Courtesy of

Albie Sachs on South African art in 2000

by Inside Politics

A good quote can hold within it a thousand separate insights, just as surely as some poorly constructed thought can reveal someone as a fool. Quotable Quotes looks at what is said, what was said and, on occasion, how the two compare. In this edition, a quote from 2000, from former ANC stalwart and Justice Albie Sachs about South African art and how it was independent of political hegemony and correctness; an appraisal that stands in stark contrast to the ANC’s recent response to ‘The Spear’.

I was reading an article by ANC stalwart and former Justice Albie Sachs from the Sunday Times, from 15 October 2000, in which he marvels at the state of South African art (it was titled ‘Beauty and the politically correct beast’). In it he boasts about how post apartheid South African art has not fallen into the trap of simply reproducing that which is politically correct. He argued South African artists are truly free in this regard. This extract in particular is worth repeating:

“Looking back, I think we have triumphantly avoided being triumphalist. There is no officially commanded art. Artists may be poor but they are free. Freedom of artistic creativity is expressly guaranteed in the constitution, as is freedom of artistic expression. Ours is an admirably open and democratic society. It artists are afraid, it is that they might be regarded by their colleagues and critics as being too politically correct. We take this freedom for granted, which is as it should be. The range and diversity of themes and forms of expression are unlimited; Leading public figures are mimicked and mocked and frequently, if not always, join in the laughter. I feel proud of the maturity of our nation. We are in a strange position. No group is in charge; no section exercises cultural hegemony. The old establishment has lost its hauteur, but no confident and powerful new establishment has emerged to replace it.”

The ANC of today might not be “confident” or “powerful” but you can be sure, its response to ‘The Spear’ will change all of that. The politically correct nature of art has been put squarely back on the table and as with so much good the ANC of the last decade has undone, it is busy undoing this too. I wonder what Sachs makes of all the furore around ‘The Spear’. Someone should ask him.