An introduction to South Africa art


South Africa boast of a large collection of indigenous artwork and its unique history also means that its historical art collections are often varied with multiple cultural influences.

The world’s oldest art objects come from South Africa: small drilled snail shells that scientists say could have no other function than to have been strung on a string as a necklace were recently discovered in a South African cave. They are said to date from 75, 000 years ago.

More generally, South Africa also boasts a large collection of indigenous artwork.  Its unique history also means that its historical art collections are often varied with multiple cultural influences.  The country’s main art galleries exhibiting indigenous, historical and contemporary pieces include:

  • Durban Art Gallery in KwaZulu-Natal
  • Johannesburg Art Gallery in Gauteng
  • South African National Gallery in Cape Town
  • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape
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Universities take an active role in acquiring artwork of national interest and important collections are housed at:

  • the Gertrude Posel Gallery of the University of the Witwatersrand
  • the University of South Africa Gallery in Pretoria
  • the Edoardo Villa Museum and other galleries at the University of Pretoria
  • the collection of contemporary Indian art at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Other important art galleries, museums and collections include:

  • Bag Factory – promotes the visual arts through residency programme, exhibitions and workshops in Johannesburg
  • Durban Art Gallery – Durban
  • Greatmore Studios – offers residencies, exhibitions and outreach programmes in Cape Town
  • Michaelis Collection – Cape Town
  • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum – Port Elizabeth
  • Oliewenhuis Art Museum – Bloemfontein
  • Pretoria Art Museum
  • South African National Gallery – Cape Town
  • Standard Bank Gallery – Johannesburg
  • Unisa Art Gallery – Pretoria
  • William Humphrey’s Art Gallery – Kimberley

Photo © Peter RiveraArts and Crafts
The South African government has in recent years also focused on stimulating the craft industry for economic upliftment, consolidating the marketing and distribution of South African products to international markets such as Art Mundi in Brazil.

More locally, in 2009, the Department of Arts and Culture established the annual National Craft Awards where 60 crafters across the nine provinces are recognised and awarded prizes for their contribution to craft development.  You can also check out the Annual Beautiful Things Craft Supermarket for locally made arts and crafts.If you’re interested in arts, crafts and antiques malls, you’ll want to visit following:

  • Durbanville Craft Market – Durbanville
  • Essenwood Craft Market – Durban
  • Irene Village Market – Irene, Gauteng
  • Kirstenbosch Craft Market – Cape Town
  • Panorama Flea Market – Johannesburg
  • Rosebank Rooftop Market – Johannesburg
  • Welwitschia Country Market – Hartebeespoort Dam


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