There is still life in South Africa

18 February 2008

A comprehensive exhibition of South African still-life paintings is currently on display at the Old Town House in Greenmarket Square, Cape Town.

Curated by Historical Studies' Professor Michael Godby, the exhibition, titled Is There Still Life?, explores the history of still-life painting in South Africa and its continuity and change.

Works by artists such as Robert Hodgins, William Kentridge, Sam Nhlengethwa and Gerard Sekoto are among the approximately 90 pieces on display.

Although still-life painting came to South Africa from Europe, local artists have distanced themselves from its point of origin to claim a distinctly African identity - although this can take on a variety of forms, depending on both the historical moment and the historical relationship of each artist to Europe.

"One reason why South African artists, like artists elsewhere, are drawn to the representation of still-life is the idea that painting still life somehow identifies one as an artist," says Godby. "Because of this authority, artists here, as elsewhere, routinely test the definition of the genre."

A recent review in Business Day examines the purpose of the exhibition. "The question posed in the title of the exhibition itself, Is There Still Life? Continuity and change in South African still-life painting, implies an interrogation of recent and contemporary interpretations of the genre by local artists. But it also brings up the problem of definition: what is still-life painting? What kind of painting can be included in or excluded from this category? The wide variety of works selected by curator Michael Godby would seem to endorse this problematisation: the subjects portrayed range from hospital equipment and kitchen utensils to rat traps and fighter jets, while the styles employed reveal realist, Impressionist and abstract influences."

Is There Still Life? runs until 31 March.

Click here to view the Business Day Article.

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