South African Art in the Spotlight at SAP

The 50th art exhibition at SAP headquarters in Walldorf celebrates the work of three generations of South African artists.

Diversity, part of the company’s corporate culture, is the subject chosen to mark the SAP’s 50th art exhibition in Walldorf. South African Identities, the theme of the latest exhibition, shows how three generations of South African artists have captured diversity and the depth of human emotion in their work.

In one work, the image of two young girls laughing emerges amid the darkness of political repression, apartheid, and civil war. Others depict a mother nursing her child and a self-assured young man posing on his tractor. These moments, captured in a different age, bring the works of art to life. They draw on South Africa’s rich photographic tradition in which key historical events, such as a speech by Nelson Mandela, are documented by Cedric Nunn in black and white.

SAP employee Nils Herzberg, who is of South African decent himself, mentions in his welcoming speech that not everything is simply black or white. The people of South Africa proudly describe their country as the Rainbow Nation.

Hardly any work of art expresses this narrative better than the self-portrait photography by the artist Bernie Searle. As a black-white-Indian-Malaysian woman, Searle explores ethnic and cultural identity by covering the surface of her skin in spices. Identity is not just black or white, it can be anything.

Passion for Composition

With every step you take up to the upper floor at SAP’s International Training Center, an imposing, two-meter-high work of art comes into view. The image of a mother and child, seemingly in oil paint, hangs majestically. Look closer, though, and you spot the Schweppes logo dotted across it. The work is made of melted plastic waste. Here, art gives new life to waste. Upcycling is a central theme because materials for traditional painting as we know them from Europe are simply too expensive, says Alexandra Cozgarea, the exhibition’s curator.

Artists use whatever materials are at hand, and whatever their imagination and creativity choose. That may be anything from fantasy figures carved from pieces of wood to a work created out of leftover cable and snippets of paper. Anything is possible. “Art is not a privilege, it’s a human right,” says Dr. Ralf-P. Seippel, quoting artist David Koloane.

Constant Movement is Essential

The constant clicking sound made by a motor draws the visitor’s attention to the kinetic artwork, by Colleen Alborough, on the open gallery above the foyer. A bird, made of metal components and cable, is observing a pair of scales balancing a feather in random movements and something that looks like a minecart heading into the underworld. The motor’s unpredictable cycles represent the atmosphere in Johannesburg as Alborough perceives it: “The city often feels shaky because of the network of mines that stretches out beneath it,” she says.

Staying on the move and trusting one’s intuition, are, Alborough says, vital survival strategies in a city struggling with crime. She tells how experiences such as a mugging, a highjack, and violence have left indelible traces in her thoughts that are all too easily pushed aside by daily life. Alborough uses art to process these thoughts and to heal. The bird, a sacred ibis, who’s kind flies across Johannesburg every day, is a particularly significant motif. Not just because it is black and white but also because in Egyptian mythology it guards the entrance to the underworld and weighs good and evil deeds done in life. “You cannot be stupid in Johannesburg,” Alborough says in her calm and friendly way.

Although the exhibition can only cover a fraction of the infinite facets of identity, the visitor leaves with a sense of humility, awe, and strength.

Curator Alexandra Cozgarea carefully chose various artwork from the following artists: Sam Nhlegethwa, William Kentridge, Mbongeni Buthelezi, Cedric Nunn, Claudette Schreuders, Jürgen Schadeberg, Pat Mautloa, Bernie Searle, Andrew Tshabangu, Kay Hassan, Kevin Brand, Thomas Kubayi, David Koloane, Jane Alexander.

The exhibition can be seen through September 14, 2018, at SAP headquarters in Walldorf. Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.