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PORTRAYING the history of South Africa through printmaking is the interesting and significant Rorke’s Drift Exhibition, the Jumuna Collection that is on display at the Durban Art Gallery until February.
The art work features a body of mostly never-before-seen hand- made prints from the heyday of the Rorke’s Drift Arts and Craft Centre.
Rorke’s Drift is known as the site of one of the most famous battles of the Anglo-Zulu War which over the years has been matched by the fame of an arts and crafts centre run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Here, black artists were trained by Swedish art teachers.
The significance of The Rorke’s Drift Art and Craft Centre is its prints, which have made an enormous contribution to South African art.
Tonight chatted to the curator of the exhibition, Thembinkosi Goniwe, to learn more about the historic art. He says the collection looks at the legacy of the Rorke’s Drift Arts and Crafts Centre as told through a rare collection of prints from the Jumuna Family in Durban who have collected the art since the 1960s.
Some of the artists whose works are on display include Sam Nhlengethwa, Pat Mautloa, John Muafangejo, Kay Hassan, Dumisani Mabaso, William Zulu, Azaria Mbatha, Paul Sibisi and more.
Elaborating on the content of the images, Goniwe said: “The content varies from social to political to personal commentary that we use because of the circumstance of the time because most of the work was produced in the 1980s and 1970s and was solely produced by blacks. So it also deals with the narratives of the artists’ lives.
“Some of the artists talk about a communication of visuals and texts. It’s more like a visual diary. For instance, one of the artists talks about his experiences and encounters. There are also works of portraits that are on show.”
Goniwe said the Jumuna family collected the art and have decided to loan the work to the gallery for the public to view it: “So the exhibition was meant to showcase the artists’ works and link the work as a collective. The show is a narrative of diverse individuals. When you look at the show, they try to bring out their reasoning and travel to the images and discover and explore what happened during their time.”
What was the message the artists were trying to convey with their prints?
“In this moment, it has less to do with the message but more about how the images will intrigue the viewer. It will bring out a sense of memory and nostalgia. When you look at it, the element of suspense will arise of that particular time. So it’s about exploring the work of the artists. They are important. Printmaking is one of the strongest mediums and those who turned to it were denied access to an education so they used that medium and used images to express themselves.”
Goniwe said those who attend the exhibition will have the opportunity to explore the South African history: “It’s a reminder of where we come from and some of the issues we are still working out in terms of our democracy.
“The content they were dealing with is still appropriate today. Rorke’s Drift are key players both locally and internationally. It can be a part of heritage in South Africa as far as arts and cultural production.”
The exhibition is made possible through support and sponsorship from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund.