Andries Loots 11February 2001

Cape artist Willie Bester was told on Friday, the 9 th of February 2001 that some of his work was 'not African enough' and that it was too aggressive to be shown at an exhibition here in Cape Town. 

Art dealer Philip Todres was approached by the events organizer to provide quality South African art for the event in Fernwood attended by members of parliament. Willie was approached by Philip to exhibit works at this exhibition and  provided the following three works :

Saartje Baartman - a sculpture  to commemorate Saartje Baartman, who was  an indigenous woman taken from the Cape to Europe and displayed as a freak. Her body was dissected and her organs are still on display in Paris.
War Dog - a sculpture  created a while back to make an universal statement  about governments embracing themselves with weapons to justifying peace as the reward.
A Tapestry of a portrait of former President Nelson Mandela


Detail of ' War Dog '  'Saartje Baartman'
According to an article in the daily newspaper Die Burger, 10 February, "when the works were erected at the site the onlookers were fascinated by them"   Mr. Todres was later told by the events organizers that ANC member Mr. Tony Yengeni was not satisfied with the work as it was "not African enough" and also that the "War Dog"  was too aggressive.  

When I approached Mr. Todres, he could not provide me with more specific details.  After hearing what happened, Willie requested Mr. Todres to withdraw all the works from the exhibition. 

Mr. Todres and the organizers of this event were privileged to get these important works  by an internationally acclaimed artist, who is currently preparing for some major solo exhibitions locally and abroad. The sculptures have never been shown in public before and weigh between 200 - 300 kg each. 

I think it is a shame that an artist like Willie Bester,  who was recognized for his role played in the struggle against apartheid,  is now censored by the very same people that he defended. He has every right to be outraged and to feel insulted. Maybe it was good in the past to address injustices by producing resistance art to comment on daily issues but now the people in power don't want to face these matters. The " Saartjie Baartman " sculpture is not that much of a dilemma as it can still be used to criticize  colonialism for what it has done wrong,  and " Mandela " tapestry is good enough as everybody is familiar with his friendly face,   but please no guns and aggression as we are living in Africa were there are no such things.... The "War Dog" sculpture could easily be used to address the recent attacks on various people by police  dogs and to show that nothing has changed since the apartheid regime, people are still treated like animals. One cannot but wonder if  " War Dog " was maybe not too close to the current  Arms Deal investigation ? Or is it a matter of not recognizing quality art ? It is a pity that Mr. Todres who has  staged various high profile exhibitions like this, did not pursue the matter further.

But is this not what Willie Bester's art is about - that one cannot stand in front of  his work without being challenged ?

Subsequent front page article 'Cape Times' 16 February 2002

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