CityPress - - The Good Guide -

Tex­hi­bi­tion, on at the Wits Art Mu­seum. They point to old and new de­bates about the ex­clu­sion of blacks from cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions and the role of white art his­to­ri­ans in black art his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tives.

As it is, white South African modernists, who broke from the re­al­ist tra­di­tion in art, are vastly fore­grounded and more val­ued in the mar­ket – Alexis Preller, Irma Stern et al.

In the case of Black Modernisms, the ten­sion also sur­rounds the era­sure of black artists by com­mis­sion or omis­sion from cul­tural mem­ory.

“If you are go­ing to make the claim that this ex­hi­bi­tion should be un­der­stood as black modernisms, then you have to be con­scious of what your omis­sions are go­ing to im­ply,” says art his­to­rian Same Md­luli when we meet to speak about the ex­hi­bi­tion. “Not in­clud­ing some­one like Ernest Man­coba, for ex­am­ple you’re in essence eras­ing him,” she states.

“I feel like I should make a disclaimer,” she says re­gard­ing her in­volve­ment in the ex­hi­bi­tion. “I also feel like it should be out on the record be­cause for me it speaks di­rectly to the kind of ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve had as a black scholar look­ing at black South African art.”

She is re­fer­ring to be­ing treated as a black to­ken in South Africa’s pre­dom­i­nantly white art world.

“The only thing I was asked to do was the bi­ogra­phies of these artists,” says Md­luli. Of­fi­cially, the ex­hi­bi­tion is “cu­rated by Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus Ani­tra Net­tle­ton, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with/as­sisted by Dr Same Md­luli and Bon­gani Mahlangu”. The ex­hi­bi­tion is at­tached to a col­lo­quium that will hap­pen in June around global modernisms.

“Ani­tra, the per­son re­spon­si­ble for the con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion of Black Modernisms, is also one of the peo­ple who are con­ven­ing [the col­lo­quium],” Md­luli adds.

Net­tle­ton is an art his­to­rian and was Md­luli’s su­per­vi­sor for her doc­tor­ate in art his­tory. “I have more than 30 years of this,” Net­tle­ton says. By “this”, she means work­ing on col­lec­tions of South African and African art at Wits Art Mu­seum.

“We don’t hand over cu­ra­to­rial re­spon­si­bil­ity to peo­ple with­out ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says.

At the cen­tre of the ten­sion is what artist and writer Shar­lene Khan termed “Do­ing it for Daddy” in an es­say in 2006. The es­say ar­gued that “a pa­tro­n­is­ing white mommy has dis­placed the art world’s pa­tri­ar­chal apartheid

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