/ 14 June 2022

Storytelling through printmaking

3dde5cbf Lehlohonolo Dhlamini

Following the advent of democracy in 1994, Youth Month brings with it a host of events and political rallies that honour and commemorate the youth of 1976 (who died protesting the introduction of Afrikaans alongside English as a medium of instruction). 

Rarely does Youth Month produce feasible action taken to empower South Africa’s youth, or provide them an opportunity to reflect on the hopelessness that unemployment, poverty and inequality has presented. 

Art, in all its different mediums, has historically been used to reflect the realities of the times we live in. According to Stats SA at the end of 2020 the number of employed people had fallen by 1.5 million and the wages of workers who still had jobs had fallen by 10-15% since the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of people unemployed increased by 262 000 to 14.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2021. Young people in particular face acute unemployment rates compared to older age groups. 

Reflecting on the devastating loss brought on by the pandemic, young artists in Ekurhuleni are using the fine art of lino printmaking to convey their storytelling capacities and reflect on their individuality and surroundings.

Their work will be exhibited at the Springs Art Gallery (SAG), which serves the community of the East Rand through programmes such as exhibitions, workshops and art classes aimed at promoting visual literacy and making visual arts accessible to everyone.

The Springs Art Gallery proudly presents the Print Portfolio Exchange Exhibition (Ekurhuleni Edition). This group art exhibition features original work of 25 artists commissioned by the Soweto Arts Company carved using lino plates. The artists will illuminate on key issues that the pandemic brought to the fore. 

An invitation for submissions drew artists from a variety of disciplines, including sculpture, multimedia, painters, and non-printmakers. Artists were given months of preparation time from 2020 to 2021 to create artworks in response to certain challenges and the effects of the pandemic that they had experienced individually.

The Print Portfolio Exchange Exhibition is a collaboration between the Ekurhuleni Art Development School, the Gauteng department of sport, recreation, arts and culture and the Soweto Arts Company. 

Targeted at the unemployed and out-of-school youth, the Springs Art Gallery runs the Arts Development School located at the Rhoo Hlatshwayo Community Art Centre in Daveyton. SAG also provides support to those who are interested in forging a visual arts career but do not have access to art at schools. 

SAG anticipates that the artists’ storytelling will offer hope to the consumers of the artwork and garner support for the local art industry. “The exhibition is a collaboration between the emerging artist and the established artist, using print as the key medium for the group exhibition. [It’s] for recreational purposes and for the support of emerging artists [and is] presented by the department of sport, recreation, arts and culture,” explains Thabo Sekoaila, the curator for visual arts at the Springs Art Gallery.   

A portfolio exchange is a collection of prints, usually addressing a common theme, with consistent size restrictions and edition size. The portfolio exchange is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for participants to have their work displayed in public and private collections all over the world.

This group art exhibition forms part of the City of Ekurhuleni’s Youth Month commemorative programme and will include art created by students from the Ekurhuleni Elementary Printmaking group. This is an initiative aimed at helping both learners and the youth who are out of work to hone their skills and tweak their artistic abilities. The programme is led and facilitated by local visual artist, muralist, painter and printmaker Guxton “Galax” Ngwenya.  

The Portfolio Exchange is an archival process that not only includes the production of the prints but also incorporates a collection of essays from various writers. The Soweto Arts Company is also in the process of creating a publication to document the process and further engage the idea of creating an artistic legacy beyond the pandemic.

Support these emerging artists by visiting the exhibition at the Springs Art Gallery, which will run until 29 June 2022. An exhibition walkabout is scheduled for  25 June 2022. The walkabout is the last leg of the exhibition and will provide visitors an opportunity to meet the curators, mentors and exhibiting artists and talk about the exhibition.