20 Years Later – The Role of Art and Justice in South Africa’s Democracy

Articles, Reviews
12 Jan 2015

At the entrance to the Constitutional Court of South Africa stands a sculpture of a large man yoked to a cart. His burden is a human one: a man and woman who themselves are seated on the back of a fourth figure kneeling on the cart. At first glance, the sculpture resonates with the history of servitude that marked the dehumanizing institution of apartheid. On closer reflection, the sculpture reveals a more complex message.


The sculptor, South African artist Dumile Feni, did not create any racial differentiation between the four figures, and the man drawing the cart is the only figure large and strong enough to accomplish this task. The title of the work is History, and the four figures carry each other in a way that reflects the dependence, the interconnectedness and the tension that have always characterized human relationships.

History is the first of many artworks that challenge a visitor to the Constitutional Court to reflect on South Africa’s tortured past and the country’s transition to a constitutional order. As the highest court in the country, the Constitutional Court protects and enhances the fundamental values of human dignity, equality, and freedom of all people living within South Africa’s borders. The Constitutional Court Art Collection (CCAC)[1] is both a living monument to the ideals on which South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution is based and a reminder of the work that remains.

The CCAC has humble origins. In 1994, when the original eleven justices of the Court were meeting in an office park in Johannesburg, Justices Albie Sachs and Yvonne Mokgoro were given $1,000 to decorate the courtroom. The justices did something far more valuable than brighten up the space; they spent the entire budget on commissioning artist Joseph Ndlovu to create a tapestry that represented the principles of humanity. Since that initial decision, the CCAC has grown to include donated works by over four hundred artists, a collection that is now valued at over $5 million.

Guided by the leadership of CCAC’s Art Curator, Stacey Vorster, a visitor to the Constitutional Court today is confronted, inspired, and challenged by this collection. Upon entering the Court’s foyer through a massive set of wooden doors that are hand-carved with representations of the twenty-seven rights enshrined in South Africa’s Constitution, a visitor first notices a neon light installation by Thomas Mulcaire, which loudly proclaims “A luta continua” (the struggle continues). A series of urban griefscapes by Regi Bardavidpresents the artist’s emotional struggle after her husband was killed during a botched robbery. A nude self-portrait by William Kentridge (a white South African man) highlights and reverses the ways in which nudity has been used historically as a tool of dominance to objectify black and female bodies...Click to continue reading


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Article first seen: https://forums.ssrc.org/