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South Africa’s Unique History Explored Through an Art Exhibition in London


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This autumn, South Africa: the art of a nation, at the British Museum, explores 100,000 years of history through archaeological, historic and contemporary artworks.

This is the first major UK exhibition of South African art and tells the story of SA’s deep history – from the colonial period, through apartheid and into the development of the ‘rainbow nation’.

The exhibition sheds light on the various artistic achievements of South Africa, with approximately 200 objects arranged across seven significant historical episodes.

Each section is illustrated with artworks by contemporary artists that provide new perspectives on South Africa’s past and a unique understanding of the country today.

Karel Nel’s ‘Potent Fields’ (2002) has made its way into the permanent collection of the exhibition. Significantly painted in the same year as the discovery of the 75,000-year-old cross-hatched ochre in the Western Cape, this painting is juxtaposed with the realization that Africa is one of the earliest sites of artistic thought and creation as well as being the cradle of humankind.

One of the most exciting loans to the exhibition is the collection of Mapungubwe treasures which will be leaving South Africa for the very first time. The gold figures, discovered in three royal graves are amongst some of the most important sculptures in Africa today.

These artifacts’ significance extends beyond their provision of evidence that complex societies existed in the region immediately prior to the arrival of European settlers. The gold sculptures were hidden during the oppressive apartheid era in order to legitimize white rule based on the concept of ‘terra nullius’ – empty land.

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These artworks have been placed beside modern artworks by Penny Siopis and Owen Ndou so that viewers are encouraged to challenge the historic assumptions of the colonial and apartheid eras.

The selection of contemporary South African art reflects a dialogue between the past and the present. A recent acquisition to the British Museum’s permanent collection is a 2-metre wide collaborative textile piece from Bethesda Arts Centre titled ‘The Creation of the Sun’ (2015).

Recent works by some of South Africa’s contemporary artists are also on display; artists such as Lionel Davis, Candice Breitz and Mary Sibande have been hung alongside works by Willie Bester, William Kentridge and Santu Mofokeng.

The exhibition is aimed at allowing the viewer to explore key episodes and objects from throughout South Africa’s unique history.

South Africa: the art of a nation runs until 26 February 2017 at the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG.

Tickets: £12.00, children under 16 free; group rates available

Competition

We are offering you the opportunity to discover the fascinating history of South Africa by giving away two tickets to the British Museum’s new special exhibition South Africa: the art of a nation plus a 3-course meal in the stunning Great Court Restaurant!

To enter the competition please click here, enter your details and use code ‘museum’. Good luck!

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