Exhibition: Paintings of the San (Bushmen) and the Kuru Art Project

Deep in the Kalahari sandveld a group of San artists relive their ancient past when the veld was endless and game and food abundant. They revive it in strong forms and vibrant colours and express it in a yearning for better days. But also they show to their own people and to the world that they are still the 'first people', not about to disappear or become assimilated. They are searching for their own (artistic) place in this new world order in which their land is all but lost, veldfood is scarce and the thrill of the hunt is rare.

Within one decade this collective of artists became renowned. A remarkable development which started in 1990 when a group of the San people, living in D’Kar in the western Kalahari, went on excursion to the Tsodilo Hills in Northern Botswana, a group of hills famous for its rockpaintings by the San people. They were so excited to see the art of their ancestors, that they too wanted to start painting.

‘Gee ons die lappe en verf en ons sal ook sukke prentjies maak van ons lewe’
(give us fabric and paint and we will also make such pictures from our lifes)

The Kuru Art Project was born. A workshop for fabric painting was organised. Two of the nicest cloths were sent to Gaborone, Botswana, for an exhibition at the National Art Gallery. The gallery promptly bought these cloths for their permanent collection. Within three years enormous progress was made. The artists became involved in painting, graphics such as lino print, silkscreen, murals, etc. Initially the artists painted with acrylics on fabric and board. Today they prefer working with oil paints on stretched canvases. The number of artists fluctuated but has settled between 12 and 17 male and female artists.
Although there is occasionally a crossover in terms of subject matter, it seems that the artists prefer to follow the traditional division of labour and life experience in their artwork: the women concentrate largely on depicting veld food, people, birds, beadwork and items of clothing and jewellery. The men focus on depicting animals, mythical creatures and people.

The contemporary ‘Bushmen paintings’ have become world famous. Exhibitions were organised in Poland, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, England, the USA, Canada, South Africa, Namibia, Germany, Australia, Sweden and of course in their homeland Botswana. The artists won many national and international awards both collectively and individually. The San paintings and prints are found in private and public collections throughout the world. In 1998 British Airways purchased the copyrights of one of the paintings of the artist C’goise and they used the design to decorate the tail end of eight Boeings 747, tickets, stationary etc.

The paintings exhibited in the African Studies Centre are all for sale and are hanging in the corridors of the third floor (ASC Secretariat) and in the ASC library on the ground floor of the Pieter de la Court Building, Wassenaarseweg 52 in Leiden. The exhibition was opened up by Cees Otto, chairman of the Kalahari Support Group on April 28. He also told one of the stories from the new book 'Fabels uit de Kalahari'.

The exhibition is open on weekdays from 09.00-17.00h. Feel free to come and take a look.
See also the website of the Kalahari Support Group.

Date, time and location

28 April 2014 to 27 June 2014