In South Africa, almost half a century later, the artist Cecil Skotnes (1926-2009) was painting and teaching in a more-or-less traditional European style. Sometime around 1953 his friend, gallery owner Egon Guenther, showed him some works by contemporary German artists who had been influenced by African art in Europe. Guenther was himself a German immigrant living in South Africa. He had always been intrigued by traditional African art, which he brought from Europe.
Although Skotnes had seen such paintings before in Europe, their “African-ness” now struck him as the most powerful thing about them. The impact on him was enormous: he began to think about his own identity as that of an artist in Africa,who therefore needed to express an African-ness in his own artistic vision. This changed his imagery, which began to embody an intense spiritual force, instead of focusing mainly on outward appearance.
Around that time, some of his friends and fellow artists, especially Sydney Kumalo (1935-1988), Ezrom Legae and Edoardo Villa (1920-2011), were also being exposed to African masks and sculptures.
These artists realised that they had never truly examined their positions as Africans, despite the fact that they lived on this continent. To them, African art had until then seemed exotic, foreign and distant. They formed a small group, determined to develop a new vision that would purposefully go beyond this sense of distance. They set out to explore their own Africanness, and to come to grips with Africa’s spirit and also its reality. Thus began the “Amadlozi Group” in 1963 – their name meaning “spirit of our ancestors”.
Talk About This
Look carefully at these images by Skotnes, Villa and Khumalo.
What it is about them that might be regarded as “African”, do you think? Feel free to look back at the images of masks in this book, or any other African traditional sculptures you may have. What aspects do they have in common?