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PIGNON ART PROJECT (article first published : 2002-01-7)

French artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest is back in South Africa preparing for his June 2002 public art project focusing on AIDS.

A politically committed artist, he has been covering European city walls for the past 30 years with provocative silk-screen prints. They have denounced apartheid (1974), abortion prohibition (1975), living conditions of immigrants (1975) and those of expelled people (1979).

The general public as well as cultural institutions in France know his work well. Sketcher, painter, sculptor and "image inventor", Ernest Pignon-Ernest is always on the lookout for the poetry and hidden meaning of the places in which he finds himself, as with his live sculptures in the Jardin des plantes in 1983-84, or his work on Caravage in Naples in 1988. No workshop nor decorum for the artist who, following in the wake of Ben, the group Fluxus and the first happenings of the 60ís, has been spreading art in the street and has since let it take its own shape.

From as far back as1974, Ernest Pignon-Ernest committed himself to South Africans against apartheid. At the time, he covered the walls of the quiet town of Nice with silk-screen prints depicting black men and women behind barbed wires. Other projects followed such as the famous Art Against Apartheid in the mid 80ís, a virtual museum which included donations from many of the world's best artists at the time like Rauchenberg, Lichtenstein, Erro and South African Gavin Jantjies.

This prestigious collection, which was exhibited in the big museums of the world during the apartheid years, was handed over to South Africa in parliament in 1995 in the presence of Nelson Mandela. The exhibition is now housed in parliament in Cape Town and was partially exhibited at the Durban Art Gallery in September last year to coincide with the World Conference on Racism.

As a logical sequel to Ernest Pignon Ernest's long history with South Africa, the French Institute of South Africa invited the artist to come and work in the country. A first trip in June 2000 enabled him to decide on the venues (i.e. popular streets of Johannesburg and Durban) as well as the theme.

By June 2002, the relevant streets should be covered with drawings of Ernest Pignon-Ernest who decided to deal with the theme of AIDS. This artistic and humane project is supported by the AFAA, the Durban Art Gallery, the Arts Department of Pretoria Technikon and relevant municipal authorities.




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