I’ve been so lazy this weekend. Part of my feels quite guilty about it but the other half is telling me that it was well deserved. Maybe if I hadn’t been so lazy I would have published this post on Friday night after I’d visited the British Museum. Anyway, on with the exhibition…

So, as you are probably aware I visited the South Africa: the art of a nation exhibition, currently being displayed at the British Museum, on Friday night after eating some delicious Korean food. I used the complimentary tickets given to me by the amazing employee of the museum a few weeks ago.

The exhibition was surprisingly busy for a Friday night, although it is coming to an end and that’s probably why it was so packed. There was no photography allowed so it meant that you were fully immersed in the experience.

The exhibition began with Rock Art from around 100,000 years with pieces including; the Zaamenkomst Panel, Makapansgat Pebble of Many Faces, and the Kathu Pan hand-axe. One of the first art pieces you are met with is the Creation of the Sun; a modern (2015) textile artwork by the First People Artists. It’s huge and bright, immediately drawing you towards it.

Creation of the Sun

You move onto the creation of masks as a means of initiation and sculptures as a tool for teaching. It is at this point you are introduced to the Mapungubwe gold sculptures and their use as a status symbol (AD 1250-90).

Golden Rhino

The exhibition is in quite a small space, although it flows well. You next find yourself faced with the arrival of Europeans and Asians, colonial conflicts (the Boer Wars, for example), the experience of Apartheid and modern day South Africa.What I found most interesting was the history of beadwork within

What I found most interesting was the history of beadwork within South African culture and the way that it transformed into a mode of political resistance against Apartheid. Some of the products, especially the beaded waistcoat, were not only beautiful garments, but products that said something, that fought against a system of racism, and incorporated a culture.

Beaded Zulu waistcoat (circa 1950 – 1987)

The exhibition also presented a pair of sandals that, when you look at them, seem unimportant and uninteresting; however, when you read, and realise that they were made and given to General Jan Smuts (a prominent British military figure, as well as philosopher) by Gandhi as a sign of peace and unity they suddenly take on more meaning. I think that these are quite possibly the objects that stick with most people once they’ve left the exhibition, as well as the one that provokes the most excitement.

A final piece displayed, that quite stuck with me after leaving was the portrait of A Hottentot, A Hottentot Woman, a Kaffre, a Kaffre Woman which were drawings done by Samuel Daniell between 1804 and 1805. Daniell was a painter who became the official illustrator for an expedition that went the furthest north any had been at the time. He published his paintings in African Scenery and Animals and although the language used to describe the people that he encountered was quite racist, even for his contemporaries, the portraits are really stunning to look at.

I thought that this was a good exhibition, although I have to admit, I preferred the Sainsbury’s Galleries. I enjoyed learning about South Africa and its history, which is something that I’ve never really been taught (aside from a British perspective) or taken the initiative to learn myself. I even brought the book to accompany the exhibition and look forward to reading it. I’ve found that the African continent is so diverse, and beautiful, with a rich history that is often neglected by pretty much everyone in this part of the world.

The exhibition runs until 26th February, so if you’re interested in going you should book soon. You can buy tickets here.


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