Chicago’s African Festival of the Arts Features Apartheid-era Artist Showcase

For the first time in the U.S., a rare collection of 22 paintings depict the pain, strife and, finally, elation over the end of South Africa’s racially oppressive system.

“Politically significant and aesthetically beautiful.” Those words describe a rare collection of 22 paintings by five acclaimed South African artists in the international exhibit Apartheid to Freedom: South African Artists’ Perspectives.

The exhibit runs through August 20 and is a precursor to the 23rd annual African Festival of the Arts, a destination for family fun that celebrates art, culture, food and music from the African diaspora over Labor Day weekend August 31 – September 3 in Washington Park, 5100 S. Cottage Grove Avenue.

The exhibit’s curator and founder of Color Me Africa Fine Arts, Soraya Sheppard, has teamed up with AIH to showcase (for the first time in America) original works that capture pre- and post-apartheid South Africa. The paintings depict and inspire a range of feeling and emotion: from urban life to the uprisings in Soweto to the sought-after freedom in the new democratic South Africa.

During apartheid, artistic practice and the subject matter in paintings effectively depicted the hurt and oppression of South Africa’s majority Black population. Much of the work produced during this period was anything but passive in its visual impact or political message, often aiming for one main objective – social change. This change did not come easy. Black artists’ works were rarely exhibited and politically minded artists were persecuted. Security forces left a significant gap in the nation’s cultural legacy when they destroyed a majority of the township art.

“The exhibit expresses the range of emotion and strife at a time when Blacks were agitating for an end to apartheid,” says Sheppard, who left South Africa during the uprisings in 1987 in a self-imposed exile. She returned in 1993 to visit family, a promise she kept after Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990. “In South Africa, apartheid-era art is gaining in popularity as the nation continues to come to terms with its past. It is a statement of a time gone but not forgotten.”

Apartheid did eventually gain global attention and apartheid-era art began receiving international support. The exhibit will feature works by Moses Masoko, Ntuli Ndabuko, Jerry Lion, Solomon Sikelela and David Mbele. Masoko will

travel to Chicago to offer his perspective on what it was like to be an artist during apartheid. Masoko’s art reflects both pre- and post-apartheid.

“Africa International House is honored to host this extremely significant exhibit,” says Patrick Woodtor, executive director of Africa International House USA, Inc. “AIH is dedicated to the celebration and preservation of African cultures and traditions, with the intent to pass them on to future generations.”