Tag: politics

South Africa at the British Museum

This exhibition is on until 26 February, so you still have time to go. It was highly relevant for me because I was just in South Africa a few months ago, learning as much as possible about the country and culture.

Items in the exhibition include some very ancient artefacts but the aspects I found the most interesting were the political items from the 1980s and 90s and then the contemporary art.

I want to point out several things without writing a blog post that’s the length of a book. See how many of these things you can spot.

  • A black cherub with an AK-47 and a red nose. The red nose was made famous by British charity Comic Relief, which has been criticised for investing the money it raises in oppressive companies and industries in the countries it claims to help. Artist Johannes Phokela says: “Once I bought a red nose and it fell off when I tried to fit it on to my nose. That’s when I found out that the noses were not designed to be worn by someone with a flat nose like mine.”
  • A maid in a Victorian dress. When I was in South Africa, I saw cleaners in shops and also domestic maids wearing dresses that were not much better than this, just with knee-length instead of floor-length skirts. Sculpture by Mary Sibande.
  • A conspicuously white person absurdly inserted into a black African soap opera (Candice Breitz).
  • A sangoma (a shaman, a healer) holding a consultation (Siyazama Project).
  • Human figures with horns (Jane Alexander).
  • Steve Biko, who died in police custody (Sam Nhlengethwa).
  • A 1994 ballot paper, showing both Nelson Mandela (ANC) and F W de Klerk (National Party).
  • Black workers sleeping on a bus (David Goldblatt). Public transport is important in South Africa. When apartheid was introduced, black people were evicted from their homes and forced to relocate to designated areas which of course were in undesirable and inconvenient locations on the outskirts of cities. Therefore the cleaners and domestic workers who I mentioned above, who aren’t being paid a whole lot, are travelling very long distances for the privilege of getting to these demeaning jobs. A significant amount of their time and their money is sunk into bus travel. The workers in this picture are sleeping because they do not get adequate time for sleeping at home.