The Art of Democracy: 20 Years of Collecting

This exhibition of selected art works acquired since 1994 celebrates the diversity of collecting for the Gallery’s permanent collection. Smaller works can be overlooked, but are nonetheless equally compelling. Peter Machen’s triptych, Forgotten Herstories of KwaZulu-Natal, is an example of how the creative process invites us to consider alternatives to our preconceptions of the role of women in our history. In these digital images, fiction is presented as fact.

Consider the possibilities of Machen’s Feroza Zulu: “Few are aware of Feroza Zulu, the woman who led a brief but dramatic uprising against Shaka. Written off as a witch by both the British and the Zulus, Feroza nevertheless managed to garner intense loyalty and obedience from her small band of seditionists. Quite how she rose to power has never been established. She appears like a violent exclamation mark on the pages of history, and apart from her failed coup – in which Feroza died at the hands of Shaka himself – all that is known is that she escaped from an indentured labour camp at the age of five and was adopted by one of Shaka’s more recalcitrant wives”.

Peter Machen, Feroza Zulu, digital print, 2008

Peter Machen, Feroza Zulu, digital print, 2008

This exhibition reflects how the growth of the Gallery’s permanent collection has been significantly affected by the significant changes that have taken place in South Africa. Political, social, and economic shifts have impacted on the Gallery’s acquisitions policy, as have developments in art making and theory. What has been acquired for the permanent collection is the result of these shifts, taking cognizance of the collection’s growth from its founding in 1903.

The most challenging aspects of collecting during this period have been selecting for inclusivity, the breakdown of barriers between so-called ‘high art’ and craft, and focusing the Gallery‘s role as a regional repository of visual art heritage. This selection of art works is both a celebration and an opportunity for reflection.

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