Friday, April 10, 2009

In Memoriam: Cecil Skotnes, 1926-2009

I am saddened by the news of the death of Cecil Skotnes, one of the most influential African modernists. A man whose artistic production, particularly in the area of printmaking and painting is as prodigious as his work as courageous teacher. It is impossible to write a history of South African and African art of the 20th century without due acknowledgment of Skotnes' role in establishing that pioneering institution, the Polly Street Art Center which provided training and tutelage to the generation of black artists that emerged in the 1950s and 60s South Africa, in the scorching shadow of the Apartheid.

Cecil Skones, Burnt Land series: Giant Bird between 2 Scarecrows 1998 (Courtesy: ArtThrob)

Or his equally important role as a founding member of the Amadlozi Group, the group of artists that advocated, arguably for the first time, the recognition by contemporary artists of a specifically South African ancestral heritage thereby upturning centuries of denigration of native South Africa traditions and cultures. Or his support for the establishment of the Community Arts Project in Cape Town. Given the place of the initiatives and institutions Skotnes helped establish in the struggle against and eventual vanquishing of Apartheid (The CAP for instance), he must be counted among the "quiet" heroes of that age.

In life Skotnes was a giant of an artist; in death he has become a veritable ancestor; he has joined the Amadlozi. I am grateful for his life.

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