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MEMORY AND MAGIC (article first published : 2007-03-18)

Memory and Magic: Contemporary Art of the !Xun and Khwe is an exhibition of 82 artworks from the private collection of Hella Rabbethge-Schiller of Rosenheim, Germany, curated by Carol Kaufmann.

On exhibition are among the best works produced by 11 of the artists from the !Xun and Khwe Cultural Project since the projects inception in 1994 until the present day. The extensive exhibition is currently on view at the Durban Art Gallery.

“The contemporary art of the San people is unique because it emerges from a short phase of transition from the ancient culture – the rock art, the oral history, the old traditions, their magical world – to the modern, globalised world of media communication and formal education,” says Hella Rabbethge-Schiller.

Before moving back to Germany, Hella Rabbethge-Schiller spent some of her formative years with her family in the 1970's on a family farm near Kimberly which she had inherited. There she encountered members of the newly-arrived San refugee community who settled nearby at Schmidtsdrift, after having fled their homes in Angola and Northern Namibia due to hostilities there.

Hella Rabbethge-Schiller was struck by the vitality and creativity of the artworks created as part of an NGO development programme. The programme was devised primarily as a form of art therapy to cathartically and emotionally manage post-traumatic stress as a result of the warfare and conflict which ravaged much of Namibia and Angola. Many of the project’s participants were actively involved in military service – many as trackers for the then SADF. She resolved to dedicate part of her life to support these artists and promote the art in achieving the recognition it deserves.

Her complete collection consists of over 400 works from the !Xun and Khwe artists, resulting in the largest and most comprehensive collection of such work in existence and has until now resided outside South Africa. Having spent six months in Cape Town, 82 of the pieces are currently touring South Africa. The collection will return to Johannesburg, to the MuseumAfrika after leaving Durban in mid May.

The exhibition has already been seen in Windhoek, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. The exhibition tour coincides with the launch of the book, Memory and Magic, which doubles as an exhibition catalogue. It details the story of the artwork of the San people and follows the art development project and the astonishing art which came through the process.

Of particular interest is a series of narratives and accompanying paintings by art project participant, “Flai”, who has put to paper a selection of traditionally oral folkloric stories which have been translated into English and form part of the exhibition together with the paintings – the visual representations - of the stories.

Providing companion pieces to the exhibition is a selection of photographs by acclaimed Durban photographer Paul Weinberg.

Memory and Magic: Contemporary Art of the !Xun and Khwe is on view at the Durban Art Gallery until May 13. More information from the Durban Art Gallery on 031 311 2264.




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