SOAS University of London

Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London


Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique 1960-2004
19 January - 19 March 2005

Creativity, variety and individuality in the visual arts are highlighted in this exhibition of paintings, sculptures, prints and installations from five southern African countries. Organised by the Africa Centre, 'Transitions' is the first event of the Africa 2005 programme in London and then tours to regional venues in the UK.

The exhibition comprises the diverse and exuberant creations of 61 artists who live and work in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique. It presents a broad and surprising array of aesthetic concerns investigated by the region's artists between 1960 and 2004. It thus offers an insight into changes in artmaking in southern Africa during recent decades. Covering a wide range of imaged experience, the works illustrate contrasts, connections and interactions both across the region and internationally. The exhibition juxtaposes multifaceted interpretations of the human body, physical and cultural environments, political commentary and conceptual installations. Styles range from naive figuration to expressionistic tone poems, from naturalism to soaring abstraction.

School Worksheets
Primary School (pdf)
Secondary School (pdf)

The exhibition contains work of different generations, with some practitioners internationally recognised while others have not shown outside Africa – providing a rare opportunity to experience a slice of the creative talent in southern Africa.

Artists in the exhibition include: Keston Beaton, Berry Bickle, David Chirwa, Violet Erenara, Fatima Fernandes, Tapfuma Gutsa, Rashid Jogee, Thamae Kaashe, Faxon Kulya, Adam Madebe, Dias Mahlate, Malangatana, Crispin Matekenya, William Miko, Monica Mosarwa, Thomas Mukarobgwa, Samate Mulungo, Adam Mwansa, Thakor Patel, Nxaedom Qhomatca (Antjie), Godfrey Setti, Pais Ernesto Shikhani, Henry Tayali, Friday Tembo and Zephania Tshuma.

The artworks were collected largely from participants in Pachipamwe, Mbile, Thapong, Ujamaa, Batapata and Tulipamwe – the Triangle Arts Trust's International Artists Workshops in the five countries. These workshops are a significant vehicle for informal art education, providing otherwise unavailable opportunities for artists. For a two-week period, participants can experiment with media, have free access to materials and concentrated time for thought and practice. Half of the artists are local and the rest from neighbouring countries or overseas. Talks and critiques are an integral part of the workshops and one of the valuable outcomes is the exchange between artists of different backgrounds and outlooks.

The dates – 1960 to 2004 – mark the earliest and latest artworks in a collection owned by Robert Loder, director of the Triangle Arts Trust, from which the exhibition is selected. The Loder collection is adhoc and serendipitous rather than definitive, providing a uniquely open and interesting group of works. Many of the artworks reflect the workshop atmosphere of freedom and experimentation, and the exhibition foregrounds the impetus given to intercultural dialogue created by the movement across borders and interaction of artists.

Transitions: passings or changes from one place, state or condition to another
In music: momentary modulations
In physics: places where different phases of the same substance can be in equilibrium

Artists everywhere and always claim the freedom to express their own individual conceptions in whatever ways and means appeal to them. They travel and pick up ideas, techniques, materials wherever they come across them, transforming and adapting them to help interpret and communicate their experiences. Viewers, art critics and historians constantly try to tie down and label these artworks in a legitimate pursuit of knowledge and understanding. In doing so, they raise boundaries and establish categories which are constantly challenged by artists.

A huge and diverse geographical area, Africa, with its hundreds of different cultures and millions of individuals, cannot be fitted into one or two neat boxes, nor be circumscribed by political or economic stereotypes. For a long time, creative works by African artists were derogated as 'artefacts' not art – an ignorant view that persists in some bunkers. Finally recognised as visible manifestations of philosophical and aesthetic concepts, artworks made by artists who happen to live in or come from the African continent have undergone endless attempts to contain them within the hierarchies and classifications set up by other pre-existing systems. Despite the acknowledgement of 'many modernities', there is reluctance to extend egalitarian recognition.

Making no claims to be definitive or comprehensive – simply a modest insight into a few aspects of creativity in some areas of the continent – this exhibition is intended to bring attention to art and artists largely unknown in Britain.

A fully illustrated catalogue, containing interviews with artists and essays by historians, practitioners and artwriters from the five countries, will be available.