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Art and the End of Apartheid

2009
Author:

John Peffer

Art and the End of Apartheid

The first book to fully explore cosmopolitan modern art by black South Africans under apartheid

Black South African artists have typically had their work labeled “African art” or “township art,” qualifiers that, when contrasted with “modernist art,” have been used to marginalize their work. In Art and the End of Apartheid, John Peffer considers the work of black South African artists in the decades leading up to the end of apartheid in 1994 and shows how they forged connections that modeled a future, more democratic society.

John Peffer has written an ambitious text that brings together a gripping topic and meticulous research. Art and the End of Apartheid reveals the cosmopolitan nature of artmaking, particularly by black South African artists, and shows how artists’ gatherings and workshops provided a veil beneath which political action could take place.

Steven Nelson, UCLA

Black South African artists have typically had their work labeled “African art” or “township art,” qualifiers that, when contrasted with simply “modernist art,” have been used to marginalize their work both in South Africa and internationally.

In Art and the End of Apartheid, John Peffer considers in depth the work of black South African artists in the decades leading up to the end of apartheid in 1994. Peffer examines painting and graphic art, photography, avant-garde and performance art, and popular and protest art through artist collectives (such as the Thupelo Art Project and the Medu Art Ensemble) and individuals such as Durant Sihlali and Santu Mofokeng. He shows how South African artists imagined what “postapartheid” could mean during the time of apartheid, even as they struggled with immediate issues of censorship, militancy, street violence and torture, and, more broadly, the problem of self-representation and the social role of art.

Peffer describes how, in defiance of the racial polarization that surrounded them, South African artists created “grey areas,” nonracialized spaces and hybrid art forms in which both black and white South Africans collaborated. Beyond the boundaries of apartheid, these artists forged connections at home and abroad that modeled a future, more democratic society.

Awards

Finalist for the African Studies Association Melville Herskovits Book Award

Art and the End of Apartheid

John Peffer is founding editor of Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture, which began publication in 2007. He teaches at Ramapo College in New Jersey.

Art and the End of Apartheid

John Peffer has written an ambitious text that brings together a gripping topic and meticulous research. Art and the End of Apartheid reveals the cosmopolitan nature of artmaking, particularly by black South African artists, and shows how artists’ gatherings and workshops provided a veil beneath which political action could take place.

Steven Nelson, UCLA

Art and the End of Apartheid is at once an accomplished account of the world of progressive art practice in the last decades of white rule, a subtle exploration of the struggle for a nonracial aesthetic, and a compelling chapter in the unfinished history of black modernism in South Africa. But more than this, it is a major contribution to our understanding of the crisis of representation and imagination that haunted the apartheid regime from start to finish.

Jean Comaroff, University of Chicago

This book will be an indispensable companion to anyone wishing to dig more deeply beneath the generally recognized themes of apartheid-era art in South Africa. Using the familiar spatial ‘grey areas’ of apartheid's residential segregation as a trope for the social and aesthetic mixing which took place within a progressive nonracial art scene, the author argues that this very lack of cohesion gave rise to black modernist consciousness in the midst of contradictory claims by political and art world commentators.

Sidney Kasfir, Emory University

This book is a most welcome addition to the existing literature on the history of art in South Africa.

H-Net Reviews

What Peffer labels ‘grey areas,’ metaphorically alluding to solidarity among black and white artists, is teased out in well-organized, interconnected chapters that touch on standard art historical areas such as public arts, censorship, abstraction, artist collectives, and the economic limitations.

Choice

Peffer navigates modernism’s difficulties with expertise, making Art and the End of Apartheid a valued resource for specialists in several fields.

CAA Reviews

Peffer’s content delivers a new perspective on contentious or formerly marginalised material and his lucid prose style is refreshingly free of convolutions, jargon and pretentiousness.

The Art Book

The book itself is a welcome, insightful and stimulating addition to South African Art literature. Art and the End of Apartheid is a very good read.

The Art Book

Peffer gives the reader a well-researched and lucid text through which to plot the end of apartheid and the role of art therein.

de arte

John Peffer has produced a beautiful and insightful general work that will assist the reader in understanding how historical, political, and cultural themes in South African studies mesh with its visual art. It will also be very useful for those who wish to integrate a visual arts perspective into a more general examination of—or course on—modern South Africa.

Postcolonial Text

Art and the End of Apartheid

UMP blog: How will South Africa subsist in the public's memory now that the World Cup is over?

7/12/2010
Thank you for asking me to participate in a blog on the subject of art in South Africa during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. My sense is that, to be honest, the World Cup has had little or no impact on the arts aside from a few highly commercial ventures that are not very representative of the tougher issues Africa’s modern artists are addressing today or have addressed since mid-century.