Arab Priest

  • Posted: Apr 26, 2012

Iziko South African National Gallery
28 March – 28 July 2012

Iziko Museums is proud to partner with the Department of Art and Culture, the South African Heritage Resources Agency and the Qatar Museums Authority, in hosting the artwork, Arab Priest by Irma Stern, at the Iziko South African National Gallery.

The artwork was sold in London on auction in 2011 for R34 million, a record-setting price for a South African work of art. Purchased by the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), the painting’s permanent transfer to Qatar was halted by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), which contended that the Arab Priest is part of the National Estate of South Africa.

The Qatar Museums Authority has been granted a permit to temporarily export the Arab Priest to Doha. The permit conditions make provision for the Stern painting to spend an agreed period on display in South Africa. Sibongile Van Damme, CEO of the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), stated, “This is an exciting moment in the history of our country because this artist and the subject she painted vividly illustrate the diversity of South Africa in the context of the world. We at SAHRA are proud to have done this for our country."

Arab Priest is one of the most significant works of Stern's so-called “Zanzibar period” of the 1940s.  Although Arab Priest is a work of the colonial period in South African art history, this should not in any way detract from its significance. The record shows that it has always occupied a prominent place in South African art history.

Three years after its completion, it was selected by the South African Association of Arts and the Director of the Tate Gallery for inclusion in the first “Overseas Exhibition of South African Art” at the Tate Gallery in London in 1948. The painting then travelled with the same exhibition and was shown to acclaim in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Canada and the United States in 1949. It was also exhibited at the South African National Gallery when the exhibition was returned to South Africa. This provenance is indicative of the esteem in which the painting was held in the 1940s.

Although privately owned, the artwork was on loan to the UCT Irma Stern Museum for more than 30 years. During this period, the Arab Priest was seen there by innumerable visitors and admirers of Stern's work. This contributed to its prominence and its “iconic” status with experts and the public alike. This underrated example of South African multiculturalism stands out in an era of darkness as an example of mutual respect between diverse cultures and is considered a valued cultural treasure.

“We, at Iziko Museums are delighted that the agreement between the parties not only enables access to this national treasure for the people and future generations of South Africans, but that it also provide an international platform to showcase South African art, talent and heritage,” says Rooksana Omar, CEO of Iziko Museums.



The use of the Arab Priest image is subject to copyright. Therefore media covering the exhibition may use the Arab Priest image for news stories ONLY! These include online, print publications, multi-media and broadcast formats.

Use of the Arab Priest image in feature stories, in-depth reportage and other media use are subject to copyright, for which the media house will be required to seek permission.

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