Remembering David Koloane: 1938 - 2019

Iziko South African National Gallery

It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the passing in Johannesburg last night of South African artist and cultural icon, David Nthubu Koloane (born 1938).

 Founder of the Thupelo Workshops; co-founder of Johannesburg’s first black art gallery; former head of Fine Arts at the Federative Union of Black Artists (FUBA); and a key participant in the creation and development of the Fordsburg Artist’s Studios (now The Bag Factory), Koloane has dedicated his life to the advancement of South African visual arts – both during and after apartheid.

Koloane received his art training at the Bill Ainslie studios – which later became known as the Johannesburg Art Foundation – in the 1970s, during the height of apartheid. He went on to pioneer the black art community in South Africa, and established himself as an artist, writer, curator, facilitator and educator – devoting his life’s work to highlighting the experiences of black South Africans to the world.  

Over the course of a 40-year career, Koloane’s work has been exhibited globally, and forms a part of a number of important collections, including the Saatchi Collection and the Iziko South African National Gallery’s Permanent Collection. Through his expressive, evocative, and poetic work, Koloane has interrogated the socio-political and existential human condition, using the urban life of the city of Johannesburg – a disparate city constitutive of suburbia and townships – as his primary subject matter. Underlying these depictions – in both his artistic creations and his writings – is a search for what it means to be a modern black subject under colonialism, apartheid, and, most recently, under the new democratic order of South Africa.

In 1982, Koloane co-curated the Culture and Resistance Arts Festival in Botswana; and in 1990, co-curated the Zabalaza Festival in London. In 1995, Koloane curated the South African section of Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa, also in London; and in 1988, Koloane was one of the delegates who extended the Triangle Network Workshops to other African countries – setting up the Pachipamwe Workshop in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and the Thapong Workshop in Gaborone, Botswana. In 2013, Koloane’s work was included in the South African Pavilion at the 55th la Biennale di Venezia; and in 2012 and 2015 respectively, Koloane was awarded honorary doctorates from Wits University and Rhodes University.   

Here, at Iziko Museums of South Africa, we are both honoured and humbled to have hosted Koloane and his family at the South African National Gallery for the opening of A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane just last month. The exhibition came as a testament to Koloane as both witness and participant in the ongoing transformative struggle to make the art world, and the world, a more hospitable place for black artists and individuals. Today, the exhibition comes as an opportunity for us to remember the remarkable life of Koloane, and to celebrate in his endeavours as significant mentor and artist.

Koloane was exceptionally outspoken about the difficulty of access to art education in South Africa, and so to characterise Koloane as a ‘resilient visionary’ is also 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-only.  

Koloane has not only left us his legacy in the Thupelo Workshops; The Bag Factory; FUBA; an extraordinary body of work; published writings; and a series of moving and engaging exhibitions, to name but a few – he has also paved the way for a new dawn in South African visual arts and art education; one that is rich, profound, expansive and diverse; one where boundaries no longer exist.

Koloane is survived by his wife, Monica Koloane. He shall be greatly missed by all those who knew him, and all those who have, in some way, been touched by his work.  

Read Professor Premesh Lalu’s speech at the opening of A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane   

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