Looking Back... Moving Forward
The Ifa Lethu collection, is unusual in that it did not start with a clear policy of selection or direction but rather grew out of the generosity of donors who returned works which they had originally purchased during the apartheid era according to their personal tastes and experiences with no idea that they would eventually become part of a heritage project.
Most of the donors were foreign diplomats or journalists who were able to look beyond the tragedies occurring in the country during that era.
The Ifa Lethu project began when Diane Johnstone and Bruce Haigh, both Australian diplomats posted to South Africa in the 1970s donated their personal collections which became the building blocks of the Ifa Lethu Foundation in 2005. The Ifa Lethu foundation under the leadership of Dr. Narissa Ramdahani has grown into a major international force and been exhibited in several important venues in South Africa, Australia, United Kingdom, and France.
Thami Mnyele, an artist represented in this exhibition reflected on his role during those troubled times “What is a good artist in relation to a freedom fighter? ...I had managed to pick up most of the skills I needed which would enable me to be of service back home. To be of service is to integrate. The musicians of the fifties had not integrated into the community, they were the community itself. The community produced songs about the sudden ban of the African brew by the government; the community performed at a child baptismal ceremony and the community still performs at the funeral of a deceased member. Wouldn't it be good if I designed posters for these activities, painted banners, made postcards, Christmas cards, and taught these skills to those who need them?"(unpublished autobiography: 1984)
In the works from the apartheid era, we see the incredible talent and fortitude of the artists who struggled against the odds to make their art tell the stories which were so often hidden due to the marginalization of South Africa’s majority black population.
The title of the exhibition Looking Back, Moving Forward presents an opportunity to also showcase a small selection of contemporary works by three young artists in South Africa who have links to Ifa Lethu and/or artists of the Resistance era. They are moving forward by not accepting the status quo of South Africa’s current politics and, like those who have gone before them they are still questioning and interrogating the politics of the day.
This year, 2017 marks the 21st anniversary of the South African Bill of Rights and it is appropriate that the exhibition is shown alongside the Australian exhibition “Memories of the Struggle – Australians Against Apartheid” to honour the founders of Ifa Lethu. The choice of Conhill as a venue links the exhibitions to the place where the Constitution of SA is upheld.