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Art for Africa’s sake

What is African art? Is it different from European art? Nancy Hynes describes how Johannesburg's second Biennale became a battleground for South African identity politics. The organisers' internationalism met with resistance from those keen to emphasise African-ness

By Nancy Hynes   April 1998

At first glance, the room appears familiar: upholstered chairs, a chaise- longue, a mantelpiece adorned with a bust of Queen Victoria. It is a typical study in a comfortable, bourgeois 19th century English home, the setting of many novels and films. Yet something is different. The walls, furniture, even the floors are covered with ornate textiles, but the colours are much brighter than in traditional English homes-luminous greens, oranges, yellows-and the patterns appear exotic. A closer look reveals the figure of a modern black footballer, possibly playing for a European team. What is African here and what is European?


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