Rodney Place: art and revolution, 2012
Something to think about: the artist, after the revolution. We are so distant here in this snow-muffled northern country, the end of apartheid so abstracted, that Mandela's gracious processes of reconciliation have effectively buried the bodies.
However, on the ground in South Africa the revolution continues to play itself out. It was announced today that Mamphela Ramphele has become the head of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition to Jacob Zuma's ANC, which is perhaps a different animal than the ANC of the struggle. Ramphele was Steve Biko's partner, her cred is enormous, as an activist and as a now wealthy mining executive, doctor and World Bank director.
Rodney Place in a 2012 essay about the place of the artist in post-revolutionary times, speaks about the relativism of the word 'freedom'. In the balance between control, as seen in the limits of how and how much the artist can speak, and actual freedom historically charted in other revolutionary times, control has all the weight: the more weighty the control, the more rapier-like the tiny artist must be. But only if the artists are up to it, and for this, they must be uncorruptable, immune to such things as fame, market, comfort and the refuge of apoliticism. Ha.
The occasion of this essay was Brett Murray's 2012 exhibition in Cape Town, Hail to the Thief II, a collection of vicious satirical pieces that rant on the venality of current South African political culture. The exhibition evidently was the site of public protests against such a critique, and it was to this that Place's essay responds.
Revolutions betrayed are tragic, no less so in South Africa than in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab Spring has turned into a geography of proxy war on a dozen fronts. Rodney Place excoriates artists who, as he says, 'want revolutions but we usually prefer being left alone to make art.' Can art be the gun? A romantic idea; when it happens it reveals polarities covered by other more pervasive mythologies.