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Contemporary African Art: Resistance Art

In South Africa the years 1968-1971 saw a window for relatively free expression before the Government clamped down on cultural groups linked to the Black Consciousness movement; an opportunity in time that was reflected in an exhibition shown at the Durban Art Gallery called 'Art, South Africa Today'. Pre 1970, most political art was socio-reflective, concerning the human condition, primarily suffering. But this exhibition which had 3 key jurors, namely Neville Dubow, Walter Batiss and Esme Borman, seemed to support works of art that were more confrontational than usual and referred to the socio-political circumstances that were prevailing in the country at the time. Nearly all the artists who were a part of this new wave were in their 20's, many of whom are leading lights in the art world today. The general reception of this show was favourable but the formal institutions balked, finding the nature of the content too challenging; they felt art and politics should not mix…

…Paul Stopforth's work introduced for the first time the real faces of the perpetrators of violence under the auspices of apartheid. He produced works that were a testimony to those forces like a series of plaster-of-paris and wax figures which were life-size images of men in tortured poses of suffering.

'Elegy' is a series of 20 works in graphite and acrylic that were a homage to Steve Biko.

The Interrogators, a graphite and wax triptych which featured three of the 9 policemen involved in the inquest around Steve Biko's death in custody features three images, one especially sinister that are brought together by the ghostlike image of a chair, an inanimate object that becomes a symbol of latent terror. The same references to struggle are made in The Interrogation Spaces of 1983.

Paul Stopforth, Elegy, 1980

Stopforth chose to leave South Africa in the late 80's and has settled in the USA where he lectures at Harvard University. He continues to produce beautifully crafted work which has become less political or provocative but still fully engaged with the world.

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