously liberal and occasionally trivializing.” That was the right decision, changing the text could have put it in a different time frame.

It’s a book widely read in foreign countries where it was seen as an excellent reference.

The re-issue is aimed at a new generation of younger artists, art historians, art teachers and art lovers. It should be on the book shelf of every library in the country.

In his foreword, Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: “When people can assert their humanity and be creative in the way that this anthology catalogues, it is wonderful.”

Published in paperback by Double Storey Books, Cape Town, Resistance Art in South Africa is available at Exclusive Books and other book stores. Price R230. – Marianne Meijer




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