… Also Reclaiming Space
2 December 2020 to 9 January 2021
Goodman Gallery London
As a Black artist, Koloane was critical of how he and his contemporaries were received and represented in the larger narrative of modernist art. Against the backdrop of a socio-political landscape historically shaped by colonialism and apartheid, Koloane contested the notion that there was such as thing as an ‘authentic’ African artist, or the “notion of struggle art as primarily figurative” (Athi Mongezelili Joja, Artforum 2020). He did so through his use of abstraction, which he used as a means to break away from the constraints the art world imposed on him. "Perhaps it was also a discovery of the beauty of the colour masses, new to his perception, concentrated on the urban world; but it is clear from the complexity of the work that he was exploring the sources to be discovered by imagination both beyond and yet underlying the figurative’. (Nadine Gordimer, 'David Koloane' artist monograph, 2002).
For the greater part of Koloane’s aesthetic and artistic oeuvre, he explored the conditions of the urban South African vernacular, developing a powerful and poignant social commentary on African life and individual experiences within the cityscape of Johannesburg. In this work, Koloane represented the city using layers of mixed media and exaggerated brushwork to communicate the emotional workings of the artist in response to the anxieties faced within the metropolis. He drew on the dynamic energies and individual sensibilities faced when encountering hybrid residents and different environments. Koloane’s figuration demonstrates the artistic sensibilities and traditions of South African modernist expressionism whilst complementing these techniques with subject matter that maintains pertinence within South African urban culture and adds to the dialogue surrounding the representation of cosmopolitan experience within contemporary visual culture.
David Koloane (1938–2019) was born in Alexandra, Johannesburg. Throughout his life, he worked as an artist, writer, curator, educator and mentor to fellow artists, creating art and encouraging art-making without the usual avenues of approach.
Koloane co-founded and helped run several major arts spaces in Johannesburg, which were committed to ensuring safe spaces for Black artists to work and share ideas. In 1977 he helped to establish The Gallery, which was the first Black owned and run art gallery in the country. In 1979 Koloane co-founded the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) where he was the head of the fine gallery from 1985-1990. In 1985 he co-founded the Thupelo experimental workshops series. And, in 1991, Koloane co-founded The Bag Factory Artists’ Studios where he served as director and board member. As a member of the Triangle network, The Bag Factory remains a globally significant space for residencies and exchange programmes across continents.
… Also Reclaiming Space marks twenty-five years since Koloane’s presence has been felt in London in the context of group exhibitions. In 1995, Koloane co-curated and had work featured in Whitechapel Gallery’s unprecedented exhibition, Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa. He also contributed to the exhibition’s catalogue, an invaluable point of reference for African art to this day. In the same year, Koloane’s work was exhibited as part of South African Murals held at The Institute of Contemporary Art in London and featured on the Africa 95 festival, a curated exhibition from Goodman Gallery hosted by Bernard Jacobson Gallery.
Shortly before Koloane’s passing in 2019, the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town held a major survey of his work, titled A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane, which later travelled to the Standard Bank Gallery and Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg where it was re-titled Chronicles of a Resilient Visionary.
Significant international moments include representing South African at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. Koloane’s work has also been included in the following international group exhibitions: Liberated Voices (1999) at the National Museum of African Art in Washington DC; My Joburg (2013) at La Maison Rouge in Paris; PANGAEA: New Art from Africa and Latin America (2014) at Saatchi Gallery in London.
Koloane’s work is included in several international collections, including Centre Pompidou, Royal Dutch Collection, Prince Claus Fund and the LVMH Collection.
In 2012, Koloane was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from The University of the Witwatersrand, followed by Rhodes University in 2015. In 1998, he received the Prince Claus Fund Award in the Netherlands for his contributions to South African art. From 1983-1985, Koloane had a British Council scholarship and attended Birmingham Polytechnic. He later completed a diploma in Museum Studies at the University of London.
Koloane’s London presentation coincides with the opening of the much anticipated group exhibition Witness: Afro Perspective from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection at The Experimental Art Center in Miami. The exhibition brings 75 artists together of which Koloane’s work is a major component. Koloane is recognised as “a pivotal arts figure in the apartheid-era of South Africa known for his powerful drawings, paintings and collages”.