Following A resilient visionary: Poetic expressions of David Koloane, the 2019 lifetime retrospective exhibition of his work which travelled from IZIKO to the Standard Bank Gallery before an iteration at the Wits Arts Museum, a new catalogue by the same name provides a lifetime survey of the work of the renowned South African artist and activist.
Courtesy of the Standard Bank Art Gallery.
“My work can be said to reflect the socio-political landscape of South Africa both past and present…the human figure has become the icon of creative expression.” – David Nthubu Koloane
It is rare to find an artist who has had such an enduring influence on the way we engage with, teach and think about South African art, as the late Dr David Nthubu Koloane. Following A resilient visionary: Poetic expressions of David Koloane, the 2019 lifetime retrospective exhibition of his work which travelled from IZIKO to the Standard Bank Gallery before an iteration at the Wits Arts Museum, a new catalogue by the same name provides a lifetime survey of the work of the renowned South African artist and activist.
Spanning his 60-year career, the catalogue contextualises the artworks of Koloane as well as the subjects of his work – the complexity of black urban life, the vibrant chaos of the city, the dynamic energy and resistance of jazz, and the socio-political minutiae of life under apartheid.
Although Koloane’s work was firmly rooted in the urban sprawl of Johannesburg, he was an artist who struck a global chord – his work has been featured in international exhibitions and projects such as the Triangle Network, and his curation work spans Botswana, Zimbabwe, London and more – and this is down to his ability to distil such collective sentiments through abstraction in his work. Want, pleasure, pain, resilience and more found searing resonance on a universal level, sometimes rendered through the simplest of images – birds, burning braziers, stray dogs, smoke, or a lone character all dressed up and ready to dance the night away, despite it all.
“The documentation of black lives, thoughts and experiences in the arts is vital and that’s what we’re documenting in the catalogue, through the work of David,” says art historian, curator and writer Thembinkosi Goniwe. “We’ve invited a number of young and established writers, who write alongside each other to give varying and layered perspectives of his work.”
Portrait of David Koloane. Courtesy of the Standard Bank Art Gallery.
Born in 1938 to working-class parents in the township of Alexandra, a suburb of Johannesburg, Koloane would later grow up in Soweto where he attended high school. It was here that he met the artist Louis Maqhubela who attended night classes at the Polly Street Art Centre, a government facility dedicated to the education of black people, and who gave Koloane his first art lessons. After his father was left unable to work following a stroke, Koloane dropped out of high school and began working to support his family. While he continued to draw and produce art during this period, it was as a hobby. It would only be in his mid-30s when Koloane began to study art.
As such, art education became a passion of Koloane’s and, while not his primary vocation, it was something he spent his life working to improve. In addition to his own career as an artist, administrator, curator and writer, he played a vital role in shaping and advancing the careers of younger artists, working to found and support communal institutions to fill the gap in South African arts education. Co-establishing the first Black Art Gallery in 1977, the Thupelo experimental workshop in 1985 and the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios in 1991 are among the most-well-known of Koloane’s contributions in this regard. He also tutored at the Federation Union of Black Artists (FUBA) in 1979 and became the head of the fine art section and gallery from 1985 to 1990. Koloane’s writing included essays such as the influential Art Criticism for Whom? and The Identity Question: Focus of Black South African Expression.
Goniwe adds that, as much as the catalogue will serve as an important source of education on the life and work of Koloane and his impact on South African art, it is not a strictly academic publication, striving instead to strike a universal chord and appeal to readers young and old.
“There are a number of students who are working on producing entire Master’s and PhDs on his work, and this is now a new text, and a new perspective for them to draw from. But it is also to open up David’s work to a wider audience, outside of academia. People must want to pick up the catalogue and read it. It is a beautiful tribute to David. It is poetically written and frames him as an artist, a thinker, a writer, and traces his life and career,” says Goniwe. “So, it’s an open space for this education around David, without being didactic or dogmatic. We are inviting people to engage with the range and possibility of his work.”
A resilient visionary: Poetic expressions of David Koloane then, becomes a treasured resource for artists, scholars, art-lovers and aspirant art practitioners alike. It is a high-quality compendium of his enduring and pioneering work and a means of further documenting the lifespan and scope of his artistic influence. As with the 2019 retrospective of his work at the Standard Bank Gallery, through the support of this new catalogue, Standard Bank continues to pay homage to Koloane’s contributions to, and legacy within the arts.
To order a copy, please visit Standard Bank Gallery.