Bay artists’ role in struggle forgotten

MY apologies that this has to come from one of the “horses’ mouths”, but please permit me humbly to draw attention to this fact. As a former visual arts cultural activist I am not aware that any recognition has ever been given to our visual artists from our city who played a very active role under difficult circumstances during the apartheid years, by their individual names, structures, roles and contributions.

From the 1980s Imvaba, an awesome anti-apartheid cultural movement, was vibrantly active in contributing struggle visual arts materials. Imvaba’s visual arts members were Lou Almon, Michael Barry, Mxolisi Ganto, Sipho Kulati, Gavin and Sue Mabi, Naomi MacKay, Mpumelelo Melane, Sponono Nkopane, George Pemba, Liso Pemba, Titus Pemba, I and Mxolisi Douglas Sapeta (Dolla) – and we operated from the Adcock Homes in Jabavu Street, New Brighton.

Our artists were playing a vanguard role in the struggle, working around the clock under dangerous political conditions, especially during the state of emergency, producing items such as art backdrops and banners for our campaigns, rallies and events, designing items such as posters, leaflets, T-shirts, logos and media materials, and doing art exhibitions. For instance, Almon, one of our artists, produced the Cosatu logo (that is still being used today).

Most of our huge and embroidered banners were confiscated by swooping-down helicopters as people rallied defiantly, protesting in the township streets. I heard during that time that the authorities burnt these items.

After our political unbannings in 1990, we continued throwing our whole weight in as visual artists, designing welcoming banners, T-shirts for the exiled returnees and art backdrops such as the one welcoming those attending a people’s rally in Motherwell for the late Tata Mandela in 1990. How many of these historic visual art items are still floating around in our city or somewhere else?

It would be lovely and only fair if such items could be donated to the Red Location Museum for preservation and archiving. After all, our artists produced most of these items free of charge, and our citizens and visitors have a right to view these.

I’m aware that some of our local art backdrops and items are preserved in the Mayibuye Archive in Cape Town. How do our people come to know about these and view these?

It seems as if the memory of our visual artists’ defiant roles is disappearing rapidly and some of our artists have passed away.

Annette du Plessis, Port Elizabeth

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