Visual Century

South African Art in Context 1907 – 2007
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  • Publication Date: 2011
  • Dimensions and Pages: 270 x 235 mm, 950pp
  • EAN: 9781868145478
  • Recommended Price (ZAR): 1200.00
  • Recommended Price (USD): 190.00

Detailed, dense and beautifully presented, Visual Century is more than an account of the material circumstances under which our artists have worked for the past 100 years. In its own appealing materiality, it makes a significant contribution both to South African art history and to the value of the book in this country.
Chris Thurman in Business Day (2012)

Visual Century is encyclopaedic in scope.Janet Stanley, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, National Museum of African Art

A monumental work, one of the most important publishing events in the continent’s art.
—Chika Okeke-Agulu, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, USA


Visual Century was published to great acclaim in 2011. Ten years later, it has lost none of its appeal and is still the most comprehensive overview of South African art published since 1994.

Visual Century is an ambitious four-volume publication that reappraises one hundred years of South African visual art from a post-apartheid perspective. It is the first wideranging survey of its contemporary art to incorporate multiple writers and perspectives. By contextualising South African art within broader historical currents, Visual Century makes a major contribution towards the construction of an inclusive national archive, as well as to the development of an inclusive international art history.

Wide-ranging and in-depth essays by over 30 contributors, including many of South Africa’s leading art historians, cultural commentators and artists, make it an
indispensable resource for curators, historians, students and artists. Lavish full colour illustrations, often of rare or seldom-seen artworks, make this collection a treasure for all art lovers with an interest in South African art.

Project initiator and director Gavin Jantjes is a South African artist currently based at Norway’s National Museum. Pallo Jordan, former Minister of Arts and Culture, supported the idea with seed funding to commission and develop the manuscript. Jantjes, together with editor-in-chief, Mario Pissarra of Africa South Arts Initiative (ASAI), commissioned and oversaw the exciting process of writing the book.

Given the need to construct a national archive, this work is a stellar example of what local productions (researching, writing, publishing) can mean as we tell our own stories, especially against the broader movement for a more inclusive, international art history that recognises and celebrates the contributions made in South Africa.

This project is the first to bring together such a wide range of local writers and perspectives. Project initiator and director Gavin Jantjes is a South African artist  based at Norway’s National Museum. Pallo Jordan, former Minister of Arts and Culture, supported the idea with seed funding to commission and develop the manuscript. Jantjes, together with editor-in-chief, Mario Pissarra of Africa South Arts Initiative (ASAI), commissioned and oversaw the exciting process of writing the book.

Visual Century video

Visual Century Volume 1: 1907–1948 Edited by Jillian Carman

Volume one begins after the South African (Anglo-Boer) War, at a time when efforts were being made to unify the white ‘races’, and ends with the coming to power of the Afrikaner nationalists. This period encompasses two world wars, the steady erosion of the rights of black South Africans, and the rise of organised black South African resistance to white rule. In terms of art history, it begins with the appropriation of South African art into the lexicon of Western modernism, and ends with growing evidence of the magnetism of European and North American art production for South African artists, white and black.

This volume provides critical perspectives on the ideological and institutional frameworks for white and black artists of the period, and the art they produced. Discussions of public art and architecture, traditionalist African art, and Westernstyle
painting and sculpture are complemented with consideration of the roles played by museums, art eduation, art societies and exhibitions, art historical writing and patronage. Fresh perspectives on the art of the first half of the twentieth century highlight complexities that still resonate today.

Visual Century Volume 2: 1945–1976 Edited by Lize van Robbroeck

Between the end of the Second World War and the Soweto uprisings, South Africa was increasingly isolated from the international world as a result of its policies of racial discrimination and extreme social engineering. Threatened by internal revolt and international pressure against a backdrop of decolonisation and the Cold War, the apartheid state adopted increasingly severe repressive measures, with significant consequences for the art of the period, as artists were harassed,banned, excluded from institutions and censored.

This volume addresses the fertile cultural ambivalences of this period. These include the relationship between Afrikaner nationalism and the emergence of an’official’ South African art, which would come to be challenged by the steadyincrease in the number of modern black artists and new informal art centres. The impact of white patronage, the responses of migrant workers to rapid change, and artists’ responses to the repressive political climate of apartheid, as well as to emerging black nationalism, are all canvassed. The allure and impact of European and American art, along with modernist discourses, for South African artists both at home and in exile, not least the struggles of black and white artists to define an African identity, are also explored.

Visual Century Volume 3: 1973–1992Edited by Mario Pissarra

Bracketed by porous transitional moments in the early 1970s and 1990s, this volume covers a period characterised by a deepening of the struggle for democracy, at a time when historical preoccupations with race were increasingly intertwined with burgeoning debates on class and gender. Unprecedented internal and external pressure resulted in both heightened introspection and action in and through the visual arts.

The essays in this volume address a multiplicity of ways in which artists responded directly and indirectly to the challenges of this period, mostly as individuals, but also through organisations. Resistance and complicity, and the spaces in between, found expression in the use of everyday themes, biblical sources, ethnically derived themes, subtle and extreme forms of humour, as well as through representations of conflict. Challenging art was produced in community arts centres, universities and in public places, at a time when the cultural boycott simultaneously united and polarised artists, and exiles mediated the ambivalences of ‘home’.

Visual Century Volume 4: 1990–2007Edited by Mario Pissarra, Thembinkosi Goniwe and Mandisi Majavu

The end of the Cold War and subsequent rise of globalisation, along with the advent of democracy in South Africa, introduced new social and political orders, with profound implications for South African artists. This was a time when the persistence of economic inequalities and conflicts within and beyond national borders constantly militated against an unbridled celebration of ‘freedom’.

The essays in this volume critically address some of the most notable developments and visible trends in post-apartheid South African art. These include South Africa’s entry into the international art world, its struggle to address its past, and artists’ persistent and often provocative preoccupations with individual and collective identity.

The widespread and often unsettling representation of the human body, as well as animal forms, along with the steady increase of new technologies and the development of new forms of public art are also discussed. While much of the art of the period is open-ended and nondidactic, the persistence of engagement with socially responsive themes questions the reductive binary between resistance and post-apartheid art that has come to dominate accounts of before and after South Africa’s democratic election.

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