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 Award for Curatorial Excellence

The Award for Curatorial Excellence recognize the important contributions to the dissemination and understanding of African and African Diaspora Arts made through exhibitions.  Exhibitions related to permanent collections, loan shows, commissioned works or community interventions organized by museums, galleries, cultural centers, and exhibition spaces of all sorts are eligible. Three awards for curatorial excellence will be given.

Exhibition eligibility:  September 1, 2016 through August 30, 2019. Nominees must be ACASA members in good standing. Join ACASA

Criteria for consideration for this award include exhibitions that:

  • Generate new scholarship across the humanities
  • Open new perspectives on the field
  • Collaborate with and/or contribute to local or stakeholder communities
  • Demonstrate innovative approaches to exhibition design and presentation
  • Demonstrate innovative uses of technology

Application materials to submit:

  • Cover page indicating title of exhibition, dates, venue(s), curator(s) names
  • Synopsis of exhibition (one-page)
  • Sample publication where applicable. This can include PDFs of take-away brochures, exhibition preview article or other means of documentation and distribution of project. If no publication was possible, please submit a bibliography of 5 key sources germane to the show’s thesis or points of departure.
  • Sample didactics (labels or other interpretive materials, such as on-line description, that demonstrate the exhibition’s intellectual content and curatorial vision. Not to exceed 3-pages)
  • Visual documentation: up to 5 still digital images, at least one of which must show installation, context or performance space; up to 2 videos or links, not to exceed 3 minutes in length to document performance or time-based projects.
  • Link to or documentation of innovative uses of technology or interactive engagement
  • Description of institution, organization or entity originating the exhibition (for example museum, independent art space, pop-up…, including mission, history, collection (if applicable), size, staff, budget, audience and other information pertinent to understanding the context in which the exhibition emerged.
  • Documentation of community response. Up to three (3) examples that demonstrate various perspectives. These might include emails, sample entries from audience response books, or social media postings and not just critical or press reviews.

Submissions should be received by November 15, 2019 at

2017  Awards for Curatorial Excellence

Karen E. Milbourne, Earth Matters, National Museum of African Art, Washington D.C., April 22, 2013 – March 2014

Jean Borgatti, Global Africa, Fitchburg Art Museum, November 2014 – August 2017

Antawan I. Byrd and Yves Chatap, [Re]Generations, Musée du District de Bamako, October 31 – December 31, 2015

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

African Studies Association Awards

The African Studies Association is pleased to announce that they are accepting nominations for the following awards and prizes in 2019. All applications are due April 30, 2019.

The ASA Book Prize (Herskovits Prize) is awarded to the author of the most important scholarly work in African studies published in English during the preceding year..

The ASA Program Cover Art Prize recognizes the best artwork submitted that directly addresses the Annual Meeting theme. This year’s theme is “Being, Belonging, and Becoming in Africa”.

The ASA Film Prize recognizes an outstanding film, whether fiction or documentary, made in the preceding two calendar years by an African filmmaker.

The Bethwell A. Ogot Book Prize is awarded to the author of the best book on East African Studies published in the previous calendar year.

The Distinguished Africanist Award recognizes a lifetime of distinguished contributions to African studies. Deadline for nominations: April 30.

The Paul Hair Prize is presented every two years and is awarded to the best critical edition or translation into English of primary source materials on Africa published during the preceding two years.

The Gretchen Walsh Book Donation Award offers an annual grant program to assist book donation projects with shipping costs to send books to African libraries and schools.