South African art history critically reappraised

25 Nov 2011
25 Nov 2011

This month saw the launch of Visual Century: South African Art in Context 1907 - 2007, an ambitious four-volume publication that reappraises one hundred years of South African visual art from a post-apartheid perspective.

APC Doctoral Research Scholar Mario Pissarra was editor-in-chief of the volume, and was responsible for editing Volume Three and co-editing Volume Four with Thembinkosi Goniwe and Mandisi Majavu. Volumes One and Two were edited by Jillian Carman and Lize von Robbroeck respectively.

Funded by the Department of Arts and Culture and published by Wits University Press, Visual Century is the first wide-ranging survey of South African contemporary art to incorporate multiple writers and perspectives.

The collection features essays by, in alphabetical order: Gabeba Baderoon, Vonani Bila, Jillian Carman, Christine Eyene, Federico Freschi, Hazel Friedman, Melanie Hillebrand, Gavin Jantjes, Sandra Klopper, Juliette Leeb-du Toit, Nessa Leibhammer, Emile Maurice, Sipho Mdanda, Zayd Minty, Anitra Nettleton, Andries Oliphant, Mario Pissarra, Hayden Proud, Elizabeth Rankin, Colin Richards, Judy Seidman, Ruth Simbao, Kathryn Smith, Mgcineni Sobopha, Lize van Robbroeck, Roger van Wyk and Mduduzi Xakaza.

Pallo Jordan, Uche Okeke, Rasheed Araeen and Sarat Maharaj have contributed prefaces, while project initiator and director Gavin Jantjes has written the foreword.

'By contextualising South African art within broader historical currents, Visual Century makes a major contribution towards the construction of an inclusive national archive, as well as to the development of an inclusive international art history,' reads a statement by the publishers. 'Lavish full colour illustrations, often of rare or seldom seen artworks, make this collection a treasure for all art lovers with an interest in South African art.'

The collection was launched with a seminar in Johannesburg and a celebration at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town.

Pissarra, who founded the Art South Africa Initiative, has served on the visual arts advisory panel of the National Arts Council since 2007 and is a member of the advisory council of the journal, Third Text. Heis reading toward a doctorate in the Department of Sociology, with Professor Ari Sitas as his supervisor. The working title of his thesis is: Through the lenses of decolonisation: Reading colonial and postcolonial Africa in and through the paintings of Sam Ntiro and Malangatana Ngwenya.

To read the speech made by APC Honorary Research Fellow Verne Harris at the Johannesburg launch of The Visual Century on 10 November, visit: