David Koloane

Something out of Nothing

Letters (assemblage), 2001 
Mixed media on canvas

103.4 x 73.5 cm

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Letters (assemblage) forms part of Koloane’s assemblage series which spans the 1990s and early 2000s. Arguably, the foundations of this series were laid in the various Thupelo (a Sotho word meaning teach by example) Workshops which Koloane helped to establish in Southern Africa and abroad in the 1980s and 90s. The two week workshops encouraged artists to break out of their regular practice and experiment with new ideas and forms. A space was cultivated for black artists, especially, to free themselves from labels like “township” artist.

 

Letters is a playful rearranging of literary materials, including magazines and Koloane’s own hand-written notes, and conjures up various layers of meaning. The sinister covering up of the text harkens back to the censorship enforced by the apartheid govenrment on letters by political prisoners for example, as well as the use of letter bombs to target opponents of the authoritarian regime. Koloane was also a respected writer, curator and art critic. He is perhaps also making a statement about being a “man of letters” and not just a painter, as was the expectation of black artists of his generation.

Biography

 

David Koloane (1938 – 2019) was born in Alexandra, Johannesburg, South Africa. Koloane spent his career making the world a more hospitable place for black artists during and after apartheid. Koloane achieved this through his pioneering work as an artist, writer, curator, teacher and mentor to young and established artists at a time when such vocations were restricted to white people in South Africa. A large part of this effort involved the initiatives Koloane helped establish, from the first Black Art Gallery in 1977, the Thupelo experimental workshop in 1985 and the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios in 1991, where he served as director for many years. Koloane also tutored at the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) in 1979 and became the head of the fine art section and gallery from 1985 to 1990.

Through his expressive, evocative and poetic artwork, Koloane interrogated the socio-political and existential human condition, using Johannesburg as his primary subject matter. Koloane’s representations of Johannesburg are populated with images of cityscapes, townships, street life, jazz musicians, traffic jams, migration, refugees, dogs, and birds among others. Imaginatively treated, through the medium of painting, drawing, assemblage, printmaking and mixed media, Koloane’s scenes are a blend of exuberant and sombre, discernible and opaque pictorial narratives.

Koloane’s work has been widely exhibited locally and internationally. In 1999 he was part of the group exhibition Liberated Voices at the National Museum of African Art in Washington DC. In 2013, Koloane’s work was shown on the South African pavilion at the 55th la Biennale di Venezia and on the group exhibition My Joburg at La Maison Rouge in Paris. In 1998, the government of the Netherlands honoured Koloane with the Prince Claus Fund Award for his contributions to South African art. Koloane was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate twice, once from Wits University in 2012, and again from Rhodes University in 2015.

Earlier this year Koloane was the subject of a travelling career survey exhibition, A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane, which opened at IZIKO SANG in June and will travel to Standard Bank Gallery and Wits Art Museum in October.

Artist Statement

David Koloane’s work focuses on socio-political matters and contributions to the furtherance of disadvantaged black South African artists during and after the apartheid era is evident. My work can be said to reflect the socio- political landscape of South Africa both past and present. The socio-political conditions created by the apartheid system of government have to a large extent transfixed the human condition as the axis around which my work evolves. The human figure has become the icon of creative expression.

Collections

South Africa:

Mobil Oil, South Africa
South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
South African Higher Education Trust, Johannesburg, South Africa

Department of Education and Training, Pretoria, South Africa

International:

BMW Collection, Germany
Botswana National Museum and Gallery, Gaborone, Botswana

Larry Poons, New York, USA Robert Loder, London, UK
Sir Anthony Caro, London, UK