The CAP Art Collection – Aesthetics, Politics and Society

In keeping with its commitment to exploring the relation between aesthetics, politics and society in order to contribute to a post-apartheid sensibility, the CHR has acquired an important and historic body of artworks – the CAP (Community Arts Project) collection. The CAP collection consists of over 5,000 works by various artists. It is a particularly important collection because it contributes to understanding the cultural, social and political consciousness of the Western Cape, and the heritage of the region. The collection is also significant because it reflects the notion of empowerment through creativity and how people from impoverished communities realised their humanity through art.

Billy_Mandindi_-_City_with_table_mountain Billy Mandindi, City with Table Mountain, undated. Linocut. 63.6 x 48.4 cm. CAP collection, Centre for Humanities Research, UWC

 

CAP was established in 1977 in the wake of the student uprisings of 1976, which sparked the final chapters in the revolt against apartheid. Those involved in its establishment were mainly academics from the Michaelis School of Art, University of Cape Town (UCT), South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), South African College of Higher Education (SACHED) and UCT’s Extra-Mural Studies Department.

CAP was initially housed at 17 Main Road, Mowbray, Cape Town, just opposite the police station, but later moved to the old St Philips School in Chapel Street, District Six. CAP was a non-racial organisation, with members from across the apartheid divide and from various social layers. However, its particular mission was to provide accommodation, facilities and training in the arts for artists and learners marginalised under apartheid, and to develop the cultural voice of Cape Town’s oppressed communities.

During the liberation struggle in the 1980s, CAP artists played a prominent role in shaping the notion of ‘culture as resistance’ to apartheid and the idea of people’s culture, which former ANC President Oliver Tambo later described as that which gives “expression to the deepest aspirations of our people in struggle, immersed in democratic and enduring human values”.

David_Hlongwane_-_why David Hlongwane, Why? 1989. Linocut. 28.9 x 40 cm. CAP collection, Centre for Humanities Research, UWC

 

In 1982 CAP participated in the historic Botswana Arts Festival in Gaborone, after which CAP members regarded themselves as cultural workers rather than artists. This new identity was adopted to reflect their involvement with the political and social concerns of communities and their organisations, and their intent to make work that upheld the interests and political aspirations of the oppressed.

After the advent of democracy in 1994, CAP transformed from a training organisation, and home for artists, into a more formally constituted education NGO for unemployed adults and youth. CAP was in fact one of the first NGOs to engage with the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

Twenty-five years after the establishment of CAP, the organisation and its offspring, Media Works, which produced posters, amalgamated to form AMAC (Arts and Media Access Centre), located in central Cape Town. As with CAP, AMAC’s goal was to empower people from marginalised communities through training in the arts and the media. When AMAC closed its doors in 2008, it brought an end to a chapter in South African cultural history characterised by a firm commitment to, and belief in, the idea that the arts had a vital role to play in the humanisation of disadvantaged people.

CAP is well-known for its posters, particularly those produced in the 1980s and early 1990s by various organisations linked to the liberation movement. These posters form a core component of the CAP art collection. The collection, however, also consists of other bodies of visual work, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints. Of the prints, most are linocuts, a medium intimately associated with the now defunct community arts project movement in South Africa and with the history of black art in this country. While some of the linocuts are by unknown printmakers, others were made by relatively well-known artists, such as Billy Mandindi, Robert Siwangaza, Henry de Leeuw, Sophie Peters, Solomon Siko, Lionel Davis, Eunice Sefako, David Hlongwane, Jon Berndt, Sydney Holo, Xolani Somana, Mpati Gocini, Thami Kiti, Alfred Budaza, Velile Voyiya, Vuyisani Mgijima, Peter Clarke and Xolile Mtakatya.

Nigel_Martin_-_Religious_blues Nigel Martin, Religious Blues, 1991. Linocut. 40 x 30.4 cm. CAP collection, Centre for Humanities Research, UWC

 

Many of the linocuts focus on the anti-apartheid struggle, and the experiences of people and living conditions in the townships of the Cape Flats. Others deal with a variety of other themes and subjects, including life in rural areas, workers’ struggles, colonialism, music and celebration, children, Cape Town, liberation theology and religious practices, animal rights, gender issues, intellectuals, HIV/AIDS, and education. Among the linocuts are also landscapes, portraits, and tributes to historical figures. In addition, there are commemorations of important events that have shaped the course of South African history and politics, such as the Sharpeville massacre, the Soweto uprising and the destruction of District Six. Collectively, the works reflect a shift away from the resistance art of the pre-1994 era towards a broader, more open-ended narrative about human experience and imagination in the Western Cape in the democratic era.

Currently, the CHR is planning an exhibition featuring the linocuts from the CAP collection, scheduled to take place in April 2012 at Art.b Gallery in Bellville, Cape Town. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated book on the CAP print collection. This book will be the outcome of a writing project initiated and managed by the CHR. The CAP writing project involves about 40 authors from various disciplines and a range of approaches. The authors include academics from UWC, UCT, Wits (University of the Witwatersrand) and UJ (University of Johannesburg). Also among the authors are intellectuals from social movements, cultural organisations and NGOs, as well as a number of nationally and internationally acclaimed creative writers.

Solomon_Siko_-_untitled Solomon Siko, untitled, 1989. Linocut. 42 x 59.4 cm. CAP collection, Centre for Humanities Research, UWC

Each author has been invited to write on works related to a particular theme, or set of themes, as represented in the CAP print collection. The texts of the authors will assist with generating knowledge about the print collection, particularly in the context of the black subject in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, an important area of research at the CHR. It is also envisaged that the  intellectual and creative responses of the authors will point to new directions for thinking about aesthetics and politics in relation to a rich body of work that has been somewhat sidelined by mainstream cultural history in South Africa.

 

Eunice_Sefako_-_untitled Eunice Sefako, untitled, undated. Linocut. 37.9 x 30 cm. CAP collection, Centre for Humanities Research, UWC