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UBUNTU - STRIVING FOR LIFE AND PEACE (article first published : 2006-06-17)

In tandem with the exhibition Madiba Man of Destiny, the 16th World Council of YMCAs and the Durban Art Gallery present a cameo exhibition titled Ubuntu - Striving for Life and Peace featuring artists such as Thami Mnyele, Eric Mbatha, Mzwakhe Jacob Nhlabati, Mpolokeng Raymond Ramphomane and Vincent Baloyi.

Ubuntu – Striving together for Life and Peace is the conference theme of the 16th World Council of YMCA’s which will meet in Durban from July 7 to 15. Notions of ubuntu are enshrined in the Zulu maxim “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” or “a person is a person through (other) person”. During the 1970s and 1980s the YMCA have been locations of convergence and synergy in the art-centre networks of South African artists.

The YMCA’s key principles of striving for the spiritual, intellectual and physical wellbeing of individuals, as well as wholeness of communities, served to strengthen the artist’s sense of personal and communal development in a racially unjust South Africa. One such artist was Thami Mnyele who shunned the mainstream gallery system and showed his work at the Dube YMCA, Soweto, in September 1977 on an exhibition titled A New Day. Mnyele was an artist activist who died in the cross-border raid on Gabarone in 1985. His remains were brought back to South Africa in 2004 and he was given a hero’s burial with the President presiding.

A key influence on South African art, the Fine Art School at Rorke’s Drift fostered many of the artists who were nurtured by YWCA/YMCA Centres. Philippa Hobbs and Elizabeth Rankin’s book Rorke’s Drift: Empowering Prints (2003) attempts to discover where artists came from and what they did before coming to Rorke’s Drift and what they might have done since.

It reveals the strong intersections in the lives of these artists both before and after they attended Rorke’s Drift. It also shows the range of its influence in many art centres such as the one at the Dube YWCA and the Mofolo Art Centre and the AIA, Funda, all in Soweto, FUBA in Johannesburg and CAP IN Cape Town, along with less well-known centres.

Ubuntu has also been described as “the art or virtue of being human”. The 16th World council is privileged to be associated with the Y-related artists of this exhibition. The reciprocal relationships between the YWCA/YMCA’s and the artists can be said to have extended all in the ‘art of being human.’

Ubuntu - Striving for Life and Peace runs at the Durban Art Gallery from June 14 to July 30.




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