In Memoriam: David Nthubu Koloane (1938-2019)

David Koloane in his studio at Bag Factory on January 21, 2011
Photo: Fiona Siegenthaler

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. David Koloane at his home on 30 June 2019. His rich, inspiring and deep commitment to life, art, and collaborative work has left an enormous imprint on what South African art is today. The development of a black art community during apartheid in South Africa, and the visibility of black South African art internationally in the years of transition cannot be imagined without his enormous contribution. While consistently developing his own artwork over more than five decades, Koloane created space for collaborative art practice, facilitated various formats of art education, mentored the young artist generations while grooming their historical foundations, mediated between diverse constituencies, and curated for local and international audiences.

My first encounter with Koloane took place in 2006 when I visited him in his studio at the Bag Factory where I hoped to learn a bit more about his personal narratives of Johannesburg – in addition to the complex and ambiguous relationship to this town so powerfully reflected in his paintings and drawings. I was overwhelmed by the open arms and spirit of David, the patience with which he described – not for the first time – the living conditions and the disparity between city center, Alexandra and Soweto at the time of his childhood, youth and adult age. It is this enormous generosity with time and attentive patience that made him the person he was – focused and tolerant, engaged and human, and an excellent observer and mediator.

Born in Alexandra in 1938, Koloane experienced Johannesburg as a city of racial and racist division and his own family was not spared from forced removal and economic distress caused by apartheid politics. On the other hand – or just for this reason – he never gave up in his endeavor to create space for black creation and art practice, and for the encounter and exchange of artists and intellectuals. His introduction to the Polly Street Art Center by his classmate Louis Maqhubela and later his involvement in the Johannesburg Art Foundation run by Bill Ainslie therefore were not just the beginning of his career as an artist, but also a spark for creating a spirit of collaborative artistic exchange that challenged racial limitations dictated by apartheid. Koloane later became the director of the first gallery dedicated to black artists and in 1978 acted as the first curator at the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA), an outstanding collective initiative of artists, writers and musicians at a time of entrenched apartheid politics. In 1985, he co-founded with Bill Ainslie and Kagiso Pat Mautloa the Thupelo workshops which offered two-week retreats outside the city and which proved crucial as a space to test experimental art practices. Together with Robert Loder, he founded the Fordsburg Artists’ Studios in 1991, popularly known as the Bag Factory, a cooperative space that continues to be a crucial institution on the South African art map. It has been welcoming artists from diverse racial, national and educational backgrounds since its beginnings at the dawn of democracy. Koloane could be found there during weekdays, along with his long-time studio mates Pat Mautloa and Sam Nhlengethwa and the many other artists who worked and continue to work there for shorter and longer periods of time.

Koloane’s sensibility for the power relations inherent in spatial organization was fundamental for all his cultural initiatives which were path-breaking in creating space and public attention for art by black artists. The David Koloane Award and the David Koloane Mentorship Programme offered by the Bag Factory are reflective of this engagement and Koloane’s passion in mentoring and teaching younger generations. As a curator, he cooperated with international colleagues in seminal exhibitions like Art from South Africa at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford (1990) or Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa at the Whitechapel Gallery in London (1995). As an author of numerous articles about black South African art history and art practice in key publications, Koloane confidently conscientized his audiences for the structural violence put on black creative work. He thereby always emphasized dialogue and conversation as a means of creating connections between people. The appreciation for his scholarly and educational efforts are reflected in the honorary doctorates he was awarded from Wits University in 2012 and from Rhodes University in 2015.

It is comforting to know that only weeks before his passing, David Koloane attended the opening of his retrospective exhibition, A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane curated by Thembinkosi Goniwe at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town. It is an acknowledgement of his enormous contribution as an artist, curator, teacher, mentor and activist to South African art and its appreciation locally and internationally.

Our sincere condolences go to his wife Monica, his family and friends. May David Koloane rest in peace after a rich, fulfilled and meaningful life, bequeathing an invaluable legacy of artistic mastery and cultural commitment to South Africa’s art world and beyond.

– Fiona Siegenthaler

ACASA 18th Triennial Symposium

Join us for ACASA’s 18th Triennial Symposium in Chicago, June 16-21, 2020 at DePaul University and the Art Institute of Chicago. For registration and more information, click here.  

In Memoriam: Marilyn Eiseman Heldman (1935-2019)

The loss of Marilyn Eiseman Heldman (June 12, 1935 – July 15, 2019) marks the passing of a brilliant scholar and generous colleague who pioneered the study of Ethiopian art. Her work on the illustrated manuscripts and devotional icons of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church examined issues of patronage, spirituality and inspiration.

Her 1972 PhD thesis on the Miniatures of the Gospels of Princess Zir Gānēlā, an Ethiopic Manuscript Dated A.D. 1400/01, is, to this day, the only work which provides an overview of all the illustrated features of medieval Ethiopic Gospel books. Covering a wide range of visual evidence, the study traces the pictorial sources and religious practices which shaped the work of Ethiopian illuminators active towards the turn of the fifteenth century.  She was among the first art historians to study historical devotional Ethiopian artworks with this kind of depth.

In her book, The Marian Icons of the Painter Frē Ṣeyon: A Study in Fifteenth-century Ethiopian Art, Patronage, and Spirituality, Heldman begins with a single work of art as a window into the religious paintings traditions of the mid 1400’s. Frē Ṣeyon, a monk from the monastery of Dabra Gwegweben, signed only one painting, but by comparing stylistic and iconographical characteristics to other mural and panel paintings, Heldman was able to assign an entire oeuvre of painting to this monk and to identify the Byzantine and Italian prototypes. 

Heldman was also much involved in the organization and catalogue of the exhibition African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia (1993). This landmark exhibition, which brought Ethiopian art to the attention of the American public, remains unsurpassed. The art historical essays in the catalogue, written by Heldman, combine clarity with academic rigour. It is also worth remembering that Heldman, in the second of her five essays in this volume, was the first scholar to suggest, on stylistic grounds, that the Garima Gospels were produced during late antiquity, a hypothesis that would be later confirmed by C-14 dating.

-Jacopo Gnisci and Peri Klemm

Call for projects: Dak’Art – Biennial of Contemporary African Art

DAK’ART – Biennial of Contemporary African Art will be held from 28 May to 28 June 2020 in Dakar, under the high patronage of the President of the Republic of Senegal. This fourteenth edition, which marks the biennial’s 30th anniversary, will have the general theme Ĩ’Ndaffa / Out of the fire.

Ĩ’Ndaffa, in Serer language, means to forge. It is a verb that denotes the dynamics and the action of creating, recreating and kneading. This general theme refers to the creation of a new and autonomous world, which nourishes the diversity of contemporary African creativities, while projecting new ways of telling and approaching Africa, in a constant dialogue and interaction with the rest of the world.

The call for applications to the biennial’s International Exhibition is open from 1 July to 15 September 2019. It is open to all artists from Africa and the Diaspora, working across all aesthetic mediums and contemporary art forms.

Applications are to be sent by email to candidature2020@biennaledakar.org and by post before 15 September 2019 to Secrétariat général de la Biennale de Dakar, 19 avenue Hassan II, 1er Etage, BP: 3865 Dakar, SENEGAL.

The concept note and the application form are available on DAK’ART website.

African Critical Inquiry Programme Announces 2019 Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards

The African Critical Inquiry Programme has named Bronwyn Kotzen and Ngozi May Okafor as recipients of the 2019 Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards. Kotzen is a South African student pursuing her PhD in Human Geography at the University of Cape Town. Okafor is a Nigerian student doing her degree at the Centre for Visual Art at University of KwaZulu-Natal. Support from ACIP’s Ivan Karp Awards will allow each to do significant research for their dissertations. Kotzen will do research in Johannesburg, South Africa and Lagos, Nigeria for her project, Abstracting the Concrete: Tracing the Political Economy of Infrastructure in Africa Through a Study of Cement. Okafor’s research for her project Firing: Exploring the Ceramic Process as Rite of Passage will include work with Zulu potters in South Africa and Ushafa potters in Nigeria, as well as her own creative ceramic work. Founded in 2012, the African Critical Inquiry Programme (ACIP) is a partnership between the Centre for Humanities Research at University of the Western Cape in Cape Town and the Laney Graduate School of Emory University in Atlanta. Supported by donations to the Ivan Karp and Corinne Kratz Fund, the ACIP fosters thinking and working across public cultural institutions, across disciplines and fields, and across generations. It seeks to advance inquiry and debate about the roles and practice of public culture, public cultural institutions, and public scholarship in shaping identities and society in Africa through an annual ACIP Workshop and through the Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards, which support African doctoral students in the humanities and humanistic social sciences enrolled at South African universities.

About Bronwyn Kotzen’s project: For the first time since post-WWII industrial modernization, the significance of infrastructure has emerged as a point of broad consensus for critiques of untenable models of current economic growth. This has marked a radical global policy shift to development at the urban-scale, which Africa has only recently begun to mirror. Yet, the complex and interconnected geo-political and economic forces that drive Africa’s urban development and produce its infrastructures remain largely obscured. This project seeks to read contemporary processes of infrastructural development in Africa through the material lens of cement in order to formulate a much- needed post-neoliberal interrogation of African urban development. Second only to water, concrete is the most widely consumed substance on earth. As concrete’s raw material, cement is the foundation of modern development and is therefore the project’s primary site of investigation. The research moves beyond individual localised sites and cases to draw out generalisable patterns of development at a regional level, outside of the particularities of place and time. Pan-African cement flows are traced as a ‘matter’ of the political economy of infrastructure. This offers a reading of the continent not as a bounded geographical location but rather as series of spatio-temporal interconnections that make visible the myriad of global influences, relations, and shifting formations of development hierarchies. Combining politics and economics with geography and materiality reveals the far-reaching and connected places and powers of which Africa is composed. Working across disciplines and registers, Abstracting the Concrete attempts to advance the theory, method, and critique of infrastructure in the postcolonial world, toward recalibrating a meaningful African urban studies agenda.

About Ngozi May Okafor’s project: In many societies, the practices of pottery-making and initiation rites seem to be in decline. Researchers of both rites of passage and pottery (together with its broader category, ceramics), therefore, continually seek new ways of interpreting the practices in order to sustain and enliven them. My interest in the processes of pottery making among indigenous potters has led me to go beyond the finished product to reconsider the performative ‘art’ and ‘act’ of creating potteries. In several native cultures, the process of creating pottery is likened to childbirth; it can also suggest a people’s state of being. Furthermore, pottery wares are seen as having humanoid qualities. What relationships exist between pottery and rites of passage? With the growing need to creatively design rites that mark individual and group transitions from one state of being to another, how can those relationships inform creativity in passage rituals? Moreover, what creative ideas might those relationships stimulate for self-expressions through installation and performance? Combining my practice as a ceramic artist and research with Zulu potters in South Africa and Ushafa potters in Nigeria (both of whom also practice initiation rites), this study will explore possible parallels between pottery/ceramics and rites of passage, with a focus on their transitional phases – firing and liminality, respectively. Contextual and documentary reviews, fieldwork, and studio experiments will be the methods of data collection. Deploying rites of passage theories, Firing: Exploring the Ceramic Process as Rite of Passage shall bring fresh perspectives to the ways in which ceramics practice can be viewed, re-interpreted, and also present broader narratives for self-expressions. The project will result in both a written dissertation as well as an exhibition and catalogue of visual art works resulting from the study’s creative explorations.
Information about the 2020 Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards for African students enrolled in South African Ph.D. programmes will be available in November 2019. The application deadline is 1 May 2020.

For further information, see http://www.gs.emory.edu/about/special/acip.html and https://www.facebook.com/ivan.karp.corinne.kratz.fund.