Anti-Apartheid artwork by Victor Gordon
The social relevance of one’s life and work must surely be of great significance to those concerned about the relationship between themselves and the communities of which they are part. For those who work or have worked in the shadow of a repressive and totalitarian government this relationship is particularly sensitive, for it takes place within a climate of brutality which pervades every aspect of life.
The work produced by the politically aware South African artist must be understood within a specific social context, for the climate of the artist’s environment under the system of Apartheid is the system of institutionalized violence. Whether this violence is directed personally against oneself or not, one still has to live inextricably enmeshed in it.
The exiled Breyten Breytenbach said: “The artists who close their eyes to the everyday injustice and inhumanity – their work will become barren. When one prefers not to see certain things. When one chooses not to hear certain voices. When one’s tongue is used only to justify this choice, then the things one turned away from do not cease to exist, the voices do not stop shouting- but one’s eyes become walled, one’s ear’s less sensitive, therefore deaf…”.
However, for those who have chosen not to remain distant, the responsibilities are clear- to arouse and stimulate a search for understanding and to emphasize the need for social responsibility. It means that they are ultimately commissioned by the community. When they hold a light up to the injustices and inhumanities they do so not for themselves alone, but for those others as well-for those who are discovering what sort of world they are living in, where they come from and where they are going.
The work of Victor Gordon fulfils these responsibilities. His images reflect both intellectually and emotionally the legacies of Apartheid. They encourage us to try and understand the nature of the players in the grim stage of a country divided by prejudice.
It is important to note that the work be seen in the context of Australian society as well, for in the words of Mongane Wally Serote: “History tells us that apartheid is the condition of the majority of the people in this world-it exist within all civilized centres”.
“History tells us that apartheid is the condition of the majority of the people in this world-it exist within all civilized centres”.Mongane Wally Serote
The work of concerned and committed artists contributes to a history that will come to reflect the courage, determination and resoluteness which exists in all those who seek, cherish and fight for freedom, whether it is from the shackles of oppression or from the constraints of ignorance.
Author of the catalogue essay in Behold the Lands Where Satan Reigns”Anti Apartheid Artwork by Victor Gordon 1990
Dr Michael Goldberg BFA(Hons)Capetown, Grad DipH Ed Johannesburg, MFA(Hons) UNSW, COFA PhD
Michael Goldberg is an artist, curator and academic, born in South Africa, and living in Sydney Australia since 1988. Projects between 1995-2000 examined Australia’s colonial period with site-specific installations in historic locations. These included the Royal Botanic Gardens and Elizabeth Bay House, 1830s residence of the Colonial Secretary. The projects presented alternative views of political and historical issues, those often ignored by conventional museology. From 2001 projects explored global financial markets and speculation as neo-colonial constructs. Produced for the sesqui-centenary of the discovery of gold in Australia, the performance/installation ‘NCM open/high/low/close’ reflected the international commodity market, turning the walls of the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery into huge graphs representing the price of gold and the share price of Australia’’s major gold producer, the Newcrest Mining Company. In 2003, $50,000 was borrowed from a group of financial speculators to trade on the stock market. In the performance/installation, ‘catchingafallingknife.com’, shares were bought and sold in global media giant, News Corporation. Precognition and psychic divination of the stock market became the focus in ‘Remote Predictive Viewing’ (2008), a performance staged for the Art of Management and Organization Conference at the Banff Centre, Canada. More recent installation projects explored anxieties emerging from the media distribution of images of global terrorism. Avatar (2005), used an off-the-shelf Microsoft flight simulation computer program to depict a ‘9/11’ scenario for downtown Sydney. The restriction on global mobility in the era of the ‘‘War on Terror’’ was addressed in ‘STRONG LANGUAGE, SOME VIOLENCE, ADULT THEMES’ (2008). Curatorial projects such as ‘Artists in the House!’ (1997), produced for the Historic Houses Trust of NSW and ‘Swelter’ (1999/2000) at the Royal Botanic Gardens, featured installations by a number of prominent Australian artists. ‘The Butterfly Effect’ (2005), also included installations interpreting and interacting with the displays of the Australian Museum, the country’s oldest museum of natural history. Financial markets were again in focus with ‘The Force of Desire/The Force of Necessity’, a project for the 10th Havana Biennial in 2009. The installation and performance incorporating two Havana artists considered the isolation of the Cuban economy from speculative U.S. capital.
Michael Goldberg is a Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Sculpture, Performance and Installation studio at The University of Sydney, Sydney College of the Arts.