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Art and Resistance under apartheid - timeline

Please note: This timeline is a work in progress and is NOT complete. If you would like to add to this timeline please click on the 'contribute' tab.

A Rorke's Drift artist working on the four elements tapestry for the Royal Society (Photograph: Jo Thorpe, 'Its never too early')
1938
Moses Tladi held his first one person show in the Swedish hall in Hankock street, Johannesburg.
1949
July
No 1 Polly Street was opened as a recreational centre for the non-white, African community of Johannesburg. The centre became the famous Polly Street Art centre.
1951
Formation of Chiawela art centre in the Sowetan suburb of Moroka.
1951
Formation of non-racial arts group BICA , Bantu Indian Coloured arts group in Durban.
1956
Publication of the magazine Africa South and the literary magazine the Purple Renoster.
1960
The 1960's saw the 21st March Sharpeville Massacre and the formation of the white Republic.
The State declared a state of emergency and the banning of liberation organisations.
Thousands were arrested and hundreds fled or went into voluntary exile.
Political organisations went underground and made the decision to undertake sabotage campaigns.
International anti Apartheid activists launch consumer and political sanction campaigns which begin to gain momentum in Africa, the UK and India to isolate South Africa.
The photographer Earnest Cole begins working on his seminal exhibition and book on Apartheid South Africa, ‘The House of Bondage'.
BICA organises its last exhibition in Durban.
Photographer Ian Barry, the photographer who documented the Sharpeville Massacre, leaves South Africa for England and eventually joins the internationally famous photographers collective Magnum.
Ronald Segal, editor of the magazine Africa South, goes into exile. Eventually the magazine is published from London.
Peter Clerk hold his first one person show, Cape Town.
1963
First national non-racial art competition “Arts South Africa Today Exhibition” opened at the Durban Art Gallery.
Trial of artist Harold Rubin on charge of blasphemy opens in Jhburg,
January, ANC and Communist party activists in exile establish an arts group in London.
September 15, David Goldblatt closes his late fathers business and starts work fulltime as a photographer.
Publication of the first issue of the magazine classic edited by Nat Nasaka
Passing of the 1963 publication and entertainment act.
Formation of group and magazine Sestiger.
1965
Artists Omar Badsha refused a passport to travel abroad.
Artists and political activists Harold Strachen charged and imprisoned at the Pretoria Central for sabotage, and being a member of a banned organisation.
Photographer and political and trade union activists Eli Weinberg was charged and imprisoned.
Writers Nat Nakasa and Lewis Nkosi were awarded Niemann Fellowership to study abroad. They were refused their passports and were forced to leave on an exit permit and subsequently they lost their South African citizenship.
Art South Africa Today exhibition.
14th July Nat Nakasa dies in exile after a fall from the seventh floor of a building in New York.
19th July the poet Ingrid Jonker commits suicide by drowning in Cape Town
Artist Michael Zondi was the first black person to hold a one-person show at the Durban Art Gallery.
Publication of New Coin poetry magazine.
1966
The Natal Society of Arts opens its first gallery in Durban.
Dumile Feni's first one-person show was held in Johannesburg in January, Gallery 101.
Trans Natal Artists exhibition was held in August in Durban with the artists Feni, Badsha, and others exhibiting.
Prime minister Vorster's government lists the name of 46 South Africans in exile. The ban meant that all the people on the list, many of whom were leading writers, could not have their work published, distributed or quoted inside the country.
1967
Art South Africa Today, exhibition held.
On the 10th December artist and political activist Selbi Mvusi dies in car accident in Nairobi.
Earnest Cole who was in exile publishes his book House of Bondage, the book was banned in the country.
1968
Artist Dumile Feni leaves for the UK and eventually goes into voluntary exile.
Publication of Ingrid Jonker's Selected Poems by Jack Cope and William Plumer.
Formation of SASO.
Prohibition of Political Interference Act was passed, leading to the disbandment of the Liberal Party.
SA exhibition ‘stand' was closed down due to protest.
1969
Art South Africa Today – exhibition held in Durban.
Artist Omar Badsha had his first one person show in the artists gallery, Cape Town.
Arrest of writer Wally Serote and photographer Peter Magubane. Together with Winnie Mandela and others they were kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time and were then charged for furthering the aims of a banned organisation, these charges were eventually acquitted in June.
1970
January, Bolt magazine was published at The Natal University.
1971
Art South Africa Exhibition was held.
Publication of the book : Art and Artists of South Africa, by Esme Berman, published by Balkema.
A book of poems was published by Renoster books called The Sounds of a Cowhide Drum poems by Oswald Mtshali.
Publication of the magazine Izwi.
1971 - 1972
Publication of Mongane Wally Serote's first volume of poetry Yakhal'inkomo. It was published by Renoster Books.
Publication of the book of poems “Cry Rage” by James Matthews and Gladys Thomas, by SPROCAS, is banned.
BC aligned theatre company TECON initiated the formation of The SA Black Theatre Union at a conference held at Orient Hall, Durban. Key figures in Tecon and SACO were, Strini Moodley and Sats Cooper.
University of Natal students formed a Student Wages Commission which becomes an NUSAS affiliate.
1972
December , Writer and BCM activist Mthuli Shezi was run over by a train when pushed from the platform by a white conductor.
1973
The community based theatre group, Cape Flats Players, was formed.
Art, as a subject for examination, was introduced in two Indian schools with 25 pupils doing the subject.
January, Black workers go on strike in Durban, bringing the city industries to a holt.
March, Steve Biko and seven other members of SASO were banned.
Franco Fuscuro was detained and suspended for a year for a cartoon published in The Wits University student magazine.
1975
A group of SASO leaders were arrested and 13 of them charged under the terrorism act.
Sadecque Variava and Solly Ismael, from the theatre group PET, were charged.
ReLaunch of the magazine Classic as ‘New Classic'
Artist Walter Battiss creates his ‘Fook island concept'.
1976
The Play “Too Late”, by Gibson Kenti, was banned.
1976
April 17-19, A Conference on black writing was held organised by New Classic and Sketch magazine.
The federation of Black Women in South Africa, was established in Durban
Playwright Gibson Kenti was arrested while working on the filming of his play “How Long”.
A Gavin Young poster banned.
A Poster by Bruce Campbell Smith was banned.
1976
June, The Soweto uprising and the student uprising in the Cape, and elsewhere in the country, took place.
1977
The Community Art Project (CAP) was established in Cape Town.
The Federation of Black Women in South Africa was banned.
SASO was banned.
1978
Peter Magubane's book of photographs, “Soweto”, was published.
Poet, artist and activist Dikobe Wa Mogale Martins was charged and acquitted for producing banned Steve Biko T-Shirts.
March, The ground breaking Staffrider magazine, started by the academic and poet Mike Kirkwood, was published by Raven Press. The first edition was banned by the government.
1979
Letter to Farzanah, an exhibition and book, by Omar Badsha was launched and the book was banned.
‘Images', a book of photographs of the work of George Hallet, was published by BLAC publishing house which was run by Cape Town based poet and activist James Matthews.
NUSAS organised an art and liberation week at UCT. NUSAS organised an art and liberation week at the University of Cape Town. A State of Art Conference was held at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. Here white artists became aware of their commitment to being South African. The artists who attended the conference made a conscious decision to effect change towards a post-Apartheid society and refused to participate in State-sponsored exhibitions until change occurred. It was the shockwaves of the Soweto Uprising had left an impression on the artworld, as well as on white society as a whole, and not unexpectedly in 1977 the Black Consciousness Movement, including its affiliated organisations (such as SASO) and its publications, was banned. The violent death in detention of SASO\'s first president, Steve Biko, occurred in the same year, and 1978 was also marked by a spate of treason trials, the assassination of the academic and activist Richard Turner and, as a result of the Information scandal, the fall of prime minister B.J. Vorster. In this context the Cape Town conference focused on questions of social responsibility in the arts. Papers from a wide range of eminent writers, artists, architects, academics and educators, including Nadine Gordimer, Jan Rabie, Adam Small, Pancho Guedes, Lorna Peirson, Gavin Younge and Paul Stopforth, revealed a consensus about the need for a "committed art" in South Africa.
Junction Avenue, a community of cultural workers, was formed.
In July 1979 FUBA began occupation of two floors of an old building on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Classes were initially on a part-time basis for both scholars and workers, but later enrolled full-time pupils for fine arts and music classes, with a full-time employed staff. The services of the organisation are centred mainly in Johannesburg.
1980
As the repressiveness of the apartheid state increased in the 1970s and 1980s, many artists made works that faced the harsh realities of South African life, sometimes obliquely, sometimes head-on.
In the 1980s, the category of "resistance art" was increasingly recognised as a genre of expression explicitly directed at South Africa's ruling white elite and its increasingly oppressive exercise of power.
The trade union movement, as part of a wider drives for democratic change, made striking use of visual imagery that had something in common with the Russian constructivists as well as African art, on posters and T-shirts. Anonymous artists placed images of state violence (or bewildering dream reflections) at traffic intersections.
The skills for making and printing large numbers of posters, banners and T-shirts were quickly developed in the 1980s with the help of formally-trained artists who made their knowledge and skills available by offering workshops and establishing projects such as the Community Arts Project in Cape Town. (Several books, for example, Younge, 1988, Williamson, 1989 and Potenza, 1991, deal in a general way with this phenomenon that has been labelled "people's art"; a really thorough study, however, is still required.)
Many South African protest/resistance artists began developing unique styles in the 1980's, namely:
Robert Hodgins, a painter, satirized figures of power.
In paintings, lithographs and sculpture, Norman Catherine developed his signature larger-than-life sinister human figures.
Helen Sebidi's collages, pastels and charcoals spoke of the struggle of human life.
William Kentridge began using powerfully expressionist drawings and highly developed personal metaphors, symbols and characters to expose the hypocrisies and ironies of white South African life (more recently, he has extended his powerful drawing technique into the basis for "animated" films and installations).
Penny Siopis dealt with issues of femininity and history in dense, allusive paintings
In the 1980's Gavin Younge attempted to achieve a more community-based reality for his work by teaching in informal structures such as CAP and assisting black artists in centres such as Nyanga. (He had left Durban for the Cape in 1975.) He also developed his skills as a documentary photographer and made several films on "forced removals" and resettlement camps. Clifford Bestall made this kind of film-making his chief form of political statement.
Stopforth, who had left Durban for Johannesburg in 1977, presented an altogether different case. Although he had been responsible for some of the most powerful and memorable protest works of the Seventies, he became increasingly disillusioned with politics in the early Eighties, and a cynicism about direct and overt political statement in art led to works of social commentary in a blandly satirical vein. Possibly pressure of "baroque" post-modernism in art circles especially in Johannesburg gradually undermined the ascetic side of Stopforth's artistic-social commitments.
1980
Paul Stopforth made a series of works in various media dealing with torture, which was-at he time-a routine interrogation technique of the South African security police. This interrogation technique was the cause of the death of resistance heroes such as Bantu Steve Biko and many others. Two works from the series consisting of two small graphite drawings of damaged hands and feet, called Steve Biko and We Do It, were chosen for the Valparaiso Biennial International Exhibition in Chile. However, government intervention caused the drawings to be withdrawn because the government did not want to promote or finance such political works overseas.
Starting in 1980, two artists, Antonio Saura and Ernest Pignon-Ernest, formed the Association "Artists of the World against Apartheid."
1981
Artists, both black and white, ignored the NUSAS conference's resolutions and submitted work to the 1981 commemorative Republic Festival exhibition, while books by Fransen and Berman appeared in 1982 and 1983, respectively, and evidenced little real change in attitude and approach to South African art history. (The artists who attended the conference had made a decision to effect change towards a post-Apartheid society and refused to participate in State-sponsored exhibitions until change occurred.)
Formation of Afrascope/ history
Formation of Afrapix / history
Disbandment of PEN and the formation of Black only African Writers Association
Ground breaking Black Art Today Exhibition opens at Mofolo, Soweto.
1982
Botswana Festival of Culture and Resistance was held – this was a key conference, which was attended by many South African exiles. The message to white participants - the Black Consciousness perspective dominated the festival - was the one that had been heard many times before: to regard their aim as the conscientising of fellow whites while leaving the task of liberation to the black oppressed. Culture, it was resolved, should be used as a weapon of the struggle, and the phrase, "cultural worker", began to replace "artist", "musician" or "writer". The musician Abdullah Ibrahim - who was at the time living in exile - summed up the mood of the festival when he castigated South Africans for living amid oppression but apparently not feeling the need to commit themselves to political issues: "After all the killings and everything...it's 1982 and we still have to tell the culture to resist!"
An Art and resistance workshop was held at Natal medical school.
A Cultural Festival held in the Bosman Township.
First poster co-ops established in Cape Town and Johannesburg
Formation of Vakalisa Arts Association.
June. Artist, Zylla, displayed a series of large pencil drawings he had been working on at the Community Arts Project in Cape Town for the past eight months. The images were of grossly fat white males at the barbeque, bombs and grenades in their cooking pot, smug businessmen in the boardroom and military generals. He invited members of the community to add to his finished works in any way they wished. More than 200 people came to express their feelings about Apartheid and oppression visually with paint and brushes on the artworks. The afternoon was very meaningful to those who participated because it broke the boundaries between artist and community and art lost its image as an elitist activity and became a form of free expression of the people.
The Moving Collection was started. This drive for artworks mobilised all democratic countries to do whatever they could to raise awareness on ending Apartheid. It was at this time that the well-known sanctions against South Africa were imposed. By 1982-83 they had brought together 150 paintings and sculptures representing 30 countries. The first showing of the collection was in Paris in November 1983 at the Rothschild Foundation. In total 78 international artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Motherwell and Roy Lichtenstein, replied to the appeal for artworks as the exhibition travelled the world. At each new venue new artists would add their work to the collection.
1983
Omar Badsha and Paul Weinberg held the first Staff rider photographic exhibition. It was followed by a publication, Through the Lens Social Documentary Photography in South Africa; it was based on the exhibition.
August. The UDF formed- that saw the appearance of mass media, posters, murals and artists collectives.
Formation of UDF cultural and sports desk.
Jeremy Cronin's book of poetry, Inside, was published by Raven Press.
FUNDA Centre, in Soweto, was founded.
1984
The opening of the Carnegie Commission exhibition South Africa: The Cordoned Heart.
As a result of international pressure, the Apartheid government passed a new constitution that stipulated a new parliament where there were three separate houses for Whites, Coloureds and Indians, with only limited representation of the latter two. Blacks were expected to have their own parliament in the Bantustans or homelands, and were therefore not included. The adoption of the new constitution resulted in a new surge of national violent uprisings.
Jenny Curtis Schoon was a woman who was exiled for her political activities and in 1984 a parcel bomb blew up her and her small daughter Katryn. Sue Williamson recorded this incident in a notable artwork titled, Jenny Curtis Schoon.
1985
A State of Emergency was declared. This event influenced the artwork of Gary Van Wyk. Van Wyk made a series of large works on unprimed canvas depicting the soldiers and the freedom fighters and the cops and the comrades of the time, who were no longer being reported about. His works were large enough to form banners at meetings and events. Even though his works were not for sale, anti-Apartheid organisations made postcards of his works, and his images were used overseas.
The Trojan horse incident occurred influencing the works of artists Willie Bester and Manfred Zylla.
A Book of photographs “Women Work”, by Lesley Lawson, was published by SACHED.
The Cape Based theatre workshop “Action Workshop” was formed.
14th June.
Artist Thami Mnyele and Mike Hamlyn were killed as a result of SANDF raids. The MEDU project collapses.
COSATU trade unions were launched.
Tributaries exhibition was held – A view of contemporary South African Art.
1985
BMW exhibition Tributaries, curated by Ricky Burnett attempted to broaden the range of "African" possibilities. Rural carvings, beadwork, pottery and (photographs of) wall paintings were exhibited alongside urban "fine art" equivalents, and the work of black artists occupied almost half of the exhibition.
1986
The Cape Town Cultural Festival was banned.
A book of poems by Alfred Qabula titled Black Mamba Rising, was published by Cosatu workers' resistance and cultural publications.
Formation of the Cape Town music group, MAPP.
The Alexander Arts Centre was founded.
The pass laws were abolished.
In July 1986, the theme of the second conference of the South African Association of Art Historians was "Art and Social Change". Almost half of the papers focused on developments in South Africa, and a few, like those of Franco Frescura, Rob McLeod and Ivor Powell, looked at the consequences of the political crisis for art and architecture in this country.
A conference was held in Amsterdam, Culture in Another South Africa, it served as a reminder that, once again, academic debate on art and politics was in danger of being overtaken by political events.
1987
Formation of Imvamba Arts Association. Louise Almon and Mike Barry were involved.
Formation of COSAW.
The Centre for Documentary Photography was established at UCT.
Skotaville publishers published the book, Echoes of African Art, written by Matsemela Manaka.
1988
Formation of CASET
Cape Town born artists Louis Maurice dies in England.
Formation of Cultural workers Congress.
Formation of Visual Arts Group.
The Neglected tradition exhibition by Stephen Sach was held at the Johannesburg Art Gallery.
Art of the South African Townships, by Gavin Young, was published.
The book Gerard Sekoto written, by B. Lindop, was published
The Everard Read Gallery published the Dictionary of South African Painters and sculptures, by Grandia Ogilvie.
100 Artists Protest Detention Without Trial Exhibition was held at the Market Gallery in January.
1990s
Conceptual art comes to its own in this decade. Some notable artists of this time being: Sue Williamson, Jeremy Wafer, Jane Alexander, Sandile Zulu, Moshekwa Langa, Steven Cohen, Kendell Geers, Willem Boshoff, Jo Ratcliffe and Hentie van der Merwe.
1990
Afrapix published Full Frame Magazine.
Unbanning of organisations, artists and activists return.
The Eli Weinberg and Earnest Cole scholarship was launched.
The Albi Sach debate took place at the market theatre on 9th June
1990
The photographer Earnest Cole dies in exile New York.
FW De Klerk is declared president.
End of the State of Emergency.
All political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela were released.
1991
Eli Weinberg and Earnest Cole scholarship was awarded to Santu Mafokeng and Jeeva Rajgopaul.
Artists Dumile Feni Dies in exile New York.
1993
Chris Hani is murdered.
1995
The first Johannesburg Biennale was held. It contributed to a new dialogue between South African artists and currents from other countries.
The Moving Collection (International artwork collection against Apartheid) was shown in Zimbabwe at the All Africa Games.
The Moving Collection was also displayed in South Africa in the same year; the exhibit was presented to South Africa as a country. The works were displayed in Parliament.
1997
The second and final Johannesburg Biennale was held. The event was discontinued.