Art After Apartheid

A new exhibition at Tufts highlights the connections between South Africa and Boston
Click the play button to view an audio slideshow of works in “The Boston-Jo’burg Connection” exhibition. Photos: Alonso Nichols
June 12, 2012

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South Africa’s troubled journey from apartheid to democracy is the focus of The Boston–Jo’burg Connection, a new exhibition at the Tufts University Art Gallery that runs through July 29.

The exhibition highlights works produced at the Artist Proof Studio in Johannesburg, which was cofounded by South African printmaker Kim Berman, a 1989 graduate of the joint Tufts University and School of the Museum of Fine Arts degree program, to educate and train artists. Berman returned to her homeland after graduation in response to Nelson Mandela’s call for South Africans to work toward improving their country’s future; she established the studio in 1991 with another artist, Nhlanhla Xaba. Twenty-one years later, a number of the studio’s former students are now professional artists.

“Until the change to majority rule in 1994, community printmaking studios in South Africa provided one of the few sources of arts education for black South Africans,” says Pamela Allara, curator of the exhibition. “Today, they continue to play an important role in arts education for financially disadvantaged students.”

Through the work of 68 artists who studied at the studio, the exhibition reveals the country’s violent struggles to achieve democracy as well as individuals’ search for identity in a fractured land, says Allara, an associate professor emerita at Brandeis University.

A number of Boston artists, many affiliated with the Tufts-School of the Museum of Fine Arts joint-degree program, have given workshops at the Artist Proof Studio over the past 21 years. This cross-cultural exchange solidified the studio as a collaborative, according to Allara, who has published and lectured widely on the studio. “The sustained engagement of Boston artists with Artist Proof Studio has contributed to its success in training some of South Africa’s most important emerging talents,” says Allara.

Works from nine of the Boston-based artists are included in The Boston-Jo’burg Connection, which features 160 works and two documentary videos.

The studio’s achievements are being celebrated jointly in an exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery titled Coming of Age: 21 Years of Artist Proof Studio. “The coinciding Tufts exhibit highlights the decades-long collaboration between the artists in the two cities,” Allara says, “and permits this bit of braggadocio: It all started here!”

Summer hours at the Tufts University Art Gallery, located in the Aidekman Arts Center, 40 Talbot Ave., Medford, are Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Join guest curator Pamela Allara to learn about Artist Proof Studio and the collaborations between Massachusetts-based printmakers and South African artists on tours at these times: Friday, June 22, at 1 p.m.; Wednesday, June 27, at 3 p.m.; and Thursday, July 19, at 1 p.m. 

Gail Bambrick can be reached at gail.bambrick@tufts.edu.

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