Donovan Ward: Ash, Dust & Trade Marks at Bell-Roberts, Cape Town
Long Street runs down the middle of Cape Town. It's a sparkling parade
of exotic nightclubs, township hustlers, randy backpackers and
streetwise undergraduates. Looming behind Long Street are the granite
cliffs of Table Mountain. Sometimes, when clouds gather menacingly on
its peaks, it seems like a tidal wave about to crash down on this
glowing neon strip-as though the whole continent of Africa is about to
descend on this merry scene with its gross humanity, its post-colonial
pre-renaissance, its angry future.
Near the end of Long Street, Bell-Roberts Gallery hosts exhibitions by
the new generation of mostly white Cape Town artists. The gallery has
also just published the first issue of Art Africa, the continent's only
art magazine. Their current show, Ash, Dust & Trade Marks by Donovan
Ward, eerily reflects the world around it.
A set of wall pieces are painted with the face of Colonel Sanders, which
has been rubbed back on one half to reveal an African mask underneath.
The second series contains neon centrepieces with glowing faces like
Mickey Mouse that are set on top of canvases that have been pasted with
dirt, into which has been ground fragmented images of the previous era,
including magazine photos and Afrikaans place names. While
extraordinarily made, the works are quite sad. The future seems just as
alien as the past.
As an overseas visitor, I was emboldened to speak with the artist. His
response was stubbornly Germanic, and resistant to any praise on my
part. Donovan Ward was most talkative when it came to the technical
dimension of the works, and his love of making. The fact that art of
such intensity could still be made was the only possibility of
redemption in otherwise fraught works.
Ward seems very much one of his generation. Other Cape Town artists like
Brett Murray, Doreen Southward, Jane Alexander and Lien Botha are, to
varying degrees, trying to work their way out of the past. Rather than
take the bait of global capitalism, they are looking for a place to
nurture their pale memories. There's a line in the new TAXI book on Lien
Botha-'This city is filled with pillars of salt.'
In our relaxed and comfortable Australia, it is tempting to ascribe
something like a reactionary insularity to this generation. They could
be seen to be building aesthetic enclaves to protect themselves from the
threatening reality without. But what they are confronting is something
that Australians can only dream about. Imagine if 80% of the Australian
parliament was Aboriginal and that you would see scarcely a white face
in Sydney CBD. While that would no doubt be considered bushjustice for
their dispossession of the land, how would white Australians then place
themselves in this new unfamiliar landscape. The Cape Town artists are
confronting our reality.
And then there are the new black artists in Joburg.