South Africa the Art of a Nation

As well as visiting this exhibition I was fortunate my was also able to attend an introductory talk given by the curator of the exhibition,. It was interesting to hear from the museum curator (as opposed to a curator from an art gallery) what his definition of art was. He considered art as “objects that have been invested with great care, objects that have a symbolic meaning”. By way of illustrating this he referred to Esther Mahalangu’s BMW Art car 525i number 12.

Image by Strainu (, via Wikimedia Commons

He talked of archaeological objects as art for example he referred to the  Makapansgat pebble. This is a stone but which appears to resemble a human face. But the indentations forming the features of the face are all naturally found features, research shows there is no human intervention involved in producing them. It was not used as a tool, and it originated some 40 km away from where it was found. This was evidence of the early collection of an art object “the world’s earliest artwork” originally collected 3 million years ago – a piece of found art.


Image by Gumaguar (Own work)  (], via Wikimedia Commons


This this again extended my view of “what is art” as did another object referred to Headdress in Bell Jar-1852-99. This was collected as an ethnographic object and donated to the museum such, but it is now considered an artwork and a beautiful object in its own right”.

It was also interesting to hear from the curator how they had tried to pair the more archaeological objects with contemporary art visiting the exhibition afterwards this really did work well.

So, over the period of studying this course, I have moved on a long way from Gombrich’s simple definition of “There really is no such thing as art. There are only artists”. (GOMBRICH, E.H., 1989. The story of art. 15th edn. Oxford: Phaidon). I now believe that a pebble found 3 million years ago, collected and kept by someone because it was “invested with symbolic meaning” really can be described as art.