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South African National Gallery acquires two works by artist Victor Gordon

Amandla - The Punch and Jury

Amandla – The Punch and Jury Show 1989 – is an assemblage featured in the group exhibition Brave New World…20 Years of Democracy currently on exhibition at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. The exhibition showcases work acquired by the National Gallery in the last twenty years after the transition to democracy.

The work created by Gordon in 1989 centrally features a red-fisted plastic hair comb raised in the symbolic defiant gesture of black resistance to the Apartheid system. It is positioned emerging from a car tyre fragment, a reference to the gruesome punishment of necklacing (halsnoor) meted out to informers and collaborators of the ‘system’. The backdrop is a simplified stage-like settings with wooden curtains and aluminium patterned checker plate, a stylised reference to the parallel patterning found on traditional Zulu shields.

Azikwele (‘We will not ride’)—Fare raize 1983, Oil on canvas by Victor Gordon

Azikwele (‘We will not ride’)—Fare raize 1983, Oil on canvas by Victor Gordon

Azikwele – (we will not ride) Fare Raze – 1983

In this oil painting a Johannesburg Putco (Public Utility Transport Company) bus burns in a barren landscape. (Note the number plate with the town and date of the painting). For Gordon this represented a veritable tableau of the South African landscape at that time and was his response to the nationwide bus boycotts. PUTCO buses were a privileged government subsidized White-owned company who directly applied government repressive measures by consistantly raising fares – hence the pun in the title, which were crippling to family budgets. They were a strong symbol of the Apartheid machine and an accessible, if violent, outlet for the people’s intense anger.

The bus burns out of control. In the distance what appears to be an ambulance heads away from the destruction, perhaps ignoring it. The single telephone wire supported overhead representing communication and civilization itself, terminates at this point, beyond which the action occurs. The pole and transverse beam form the traditional  cross used by the Romans for crucifixions, hinting at the suffering and martyrdom that has led to this conflagration and destruction.

This painting was one of the early works Gordon created addressing the political issues of Apartheid South Africa. His interest in naturalistic representation became fuelled by the needs of pragmatism in the cause of agitprop art. The work is didactic in form and politically suffused in content.