Reflections on Art and National Identity
In South Africa, with its highly contested and mutable understandings of national identity, its National Gallery is no less a contested space. A History of the Iziko South African National Gallery considers questions of artistic and cultural identity, from the late 19th century to the present day. It explores how the gallery has understood its function and its public, as a ‘national’ gallery (from 1930) and, before that, the chief gallery of the Cape Colony. This question is investigated through a study of the gallery’s administration, collection and exhibition practices, as well as the public response to exhibitions.
What is understood by and expected of a national gallery varies considerably worldwide. Should it regard itself as part of a broad international cultural discourse, or should it be representative of a specifically national – or even regional – identity? The gallery is a microcosm of the greater debate: how the South African nation relates to the larger world and how, if at all, it understands the concept of a shared culture.
In the last 20 years, museum studies have become a major part of the field of cultural studies. There is a vast literature on what might be called the ‘history’ museum, but far less on the art museum or gallery. To date, there has been no large-scale historical inquiry into the Iziko SANG, the country’s national gallery. The absence of such a history marks a serious gap in the literature, which this study aims to fill.
Chapter 1: The colonial gallery: acquisitions and identity, 1875-1930Chapter 2: Collecting for a national gallery, 1930-47Chapter 3: The post-war years, 1947-72Chapter 4: The protest years, 1973-1989Chapter 5: Transformation post-apartheid, 1990-2017
Readers interested in South African art and history; students of Museum and Heritage, Curatorship and African Studies courses at universities locally and internationally; Friends of the SANG; Friends of Michaelis.