Daily Maverick (Johannesburg)

19 June 2014

South Africa: Robben Island Fence Art - Apartheid Porn, Political Kitsch or Salvaging History?

analysis

Call it Apartheid porn, call it political kitsch, call it crass commercialism, but we can't deny that were it not for one man's keen eye, the fence that once surrounded D Block Maximum Security Prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were incarcerated for much of their lives, would have ended up in a landfill where it would have rusted into oblivion. Instead, what some deemed a worthless piece of scrap is being turned into works of art and jewellery. But not everyone's happy.

It's the kind of story that triggers that atavistic "Damn, I wish that had happened to me" reflex that lurks deep within us. You know, like the incredible account of the Irish fisherman, Tony Varney, who came across a canvass of three seated women propped up near the gates of a rubbish dump in 1987 and which later turned out to be an authentic work by Winslow Homer, one of the foremost American painters of the 19th Century and worth a fortune.

And so it came to pass in 2009 that Cape Town artist Chris Swift, a graduate of the Michaelis Art School and a maker of art from...

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