David Koloane (1938 – 2019)

1 July 2019

It is with great sadness that we announce David Koloane has died, aged 81. He passed away last night at his home in Johannesburg.

David Koloane was born in Alexandra, Johannesburg, South Africa in 1938. Koloane spent his career making the world a more hospitable place for black artists during and after apartheid. Koloane achieved this through his pioneering work as an artist, writer, curator, teacher and mentor to young and established artists at a time when such vocations were restricted to white people in South Africa. A large part of this effort involved the initiatives Koloane helped establish, from the first Black Art Gallery in 1977, the Thupelo experimental workshop in 1985 and the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios in 1991, where he served as director for many years. Koloane also tutored at the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) in 1979 and became the head of the fine art section and gallery from 1985 to 1990.

Through his expressive, evocative and poetic artwork, Koloane interrogated the socio-political and existential human condition, using Johannesburg as his primary subject matter. Koloane’s representations of Johannesburg are populated with images of cityscapes, townships, street life, jazz musicians, traffic jams, migration, refugees, dogs, and birds among others. Imaginatively treated, through the medium of painting, drawing, assemblage, printmaking and mixed media, Koloane’s scenes are a blend of exuberant and sombre, discernible and opaque pictorial narratives.

As a curator Koloane was involved in organising a number of historic exhibitions including the 1982 Culture and Resistance Arts Festival in Botswana, the 1990 Zabalaza Festival in London, and in 1995, the South African section of Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, in London. In 1988, Koloane was one of the delegates that extended the Triangle Network workshops to other African countries, by setting up the Pachipamwe workshop in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. This workshop later gave birth to the Thapong workshop in Botswana in 1989.

Koloane’s work has been widely exhibited locally and internationally. In 1999 he was part of the group exhibition Liberated Voices at the National Museum of African Art in Washington DC. In 2013, Koloane’s work was shown on the South African pavilion at the 55th la Biennale di Venezia and on the group exhibition My Joburg at La Maison Rouge in Paris. In 1998, the government of the Netherlands honoured Koloane with the Prince Claus Fund Award for his contributions to South African art. Koloane was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate twice, once from Wits University in 2012, and again from Rhodes University in 2015.

Earlier this year Koloane was the subject of a travelling career survey exhibition, A Resilient Visionary: Poetic Expressions of David Koloane, which opened at IZIKO SANG on 2 June and will travel to Standard Bank Gallery and Wits Art Museum in October. In an introduction to the exhibition, curator Thembinkosi Goniwe described Koloane’s contribution to South Africa’s national and cultural struggle, saying how he bestowed, in the words of Steve Biko,  “the greatest possible gift” an artist can give its subject: “a more human face.”

“I first began working with David as an independent curator about 15 years ago. In that time I witnessed how he treated people, no matter their position or standing in society, with the same level of respect. He was a soft-spoken, kind and generous person who always put his students and fellow artists first. David’s life and work stand as a testament to the indomitable nature of the human spirit, and its ability to overcome all obstacles with humility and grace. We are left today with David’s immeasurable contributions to South African art and society. He will be sorely missed.” – Owner and director of Goodman Gallery, Liza Essers