ed. by Polly Savage, with essays by Robert Loder and John Picton. Lund Humphries, December 2014. 304 p. ill. ISBN 9781848221512 (cl.), $80.00.
Reviewed March 2015
Janet Stanley, Librarian, Warren M. Robbins Library, National Museum of African Art, firstname.lastname@example.org
Making Art in Africa: 1960-2010 comes with the aura and prestige of Sir Anthony Caro and Robert Loder, CBE, founders of the Triangle workshops in 1982. Caro and Loder transplanted to Africa the Triangle concept—bringing together a small group of diverse artists for a few weeks of intense creative exchange. Loder was well positioned to be the catalyst for the Triangle workshops migration to Africa, having lived in South Africa and Zambia from 1956 to 1964 as well as serving as chairman of Triangle Arts Trust in the UK. Over two decades of traveling around Africa, he acquired numerous contemporary art works, which are featured in this book. To some extent Loder's contemporary African art collection represents a slice of time—the mid-1980s to the turn of the century. And like any collection, it reflects the tastes and idiosyncrasies of the collector.
Triangle first landed in South Africa in the mid-1980s when apartheid was in death throes. Then, it spread around the continent (excluding Francophone Africa). The map of Triangle in Africa spans eleven countries, mainly in southern and eastern Africa—Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and also includes the West African nations of Ghana and Nigeria.
To connect these dots of the Triangle Network, British art historian Polly Savage returned to Africa in 2010 to track down and interview many of the Triangle artists (or their descendants). Some of the interviewees are non-Triangle artists and curators. Elsbeth Court and Atta Kwami were engaged to conduct interviews in Nigeria and Ghana respectively. The result amounts to sixty-eight interviews in all, including a few well-known artists, such as William Kentridge and David Koloane.
At the heart of this book—and what makes it unique—are the artists' first person stories about their own experiences in art making. They were invited to comment on particular works in the Loder collection, illustrated here. What's refreshing is to hear the diverse African voices (rather than the mediated script of the art historian). However, the interview texts are not in the Q&A format; they read very smoothly. Different voices, different stories. The Triangle artists are from varied backgrounds—the academically trained transnationals, the locally schooled, the informally trained, and the self-taught "divinely-inspired."
A useful appendix "Triangle Workshop participants, 1985-2008" is arranged by country and by workshop—each of which had a distinctive name, e.g., Thupelo, Pachipamwa, Aftershave, Wasanii, and so on.
The production value of this hardback book is high as we would expect from Lund Humphries. For librarians building African art collections, this should be on your 'must buy' list for 2015.