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South African Art



South Africa is home to some of the most ancient and beautiful art in the world - the rock art of the ancestors of today's Bushman or San. It is also the scene of a host of diverse and challenging contemporary artists producing important new work.

South African art is the creative output of human beings from South Africa.

The oldest art objects in the world were discovered in a South African cave. Dating from 75,000 years ago, these small drilled snail shells could have no other function than to have been strung on a string as a necklace. South Africa was one of the cradles of the human species. One of the defining characteristics of our species is the making of art from Latin 'ars' meaning worked or formed from basic material.


The scattered tribes of Khoisan AND Bushman peoples moving into South Africa from around 10000 BC had their own fluent art styles seen today in a multitude of cave paintings.They were superseded by Bantu/Nguni peoples with their own vocabularies of art forms. Leap ahead to the present era, when traditional tribal forms of art were scattered and remelded by the divisive policies of apartheid.New forms of art evolved in the mines and townships: a dynamic art using everything from plastic strips to bicycle spokes. Add to this the Dutch-influenced folk art of the hardy Afrikaner Trek Boers and the urban white artists earnestly following changing European traditions from the 1850s onwards, and you have an eclectic mix which continues to evolve today.

A locally rooted art

During the colonial era, what artists there were in South Africa tended to concentrate on depicting this "new world" in detail as accurate as they could make it - though sometimes this led to selective emphasis. Artists such as Thomas Baines travelled the country recording its flora, fauna, people and landscapes - a form of reporting for people back in the metropolis.


Towards the end of the 19th century, painters Jan Volschenk and Hugo Naudé and the sculptor Anton van Wouw began, through their work, to establish a locally rooted art. Their work is the first glimpse of an artistic vision engaging with life as lived in South Africa, for its own sake, rather than as a "report" to the colonial master. It is the art of the moment in which South Africa, with Union in 1910 and thus the formal end of the colonial era, was beginning to acquire its own national identity.In the first decades of the 20th century, the Dutch-born painter JH Pierneef brought a coolly geometric sensibility to the South African landscape, finding in it a strict but beautiful order; he also, in a way that fed into Afrikaner nationalist ideology, found it bereft of human inhabitants.


By the 1930s, two women artists, Maggie Laubscher and Irma Stern, brought a different kind of subjective gaze to South African art by using the techniques and sensibilities of post-impressionism and expressionism. Their bold way with colour and composition, and the assumption of a highly personal point of view, rather scandalised those with old-fashioned concepts of acceptable art.
Yet already younger artists such as Gregoire Boonzaier, Maud Sumner and Moses Kottler were rejoicing in the new spirit of cosmopolitanism they were able to bring to South African art.

South Africa is home to some of the most ancient and beautiful art in the world - the rock paintings of the San. It is also home to vibrant and challenging artists, from the colonial to the contemporary, producing diverse and exciting work. Our gallery exhibits works from a range of the country's artists.South Africans are a crafty bunch. The country's people produce a remarkable range of arts and crafts, working from the pavements and markets of the big cities to deep rural enclaves, with every possible form of traditional artwork - and then some.
Discover the arts, crafts, people, wild game parks and scenic beauty of South Africa. Observe traditional crafts like basket weaving, pottery, woodcarving and beading which have been handed down through families for generations. Visit incredible World Heritage Sites with specialist guides. Tour fascinating museums and galleries and take exclusive tours of private homes. Meet contemporary artists in their studios. Travel in townships and villages to meet the local people.


In addition to the wonderful arts and crafts, learn about various cultures in South Africa as we stay in rural, tribal and urban areas. Also gain an understanding of the history and political developments that have shaped this country from the San-Bushman to the early colonial settlers and the miracle of the present Mandela / Mbeki era, making South Africa one of the newest democracies in the world.Experience the magnificent coastline of both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, spectacular scenery and diverse architecture from tranquil game park bushveld, rolling hills and thatched rondavels, to rugged mountain peaks, colorful township homes, colonial buildings and homesteads in wonderful gardens.

South Africans are a crafty bunch. The country's people produce a remarkable range of arts and crafts, working from the pavements and markets of the big cities to deep rural enclaves, with every possible form of traditional artwork - and then some.

South African Architecture


South African Architecture is wondrous mix of styles. The rural landscape is populated with traditional African architecture and aging monuments to colonialism, while the cities are filled with ostentatious skyscrapers echoing the glory of days gone by and modern buildings reflecting the move to a more green way of living.


The Voortrekker Monument was designed by architect Gerard Moerdijk, the son of a Dutch teacher and the first South African to be an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).The idea to build a monument in honour of the Voortrekkers was mooted as early as 1888, but building didn't start until 1937. With a pause due to the Second World War, the monument was finally opened in 1949 on the Day of the Vow (16 December, now known as the Day of Reconciliation).


The monument was built to celebrate liberation of the Afrikaners from the British colonial government, and to commemorate the Great Trek and the Battle of Blood River - events imprinted in the mindset of many Afrikaners. In that sense it is an icon to Afrikaner nationalism, not in a political sense but in a cultural sense.In 2002 Nelson Mandela visited the monument, one of nearly 200,000 visitors every year.




The San inhabited the Drakensberg and elsewhere in South Africa from the Stone Age until the nineteenth century. Living under sandstone overhangs or in temporary grass shelters,they left some of the finest examples of rock art in the world.The pre-Bantu peoples migrating southwards from around the year 30,000 BC were nomadic hunters who favored caves as dwellings. Before the rise of the Nguni peoples along the east and southern coasts and central areas of Africa these nomadic hunters were widely distributed.


It is thought they entered South Africa at least 10 years ago. They have left lots of signs of life, people toilets and rocks ('Bushman' paintings) depicting hunting, domestic and magic-related art. There is a stylistic unity across the region and even with more ancient art in the Tassili n'Ajjer region of northern Africa, and also in what is now desert Chad but was once a lush landscape.

The figures are dynamic and elongate, and the colors (derived probably from earthen and plant pigments and possibly also from insects) combine ochreous red, white, grey, black, and many warm tones ranging from red through to primary yellow.Common subjects include hunting, often depicting with great accuracy large animals which no longer inhabit the same region in the modern era, as well as: warfare among humans, dancing, domestic scenes, multiple images of various animals, including giraffes, antelope of many kinds, and snakes.


The last of these works are poignant in their representation of larger, darker people and even of white hunters on horseback, both of whom would supplant the 'Bushman' peoples.Many of the 'dancing' figures are decorated with unusual patterns and may be wearing masks and other festive clothing. Other paintings, depicting patterned quadrilaterals and other symbols, are obscure in their meaning and may be non-representational. Similar symbols are seen in shamanistic art worldwide. This art form is distributed from Angola in the west to Mozambique and Kenya, throughout Zimbabwe and South Africa and throughout Botswana wherever cave conditions have favored preservation from the elements.




Subjects of the bushman and san paintings range from animals (mainly eland) to humans, therianthropes to ox-wagons and mounted men with rifles. In Ndedema Gorge 3 900 paintings have been recorded at 17 sites. One of them, Sebaayeni Cave, contains 1 146 individual paintings. In the Cathedral Peak- Mdelelelo Wilderness Area there are another 130 sites with a total of over 8 800 individual paintings. Other prime sites include the Main caves in Giant's castle game reserve, Battle Cave in the Injasuti Valley and Game Pass Shelter in the Kamberg Nature Reserve.


Ancient rock art sheds light on the trance experiences of Bushman shamans.


When Europeans first encountered rock art of the San people, or Bushmen, in southern Africa some 350 years ago, they considered it primitive and crude, like the people who made it. They were just “Bushman paintings,” two-dimensional accounts of hunting and fighting and daily life. Twentieth-century scholars had much more respect for the aesthetics of the paintings—often finely detailed and exquisitely colored—but many also viewed them largely as narrative accounts of hunter-gatherer life. A closer look in recent years has yielded another picture altogether. For the San, rock paintings weren’t just representations of life; they were also repositories of it. When shamans painted an eland, they didn’t just pay homage to a sacred animal; they also harnessed its essence. They put paint to rock and opened portals to the spirit world.


When entering a trance, shamans often bleed from their nose and experience excruciating physical pain. The shamans’ arms stretch behind them as the transformation into the spirit world takes place. Scholars believe that the trance dance serves as the foundation for rock art, and clear corollaries between cave images and trance ceremonies appear in the Drakensberg cave paintings. These ancient images offer a record into ages past.KwaZulu-Natal's new Kamberg Rock Art Centre, now open to the public, will help visitors understand and interpret the more than 40 000 San Bushman images to be found in the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park.

Opened by KZN Premier Lionel Mtshali on June 4, the centre is situated in the Kamberg Nature Reserve, near to the Game Pass Shelter. It is here that the "Rosetta Stone" of San art first provided archaeologists with the key to interpreting the symbolism of the paintings as spiritual in content - showing how hunters gained power from the animals that they killed.


The Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is a World Heritage Site - one of just 23 sites worldwide granted this status on the basis of both natural beauty and cultural significance. The 230 000 hectare protected area contains 500 known sites of San rock art.The Kamberg San Rock Art Trail and Interpretive Centre together offer visitors information about the world of the San, and the opportunity to walk to Game Pass Shelter to view outstanding examples of their art in the company of a trained community guide.

The San people lived in the Drakensberg area for thousands of years before being exterminated in clashes with the Zulus and white settlers.A video documentary on the world of the San can be viewed at the centre, which also provides contact with their descendants who still live in the area. The centre offers a range of books, posters and videos for sale, as well as a refreshment kiosk.The walk from the centre to Game Pass Shelter takes two-and-a-half to three hours via the Waterfall Shelter. The trail and centre cater for a maximum of 10 patrons at a time, with tours run seven days a week.


"A long, long time ago, we, the Bushmen, roamed these mountains, masters of the unpredictable ways of nature. We were nomads then, moving with the great herds of game and the changing of seasons. When the animals migrated we followed, leaving no houses or roads to mark our presence here. All we left behind was our story painted in the rock, in the shelters, the story of sacred animals and our journeys to the spirit world. These mountains once gave us shelter and the herds of antelope gave sustenance, and meaning to our lives. Especially the eland, for it is the animal of the greatest spiritual power. For us, it is the animal of well being and healing, of beauty and peace and plenty. The eland could take us on journeys to the world beyond and connect us to God."

The eland is the largest antelope in southern Africa and therefore it had some kind of significance just for its size. But for the Bushmen it was more than that. The eland is also an antelope that's got lots of fat and fat to the Bushmen is a very important substance in the sense they believe it has supernatural potency ,While there are many spectacular rock art sites in South Africa, few are as exceptional as Game Pass Shelter in Kamberg Nature Reserve. Fewer still can justifiably lay claim to have changed the world's perception of the San people. The Game Pass Shelter is commonly referred to as the "Rosetta Stone" of southern African rock art, for it was here that archaeologists first uncovered a vital key to understanding the symbolism of San rock art.


This site is special for so many reasons. It was one of the first sites ever to be seen by Europeans. It appeared in the Scientific American in 1915. It was the first SA rock art to be known in other parts of the world. It's the site that, perhaps of all the sites in SA, that was the key in our revealing of the meaning of San rock art. It was the one that in a sense cracked the code.Book onto the guided trail for as little as R40.OO for a spectacular pilgrimage to Game Pass Shelter within the Ukhahlamba- Drakensberg Park, KwaZulu-Natal South Africa.


This trail is nothing short of a world-class experience in Khoisan rock art and living Zulu and San culture, deep within the scenic beauty of the Kamberg Nature Reserve section of the Ukhahlamba- Drakensberg Park.


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