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MAKHOBA EXHIBITION CANCELLED (article first published : 2005-02-9)

One of the most eagerly anticipated art exhibitions in recent years in KZN, the Trevor Makhoba Memorial Exhibition, has been cancelled. It was due to open in the Durban Art Gallery late last year, move to the Tatham Art Gallery on March 17 and then tour the country, but now the paintings have been returned to individuals and galleries that had loaned them and all the work that had gone into catalogues and educational guides has been shelved.

Makhoba died suddenly two years ago, in February 2003, at the age of 47. He was a self-taught artist whose vibrant and exciting work first came to public attention when he won the Natal Biennial in 1991. Five years later he was the Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for Fine Art and his major solo exhibition toured the country. He was acclaimed as a skilled and penetrating observer of South African society.

The curator of the planned exhibition, Jill Addleson of the Durban Art Gallery, referred all queries to the legal services department of the Ethekweni Municipality, but when asked why the exhibition had been canned, Eshana Baignats of that department would only say "no comment".

However, when the various artworks that would have been on display were returned to their owners, they came with a letter from Addleson setting out the root of the problem - a dispute over copyright payments to the artist's widow, Gugu Makhoba. Addleson's letter - a copy of which is in the hands of the Witness - states that Makhoba had initially signed a copyright agreement for R200 per reproduction for a minimun of 100 reproductions to be used in the catalogue. However, she later asked for a larger sum and, according to the letter, also refused to give copyright permission for the Durban Art Gallery to publish an educational supplement which, with sponsorship from the Royal Netherlands Embassy, was due to be distributed to all schools in KZN. Makhoba allegedly refused an offer "just short of R50,000" for copyright permission to publish both publications.

Copyright payments for reproductions of Trevor Makhoba's paintings are due to the artist's widow because, even when a painting is sold, an artist retains copyright over the use of the image for his lifetime. This passes to his estate for 50 years after his death.

Director of the Tatham Art Gallery, Brendan Bell, explains that usually when an image is used for non-profit purposes, such as educational aids, artists waive copyright. However, if the image is to be sold for profit - as in the case of art galleries selling postcards, a copyright fee will be negotiated.

Bell is very disappointed by the cancellation of the exhibition, and feels, even if the dispute over the use of reproductions could not be resolved, it should have been possible for the exhibition itself to go ahead. "Now the artistic legacy of Trevor Makhoba is hanging in limbo," he said. "It is hugely damaging to the artist and to research that would place him in his art historical context."

Contacted last week, an emotional Gugu Makhoba said that she had been very excited about the exhibition, and was not against the educational programme that had been supposed to form part of it. However, she said that she had originally been offered only R150 for each image. This was later increased to R200, but she felt she was entitled to a continuing royalty for the use of the images. She also said she had been deeply hurt by the treatment she had received.

It appears that the discussions between the parties broke down and became acrimonious, leading to a situation where it became impossible to salvage the exhibition. Exhibition committee member and a close friend of Trevor Makhoba, artist Paul Sibisi said last week that those involved, who had put a lot of time and effort into the exhibition, were "heartbroken" about the cancellation and that he thought it unlikely that the project could be restarted at this stage. And so, the artistic legacy of Trevor Makhoba will not be seen in galleries around South Africa this year, or at any time in the foreseeable future. Margaret von Klemperer

In the place of the cancelled Trevor Maakhoba Memorial Exhibition, the Tatham Art Gallery are planning an exhibition around the theme of Families which will run from March 10 until May 15. The exhibition will be drawn from the gallery's own permanent collection and will, in part, be a celebration of Family Day, which falls on March 28. For more information, contact the Tatham Art Gallery on 033 342 1804.




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