Understanding legendary artists George Pemba and Robert Hodgins’ social stances

By Edward Tsumele/CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

It is probably too easy at times, at face value to dismiss the idea that there could be synergies in the art practices of two artists, one black and the other white. This is so especially if the artists lived in the same era during the time when the political system was premised on the idea of apartheid, a system that divided society and discouraged any sort of interaction between black and white populations living in South Africa. Art being art, it sometimes does not follow conventions as many boundaries were crossed as artists pursued their truth in apartheid South Africa nevertheless.

 In fact in hindsight there were many such synergies, one just needs to investigate a little deeper to find such. Fine art auction house Strauss and Co. in fact has been searching for traces of the existence of such synergies for the past three years through a well carefully thought through and executed series of exhibitions.

What has come out of that search so far are interesting facts that demonstrate that although South African black and white artists worked independently of each other during that time of segregated public life, in fact there were some points of confluences between the art practices of white and black artists, either stylistically or in relationship to the subject matter they pursued to interpret life as they saw it.

Strauss & Co has been juxtaposing the art practices  of a select artists by pairing their work and life in a series of interesting exhibitions that are fast gaining traction from the public and art collectors alike ever since they commenced in 2019, with Louis Maqhubela and Douglas Portway paired together, and the second, in 2020, when Gladys Mgudlandlu and Maggie Laubser’s work and life were juxtaposed next to each other in an exhibition that provoked a viewer to look at these artists and their work differently. This series of exhibitions have become an interesting intellectual terrain to navigate as the spotlight is shown not only on those individual artists’ body of work and their art practice, but also on the  fact that in as much as they were different stylistically and even in the subject matter that they dealt with, there were also striking similarities in some cases .

The case in point here is a current exhibition at Strauss and Co.’s gallery at their Johannesburg offices. The exhibition titledSocial Stances – George Pemba & Robert Hodgins, highlights the work and life of Pemba and Hodgins.

Wilhelm Van Rensburg

The Social Stances – George Pemba & Robert Hodgins exhibition, just like the previous two exhibitions, is curated by Strauss &Co. Senior Art Specialist and Head Curator Wilhelm Van Rensburg.

Social Stances – George Pemba & Robert Hodgins, is interesting in several respects, especially when two works of each artist are viewed next to each other closely, then similarities start to emerge, some of them quite striking, for example  Pemba’s Waiting Room and Hodgins’ Consulting Room. Both works deal with issues of chaos as a group of people in each instance seem to be waiting for some sort of service from a public facility. But what motivated their creation are two different sets of circumstances. For example, Hodgins’ Consulting Room, an unusually large scale work by the artist, was in response to a critic, Kendal Geers’ view that the artist was incapable of making large scale works, whereas Pemba’s Waiting Room was most probably informed by the conditions of black people, who had to wait for a long time for almost everything when going to government offices, such as Home Affairs for example, for services.

These are just two examples, but there are several instances where both artists’ art practice collides.

Social Stances – George Pemba & Robert Hodgins is currently on at Strauss & Co. Gallery, 89 Central Street, Houghton, Johannesburg, 1-30 July, 2021.Visit is strictly by appointment.

Edward Tsumele and Koulla Xinisteris

.Join Strauss & Co Senior Art Specialist and Head Curator Wilhelm van Rensburg for a Virtual Walkabout of Social Stances – George Pemba & Robert Hodgins with Koulla Xinisteris  (from the SABC Collection) and Edward Tsumele (from CITYLIFE/ARTS)  as they discuss the innovative pairing of works by South African artists George Pemba and Robert Hodgins. The walkabout is from 4pm-5pm, Thursday, July 8, 2021.

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