Apartheid Murals Must Stay, South Africa House Is Told
Rowe, Mark, The Independent (London, England)
THE SOUTH African High Commission is embroiled in a dispute over plans to replace some of its apartheid-era artwork criticised for depicting blacks as "little more than monkeys".
Proposals to give South Africa House in Trafalgar Square a makeover to reflect the country's post-apartheid society are opposed by English Heritage, which will not allow extensive structural changes to the Grade II-listed building.
Since the abolition of apartheid in 1991, visitors to South Africa House have been surprised at the continued presence of work from the era of white rule, particularly that of the artist Hendrik Pierneef.
Among the more controversial are murals depicting Dutch colonialists in broad-brimmed hats and blacks tilling the land. In one image, a black worker is depicted on his knees, offering up his hands with the fruits of the land to the benevolent colonialist.
The dispute has involved the senior ranks of the South African government, with aides to the president, Thabo Mbeki, admitting government ministers are divided over whether to replace images from the apartheid and colonial period or retain them as part of the country's history. The plan to introduce modern art to reflect the talent at work in post-apartheid South Africa is the inspiration of the High Commissioner, Cheryl Carolus, who grew up in Silvertown, on the Cape Flats and is a former deputy secretary-general of the African National Congress.
Mrs Carolus, the first black woman to represent South Africa in Britain, has moved quickly since her appointment two years ago to change the atmosphere within the building, brightening the place with African art.
The High Commission wants to install reversible glass screening to overhang selected murals and paintings. But some of the artwork is embedded in the structure of the building, and crucial to its listed status.
"We had a bit of difficulty and we have had to work with English Heritage," said a spokesman for the High Commission. "We're not going to change everything. It's a listed building so we can't.
"We're not looking to totally destroy the place, just to make South Africa House appropriate for what the rainbow nation really encompasses.
"There's a lot of artists at home producing wonderful artefacts and there's a lot of stuff we can bring in to reflect South Africa in the year 2000, and the new millennium.
"We're not going to jettison …
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Publication information: Article title: Apartheid Murals Must Stay, South Africa House Is Told. Contributors: Rowe, Mark - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 28, 2000. Page number: 12. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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