100 years of art history transformed

27 February 2012

It is often said that history is written by the winners.

But in the case of South African art, for example, no one's yet provided a big-picture overview from a post-apartheid perspective.

Welcome, then, Visual Century: South African art in context, 1907-2007.

The four-volume series of publications, project-managed by non-profit organisation Africa South Art Initiative (ASAI), based at UCT since 2007, revisits 100 years of South African art history.

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The brainchild of international artist and curator Gavin Jantjies, a graduate of UCT's Michaelis School of Fine Art, Visual Century called on the services of five editors and 33 writers, and is published by Wits University Press.

Mario Pissarra, head of ASAI and editor-in-chief of the project, says that the contribution of black artists was severely neglected in previous historical surveys. But things changed in the 1980s, explains Pissarra, a former research associate in the Department of Historical Studies and currently a doctoral candidate with the Department of Sociology.

"From the mid-80s, there was a new, revisionist trend in art history in the country where people went back to look critically at South African art history, and look particularly at the fact that black artists were almost completely excluded from South African art history."

Visual Century now builds on those revisionist labours, and tackles some essential questions in a way that almost no-one has done before.

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