Three exhibitions reflecting on South Africa's past and present

18 Oct 2023
In 1994, the first democratic elections were held in South Africa, granting all adult citizens the right to vote. This historic vote marked an end to the apartheid era as Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president. Now, nearly three decades later, our next general elections draw ever-nearer. A new National Assembly and provincial legislature will be put to the ballots in 2024, these being the seventh elections held under universal adult suffrage. It's times like these that invite a renewed consideration of our country's complex past and present, and what it means for us to live freely and fairly in a place with a social fabric that's about as diverse as they come.

For many artists making work in this country, reflections on South Africa's history, politics and people are an integral part of their practice. Currently, work of this nature forms the springboard for three separate exhibitions that look back to look forward. These insightful group shows are part of a larger dialogue around our country's governance and society and are recommended viewing as you prepare for next year's vote.


Great Expectations at The Javett-UP Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (Javett-UP) is a thought-provoking exploration of identity, society, the built environment and the spirit of the times. This group exhibition brings together a powerful collection of works by South African contemporary artists who, each in their own way, are capturing the diverse tapestry of experiences, aspirations and challenges that have shaped the nation in its post-apartheid era. The show includes new work by Banele KhozaLuyanda Zindela, Khulekani Mkhize, Mellaney Roberts, Mothobi Mefane, Thando Mama and Zakhele Hlabisa, among others.

Great Expectations runs until Sat, Feb 18, 2024 at Javett-UP in Pretoria. Bookings to see the show can be made via or 012 420 3960. Closed Mon. 
Thando Mama Great Expectations
Thando Mama's striking work for Great Expectations. Photo: Javett-UP.


Celebrating 40 years since the United Democratic Front (UDF) was launched, Time to Act: 40 Years of the UDF at the Apartheid Museum marks this important anniversary of the UDF, an organisation that was central in unifying opposition against apartheid, and highlights the organisation's relevance in the South Africa of today. Historic campaign materials including UDF posters, stickers, T-shirts and banners from the period are on show, as well as two specially commissioned films. This exhibition presents creatively engaged, community-driven politics that is in stark contrast with current political life. 

Time to Act runs until Apr 2024 at the Apartheid Museum. Closed Mon, Tue. 
This iconic poster marked the UDF's launch in August 1983. Photo: Northwestern.
This iconic poster marked the UDF's launch in August 1983. View more at Time to Act, on at the Apartheid Museum. Photo: Northwestern.


Otherscapes interrogates what lies in the space between utopia and failure. “How can art reflect on the current South African situation, not through direct representation, but through ideas that reflexively raise important questions about our democracy?” This question, articulated by Clive Kellner, executive director at Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation (JCAF), created the impetus for the exhibition. In Otherscapes, JCAF presents four large-scale installations by four contemporary South African artists – Siemon Allen, Wim Botha, Nicholas Hlobo and Sethembile Msezane. The installations are suggestive of different takes on the state of the country, as the artists explore narratives around people, nation, identity and place.

Otherscapes runs until Sat, 4 Nov at Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation. Exhibition viewing is by appointment only, and bookings can be made on the JCAF website
Sethembile Msezane's Avuleka AmaZulu (2017). Photo: JCAF.
An evocative installation work by Sethembile Msezane for Otherscapes at JCAF. Photo: JCAF.


A bi-monthly event capped at 15 people, the Art and Justice Tour at the Constitutional Court is your chance to see first-hand the incredible art collection belonging to South Africa's highest court, led in turn by current curators Francois Lion-Cachet and Bahlakoana Lesemane and supported by the Constitutional Court Trust's youth development programme curatorial staff. Since the opening of the permanent court building in 2004, the art collection has grown to around 800 pieces; its guiding principle is to showcase works that bring together art and justice and reinforce the work of the Court in protecting the rights of South Africans. From large-scale sculpture and installation pieces to paintings and photography, and works on paper and fabric, the Court's collection also includes furnishings and design items that were commissioned at the building's founding.

Bookings are essential for the bi-monthly Art and Justice Tour, which takes place from 9:30 – 11:15 on a Saturday morning at the Constitutional Court. Email for bookings and find more information and available dates here.


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