Speech by Minister Nathi Mthethwa at the launch of the Art Bank at Olievenhuis Museum, Bloemfontein

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12 Dec 2017

Programme Director: Ms Afrika Msimang

MEC Mathabo Leeto

Living Legends present

Chairperson of the National Museum: Mr George Kgarume

Senior Officials

Representatives from arts organisations

Esteemed Artists

Members of the Media

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We meet here today on what is a highly anticipated occasion as we launch the Art Bank by opening an exhibition of artworks that will form part of the curated art collection, of the Art Bank.

We meet here in the same month as we mourn the passing of our great statesman, President Nelson Rohlihlahla Mandela.

I am reminded of his own understanding of art as captured in his words (which he articulated at the Opening of the Cultural Development Congress in Johannesburg in April 1993); and I quote:

“During the worst years of repression, when all avenues of legitimate protest were closed by emergency legislation, it was the arts that articulated the plight and the democratic aspirations of our people. This affirmation was demonstrated through drama, dance, literature, song, film, paintings and sculpture that defied the silence that apartheid sought to impose.”

Of course, his words were not far from those similarly said by President OR Tambo, who after seeing an Amandla Ensemble performance in London, recognized that art could accomplish within 2 hours what he could not over 20 years, in promoting South Africa in conveying the plight and struggle for freedom against oppression and apartheid.

It is in this context of acknowledging the important role played by artists, especially visual artists, in the darkest days of struggle and also in the attainment of our freedom and the flourishing of our democracy, that today we make bold as to say that we are who we are today because of them, and that what underpins our cultural identity, is a sense of the strength which art brings and places in our lives.

The Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky, in his book on art, wrote that:

“Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated….”

Yet he also cautions that this kind of art needs to transcend itself in order not only to be a child of its age but also a mother of the future:

“The other art, that which is capable of educating further, springs equally from contemporary feeling, but is at the same time not only echo and mirror of it, but also has a deep and powerful prophetic strength.”

Thus the importance of art is not only for the here and now but the extent to which it provides the seed of hope for the future and to which the artist sees and points the way.

The art in the collection we will witness today does precisely that: in different ways it shows us contemporary art that does not only mirror reality but also goes beyond the moment. Hence the theme of this exhibition is: “Emerging Visions: Telling the South African story”.

Indeed as a young nation we are justified to celebrate that we have a vibrant, dynamic and ever changing society. The values that define our society are enshrined in our Constitution.

Our Constitution, which is a product of freedom and democracy, guarantees among others the freedom of cultural expression and of creativity.

The research found that the visual arts plays a significant role in addressing the mandate of government in the social and economic realm, this contribution is predicated on the existence of an environment in which the exercise of the imagination and creative independence is nurtured and promoted.

Over and above the contributions that the visual arts make in, for example, education, public health and urban development, the core contribution of the sector revolves around the generation of compelling representations and propositions related to our understanding of who we are in a complex and rapidly changing world. The capacity of the work of artists to challenge our familiar and established patterns of perceptions and attitude, and to invoke both wonder and critical reflection, is fundamental to understanding the importance of the visual arts in a society composed of multiple identities, realities and ways of being in the world. Needless to say that this speaks directly to nation building and social cohesion. 

The research reported then that the sector contributes over R1 billion to the economy, provides employment to almost 18 000 people and, over 50% of those are women and 53,4% are under 35 years of age (a huge sector of the youth!).  You will also recall that the Mzansi Golden Economy strategy amongst others proposed two interventions in the Visual Arts Sector namely Public Art projects and the establishment of a South African National Art Bank.  Both these projects are aimed at developing our emerging artists, to give them an opportunity to showcase their artistic talent to the people of South Africa as well as contribute substantially to job creation and the development of the sector.

I am certain that the establishment of the Art Bank is a direct response to some of the challenges and a continuation of service delivery to the visual arts sector as per the recommendations. The Public Art program has been implemented by the department for the past five years. Last year the department produced a best practice Visual Arts Guide booklet that is currently being translated into eight other official languages to assist our visual artists in their daily functioning with their practice.

Off course you might be wondering why Bloemfontein, the department is grateful to the National Museum for having agreed to host the National Art Bank after a feasibility study was done with six other DAC institutions. The National Museum emerged as the most appropriate in all elements that were considered. Thank you Chairperson!

I have taken a decision that there will be two other launches of the NABSA in other provinces after all relevant systems have been put in place.

In the build up to the launch of the art bank it is important to acknowledge the Interim Joint Committee that had to oversee the launch project and the Selection Committee that worked tirelessly to realise this exhibition today, made up of the members from the National Museum Council - Oliewenhuis Art Gallery, DAC officials, Art Bank project manager – Mr Brenton Maart and the two professional experts from the Visual Arts sector: Ms Makgati Molebatsi and Mr David Koloane.

May I also take this opportunity to thank Mr Maart who has worked tirelessly to get us where we are today and to wish him well in his future projects as it will be his last day on the 26th of this Month. Thank you for all your efforts Mr Maart!.

In conclusion I would like to acknowledge and thank all the artists who are participating in this launch exhibition today including our living legends, those who are present and those who could not make it. To thank them for their contribution to South Africa’s colourful fabric of our society. I hope the artworks will be leased to adorn the offices, public institutions, public spaces and many more in fulfilling the real objective of the National Art Bank, that is mainly to promote South African art, create jobs and most of all economic sustainability for our artists.

Thank you.