Black South African artists have typically had their work labeled “African art” or “township art,” qualifiers that, when contrasted with simply “modernist art,” have been used to marginalize their work both in South Africa and internationally.
In Art and the End of Apartheid, John Peffer considers in-depth the work of black South African artists in the decades leading up to the end of apartheid in 1994. Peffer examines painting and graphic art, photography, avant-garde and performance art, and popular and protest art through artist collectives, such as the Thupelo Art Project and the Medu Art Ensemble, and individuals such as Durant Sihlali and Santu Mofokeng. He shows how South African artists imagined what “postapartheid” could mean during the time of apartheid, even as they struggled with immediate issues of censorship, militancy, street violence and torture, and, more broadly, the problem of self-representation and the social role of art.
In defiance of the racial polarization that surrounded them, Peffer describes how South African artists created “grey areas,” nonracialized spaces and hybrid art forms in which both black and white South Africans collaborated. Beyond the boundaries of apartheid, these artists forged connections at home and abroad that modeled a future, more democratic society.