Remembering David Koloane

(Oupa Nkosi/ M&G)

(Oupa Nkosi/ M&G)

After spending his forty year-long career carving out a space for black artists in the global art world, 81 year-old Dr. David Koloane died at his home in Johannesburg last night.

With paintings, drawings, and mixed media collages depicting his home in Alexandra, and Johannesburg at large, Koloane encouraged the consumer to acknowledge the lived black experience through cityscapes and every day scenes in the township and the city.

In addition to his artistry, Koloane’s involvement in establishing black art strongholds and his ongoing work as a curator, teacher and mentor — during times when the art world excluded the public consumption of art by black artists — cemented his role as a hands on, revered voice in Africa’s artistic landscape.

In an unpublished 2018 interview with the Mail & Guardian’s Oupa Nkosi, Koloane explained where the need to create black spaces came from.
“They used to call the work that we did as the township art because we were from the townships. Our work was excluded from the mainstream expression of what the whites were doing. So, we felt that we must do something to not to succumb to this idea of being labelled as township art and that we should remove it completely.”

In the interview, Koloane explained how a Pan Africanist focus helped establish the success of what then became the Bag Factory. “At that time in SA, it was difficult to bring different artists to work together. So, we started a workshop programme. Our intention was to bring different artist but mostly black artists to work together in South Africa… We were inviting artists from neighbouring countries from Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. This was because we never had a contact with them before because of the system (apartheid). So gradually the Bag Factory took off,” explained Koloane.

Some of the efforts within Koloane’s legacy resulted in projects such as the Black Art Gallery, Thupelo workshop, Bag Factory studios along with exhibitions such as the Culture and Resistance Arts Festival in Botswana, the 1990 Zabalaza Festival in London, and the South African section of Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, in London. He also tutored at the Federated Union of Black Artists in addition to his curatorial work in exhibitions across the continent and the world that looked to build and fortify a black art network. His generosity with his time is what made him special. 

“He was always willing to speak to young aspiring artists, giving them advice and guiding them in their artistic practice,” said Standard Bank Gallery’s head curator Dr Same Mdluli. When asked by the Mail & Guardian for her last words to Ntate Koloane, Mdluli remarks were as follows, “I wrote my PhD with your writing guiding me, I wrote with confidence and authority because I felt assured by your criticality. I completed that PhD because of your encouragement.”

His tireless efforts saw him being awarded honorary doctorates from Wits University (2012) and Rhodes University (2015). This year sees his honor continuing through A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane. This travelling exhibition celebrates 40 years of Koloane’s artistic and intellectual contributions. Following its current stay at the Iziko South African National Gallery the show will travel to the Standard Bank Gallery and Wits Art Museum in October 2019.

With his work going beyond facilitating forums, festivals and associations, to provide many artists with a helping hand, the loss of Koloane leaves the art world hollow.

Robala ka kgotso Ntate David Nthubu Koloane. 

Oupa Nkosi

Oupa Nkosi

Oupa Nkosi began taking photos in 1998 with a pawnshop camera, before enrolling at the Market Photography Workshop. He began freelancing after graduating and has since run community projects, won a Bonani Africa award, had his work selected for exhibitions in Zimbabwe and Japan, and been invited to international workshops. He began at the M&G as an intern and is now chief photographer. He also writes features for the paper and lectures at his alma mater.
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