Honouring A Resilient Visionary

The travelling exhibition A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane is a celebration of Koloane’s contribution to South Africa’s national and cultural struggle, bestowing, in the words of Steve Biko: “the greatest possible gift” an artist can give its subject: “a more human face.”

It is this gift that Koloane shared with the world at large, a gift he espoused until his death this week at the age of eighty-one years.

With paintings, drawings, and mixed media collages depicting his home in Alexandra, and Johannesburg at large, Koloane encouraged the consumer to acknowledge the lived black experience through cityscapes and every day scenes in the township and the city.

In addition to his artistry, Koloane’s involvement in establishing black art strongholds and his ongoing work as a curator, teacher and mentor — during times when the art world excluded the public consumption of art by black artists — cemented his role as a hands on, revered voice in Africa’s artistic landscape.

To characterise Koloane as a ‘resilient visionary’ is to recognise and celebrate his pioneering work writing essays, curating exhibitions, participating in conferences, giving talks, teaching and mentoring young and established artists at a time when such vocations were restricted to whites in South Africa.

A large part of this effort involves the initiatives he helped establish, from the first Black Art Gallery in 1977, the Thupelo experimental workshop in 1985 and the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios in 1991. Koloane also tutored at the Federation Union of Black Artists (FUBA) in 1979 and became the head of the fine art section and gallery from 1985 to 1990.

A notable feature of these efforts was how they involved the breaking down of racial and national boundaries. Thupelo and Bag Factory are two examples, which brought together artists from different geo-cultural backgrounds around the world. Diverse creatives, thinkers and agents gathered, in James Baldwin’s axiom, to break bread through art making, dialogue and friendship.

Comprehending the meaning and substantial impact of these endeavours illuminate the significance of Koloane’s mission and vision, not only locally but internationally too.
His art has been featured in international exhibitions and projects such as the Triangle Network. In 1986, he completed a museum studies diploma at the University of London. He served as the director of Bag Factory and was a member of numerous committees and boards.

Koloane co-curated the 1982 Culture and Resistance Arts Festival in Botswana, and co-ordinated and co-curated the 1990 Zabalaza Festival in London. In 1995, he curated the South African section of Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, in London. In 1988, Koloane was one of the delegates that extended the Triangle Network workshops to other African countries, by setting up the Pachipamwe workshop in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. This workshop later gave birth to the Thapong workshop in Botswana in 1989.

These endeavours are indicative of Koloane’s legacy, one that is rich, profound and expansive.
It is a legacy spanning more than five decades of perseverance and sustained creative productivity and intellectual engagement. The loss of Koloane leaves the art world hollow.

Acknowledgements: Ellen Agnew/Iziko Museums of South Africa, Goodman Gallery, Mail & Guardian: Zaza Hlalethwa & Oupa Nkosi

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