Celebrating 25 Years of Caversham Press
CFA exhibitions reflect South Africa’s apartheid years
In the slideshow above, see a few images from the Caversham Press, displayed around campus. Slideshow by Kimberly Cornuelle
In 1985, when the Caversham Press was founded by master printer Malcolm Christian in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, apartheid was still very much a part of the country’s fabric. But from its early days as a single studio print shop, Caversham Press invited not only established artists to work there, but also little-known artists, white and black.
This inclusive policy, along with outreach to school groups, opened the door for many young black artists. In the ensuing quarter century, Caversham has grown and transformed into a vibrant community of artists, community activists, and educators.
The College of Fine Arts School of Visual Arts is mounting two exhibitions in celebration of Caversham’s 25th anniversary. An array of public programming, including lectures, gallery talks, and a play, will be part of the celebration.
South Africa: Artists, Prints, Community, Twenty-Five Years at the Caversham Press runs through March 27 at the 808 Gallery. Simultaneously, Three Artists at the Caversham Press—Deborah Bell, Robert Hodgins and William Kentridge is on display at the BU Art Gallery at the Stone Gallery. Opening receptions for both are being held tonight from 6 to 8 p.m.
Those with preconceived notions of African art should be prepared to be surprised. The two sweeping exhibitions seek to broaden minds and shatter stereotypes. No items of traditional craft or strict function here—instead, sharp political, social, and personal narratives embody the rich history of South African printmaking.
Intense, charged, dynamic, complex are some of the words curator Lynne Cooney, School of Visual Arts exhibitions director, uses to describe the 170 works by 70 artists, some famous and others never before displayed internationally.
“This exhibition shows that their art is working in a much more sophisticated way than stereotypes might have people believe,” says Cooney. “It’s going to shed some light on what contemporary African art is.”
The exhibitions feature a wide collection of prints, from small to oversized, black-and-white to brightly colored, fine-lined to bold, sober to whimsical. Varied as they may appear in size and style, the works all share similar thematic underpinnings: the artists’ experience of South Africa’s recent history, from the dark and violent days of apartheid through the country’s transition to a new democracy in the early 1990s and on to today.
“These are works of political and social critique,” Cooney says. “Each one is dependent on the time in which it was made, what was going on at the time the artist did the work.”
Lynne Allen, School of Visual Arts director, is a former artist-in-residence at Caversham. “The real legacy of Caversham is the central belief in the value of each individual, the importance of creativity in everyone’s life, and the mission to offer artists from disadvantaged backgrounds the power of transformation and empowerment through art,” she says.
Allen has shared a deep connection with Caversham for more than a decade. She and Caversham founder Christian spent two years bringing to fruition their idea of an anniversary exhibition at BU. Allen believes Caversham deserves international recognition for its impact on embracing and encouraging art in South Africa.
Caversham “changed the artistic landscape of South Africa, especially in the late ’80s and early ’90s when apartheid was still in full swing,” says Allen. “To understand the significance of Caversham’s mission during this time is essential.” Through Caversham Centre for Artists and Writers, the press has nurtured many emergent artists from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The concurrent exhibitions cover different territory. South Africa: Artists, Prints, Community, Twenty-Five Years at the Caversham Press, takes a broad view of Caversham’s reach, displaying work from a large number of the artists who’ve been part of the press, some of whom have since died from AIDS. “This gives you a sense of responsibility,” says Christian, who did the printing for every piece. “When I walk around, I don’t see prints; I see people. All the people who have contributed to the richness of my life and our community’s life. It’s a testimony.”
Three Artists at the Caversham Press features the work of well-known artists central to Caversham’s early years. Among the first to make prints at the press, they went on to many years of artistic collaboration. William Kentridge, arguably one of South Africa’s most famous visual artists, has created three new works to be publicly displayed for the first time here.
The extended public programming accompanying the exhibitions includes The Road to Mecca, a play by South African playwright Athol Fugard; the Tim Hamill Visiting Artist Lecture, by William Kentridge; and several other lectures, as well as gallery talks.
"The scale of the project is the largest we’ve done to date,” says Cooney. “We’ve gone to great lengths to expand the ideas that are in the exhibitions, trying to find different constituencies to reach out to.”
As part of this outreach, CFA will work with area teachers and high schools. Not only will Boston area visitors be able to see the diversity of South African printmaking, which has never before been shown regionally, but will be able to buy some of the prints being exhibited, says Cooney. The University hopes to extend its relationship with Caversham Press well into the future, she says, with internship possibilities for students, and the potential for longer-term exchange programs being explored by BU.
South Africa: Artists, Prints, Community, Twenty-Five Years at the Caversham Press is at the 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Ave. Three Artists at the Caversham Press—Deborah Bell, Robert Hodgins and William Kentridge is at BUAG at the Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Ave. Both exhibitions run until March 27, and both opening receptions are tonight, February 9, from 6 to 8 p.m. All the events are free and open to the public except where noted; more information is available here.1 Comments