By Cathryn Lien, Staff Writer
In June 2013, a diverse group of North American and African artists spent two weeks in South Africa for an intensive seminar titled “R5,” which emphasized the five major issues included in South African art: Remembrance, Resistance, Reconciliation, Representation, and Re-visioning. The group’s collected artwork, Between the Shadow and the Light, is a traveling exhibition, and Asbury University is just one stop on its tour.
Gilkison Distinguished Professor of Art at Taylor University Dr. Rachel Hostetter Smith is the curator of the exhibit. As part of Asbury University’s South Africa Campus Forum, Dr. Smith spoke on the connection between South Africa’s political history and the art displayed in the exhibit.
“One of the things I love about these [exhibitions] are that there’s something for everyone, even if you’re not an art person,” said Dr. Smith, referring to the exhibit’s multicultural themes that attracts people of all ethnicities, classes and passions.
Smith briefly explained South Africa’s tumultuous political history, saying “South Africa isn’t just a place of contrasts, but extremes.” During her time in South Africa, Smith said her “eyes were opened” to the dehumanizing effects caused by the Apartheid. And yet alongside that devastation, she also experienced outstanding examples of hospitality, humility, and love.
From Struggle to Victory: Release is by Valentine Mettle, a Nigerian-born artist now living in South Africa. The painting features multiple hands centered in a silhouette of the African continent. It focuses not just on South Africa’s struggles, but the violent governance and oppression all of Africa struggles against.
Memorial by Jonathon Anderson was erected in honor of Nelson Mandela. Smith explained that the practice of placing stones in memoriam is an ancient practice that transcends cultures. Passages in the Bible, such as in Joshua, record the Israelites using stones to mark places of important deaths.
An International Intersection by Larry Thompson features photographs of a man’s face taken from different angles and lighting. Thompson described his work as proving how “a unified face is distinctly varied.” The letters printed over the photographs spell out We Are The Same Tribe.
Winter Flowers is a series features the “protea” flower, which is native to South Africa and traditionally represents change and hope. The word “protean” means, “Something that has lots of possibilities.” The protea flower has become a symbol for South Africa’s “rainbow nation”—an ideal instituted by Nelson Mandela who dreams of a world where people of all colors could live together in harmony. Smith compared South Africa’s connection with the protean flower to North America’s connection with evergreens, as they remind us of life even in the bitter cold of winter.
Although art brings issues to the forefront, Smith was quick to add that action is necessary for change, quoting Chinese artist Ai Weiwie: “The world is not changing if you don’t shoulder the burden of responsibility.” If this exhibition teaches us anything, it’s that we must learn from history to face an uncertain future.
Between the Shadow and the Light: An Exhibit Out of South Africa is being held in the Z.T. Johnson Gallery until May 1, and includes photographs from Asbury Art Professor Keith Barker.