Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Southern Africa, 1900 A.D.–present

Continued European colonization of southern Africa, 1884–1974
Anglo-Boer War, 1899–1902
Western missionaries, patrons, and educators expose African artists to Western artistic practices, ca. 1900–ca. 1960
Many white South African modernist artists adopt African aesthetic elements and collaborate with like-minded black South African artists, ca. 1930–60s
Era of apartheid in South Africa, 1948–90
Formation of art centers and workshops to promote and protect grassroots artistic practices, 1960–present
South African artists become active participants in anti-apartheid movement, ca. 1970–91
Thupelo and Triangle international art workshops organized in southern Africa and beyond, 1984–94
Full integration of South African artists into international artistic community after elimination of United Nations cultural boycott of South Africa, 1990–present


Encompasses present-day Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, southern Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe

Supplemental Maps

The tensions created by official policies of racial segregation shape the course of artistic practice in much of southern Africa. The firm and rigorous establishment of British colonial rule throughout the region (with the exception of Portuguese East Africa, or Mozambique ) and nineteenth-century attitudes espousing racial inequality after World War I solidify into South African apartheid. While the region witnesses the development of cosmopolitan art academies, universities, and museums, benefiting especially from the influx of European intellectuals fleeing World War II, black Africans are largely excluded from these elite institutions. Nonetheless, the art world provides an important site for the interaction of black and white southern Africans, as white artists and scholars gain inspiration from African visual aesthetics and begin to collaborate with their black counterparts. The nature of these relationships ranges from the aesthetic experiments of museum director Frank McEwen in Southern Rhodesia to the more egalitarian artistic alliances forged within the New Group or at the Polly Street Centre workshops in South Africa. Beginning in the 1970s, many black and white South African artists assume a distinctly activist stance, using their art to protest the disenfranchisement of black southern Africans through apartheid. Their sentiments and activities are supported by the African National Congress, the primary political advocate against apartheid that is involved in efforts both inside and outside Africa to mobilize international opposition to South Africa's separatist policies. After apartheid's collapse in 1991 and the removal of the United Nations cultural boycott on South Africa, the global audience for southern African artists broadens significantly.

  • • 1899–1902 The United Kingdom clashes with the Boer settlers in a final effort to subdue the independent Boer republics and unite them with its own South African colonies. They are aided by the Tswana and other native populations. Boer women and children are contained in prison camps with poor sanitation and health care; between 1900 and 1901, approximately 28,000 out of 117,000 inmates die of disease.

  • • 1903 In German southern Africa, (present-day Namibia), thousands of indigenous Herero peoples are massacred by German colonial troops in response to a Herero rebellion against German colonial rule.

  • • 1911 Lucy Lloyd publishes Specimens of Bushman Folklore, a compilation of interviews with San individuals and sketches of rock paintings accumulated by herself and linguist Wilhelm Bleek in the 1870s. It provides the cornerstone for later study of the San people and the rock art that has been attributed to them.

  • • 1912 The African National Congress (ANC), a political organization dedicated to protecting the rights of black South Africans, is founded in South Africa.

  • • 1925 Author Thomas Mofolo publishes Chaka the Zulu in Sotho, an indigenous southern African language. The history of Chaka becomes an important touchpoint for black South African pride.

  • • 1930 Mhudi, an historical novel about the Baralong Uprising of 1830 by Tshekisho Plaatje, is published in South Africa.

  • • 1938 Walter Battiss (1906–1982), Alexis Preller (1911–1975), and other young South African artists coalesce as the New Group in response to the British-inspired academicism of current South African art. Having seen indigenous African artworks such as San rock paintings, the artists seek an alternative modern art rooted in the integration of African and European aesthetics, and organize exhibitions showing work of black South African artists such as painter Gerard Sekoto (1913–1993). The New Group, and South African artists in general, benefit from the immigration of European intellectuals fleeing the totalitarian regimes emerging in Europe at this time.

  • • 1940 Black Africans from French and English colonies are conscripted into the war against Nazi Germany.

  • • 1946 French citizenship is extended to all inhabitants of French colonies.

  • • 1947 Malagasy nationalists lead a revolt against the French colonial administration in Madagascar.

  • • 1948 Apartheid in South Africa commences as the Afrikaner National Party comes to power under the leadership of Daniel F. Malan and the all-white parliament.

  • • 1948 The Polly Street Centre is established in Johannesburg as a community center for black township youths. Cecil Skotnes (born 1926) becomes the director of the arts workshop in 1952, and encourages students to study West and Central African sculpture. Artists such as Durant Sihlali, Ephraim Ngatane, Sydney Kumalo, Ben Macala, Louis Maqhubela, Lucas Sithole, and Helen Sebidi receive their initial training there.

  • • 1948 Cry, the Beloved Country, a novel about life under apartheid in South Africa, is published by Alan Paton. In 1995, the novel is adapted into a film, directed by South African Darrell James Roodt and staring James Earl Jones.

  • • 1948 South African artist Ernest Mancoba (1904–2002) participates in the HØST COBRA exhibition in Copenhagen.

  • • 1950s–60s Amancio Guedes, a Portuguese architect residing in Maputo, Mozambique, organizes informal workshops for young artists. Among the participants is Malangatana Ngwenya (born 1936), whose paintings are later shown by the Mbari Artists and Writers Club in Ibadan, Nigeria.

  • • 1951 Drum, a magazine devoted to African news and events, is founded in South Africa. Its abundant photography provides a visual chronicle of the decades before and during the independence of the continent's former colonies.

  • • 1954 Frank McEwen (1907—1994), a British artist active in the Parisian avant-garde movements of the 1930s, helps establish the National Gallery of Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) and becomes its first director in 1956. Like other figures of the international art world in the late 1940s and '50s (such as Jackson Pollock), McEwen is interested in Jungian concepts of the collective unconscious. He attempts to cultivate what he terms the "innate African aesthetic" lurking within the indigenous subconscious by providing aspiring African artists with art materials. McEwen is particularly inspired by the stone sculptures found among the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and encourages his students, who are the Shona descendants of Great Zimbabwe's builders, to experiment with stone carving as a means of channeling creative forces held over from earlier times. Thomas Mukarobgwa, Paul Gwichiri, Samuel Songo, Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Joram Mariga, and John Takawira, who represent the core artists associated with the project, work in a semi-abstracted organic style reflecting concepts drawn from Shona mythology. In 1965, the newly formed white minority government of Ian Smith blacklists McEwen for fraternizing with black Africans and in 1969 the studio project is forced out of the National Gallery.

  • • 1958 South Africa gains independence from England.

  • • 1960 Madagascar gains independence from France.

  • • 1960 The African Art Centre is founded in Durban, South Africa, to promote the work of rural and urban artists in KwaZulu-Natal. Grassroots art forms such as contemporary beadwork, pottery, and basketry woven from colored telephone wire and grasses are patronized by providing income and outlets for creative innovation among local artisans. Many of these art forms are expressive of social movements mobilized against racial inequality, women's rights, and, since the 1980s, the spread of HIV/AIDS.

  • • 1961 South Africa becomes a republic but withdraws from the Commonwealth of Nations because of its official apartheid stance.

  • • 1961 South African playwright Athol Fugard publishes The Blood Knot. His dramatic works, which include Boesman and Lena (1969) and "Master Harold"–and the Boys (1982), scrutinize the relations between black and white South Africans.

  • • 1962 The First International Congress of African Culture, organized by Frank McEwen to discuss the aesthetics of contemporary African art, is held in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe). Participating artists include Malangatana Ngwenya, Vincent Kofi, and Ben Enwonwu. Alfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Nigerian historian S. O. Biobaku, the British Surrealist painter Roland Penrose, and Tristan Tzara, founder of the Zurich Dada movement, attend.

  • • 1963 At the Rivonia trial, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, and other South African liberation leaders are found guilty of conspiracy and sabotage and are sentenced to life in prison.

  • • 1963 Sirens, Knuckles, Boots, a collection of poetry in protest against apartheid by South African poet Dennis Brutus, is published in Nigeria while the author is in prison in South Africa.

  • • 1963 FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) commences its armed struggle against the Portuguese in Mozambique.

  • • 1963 Egon Guenther, Cecil Skotnes, Cecily Sash, Giuseppe Cattaneo, Sydney Kumalo, and Edoardo Villa, artists interested in employing European modernist styles to depict African subjects, form the Amadlozi Group (amadlozi is a Zulu term meaning "spirit of the ancestors").

  • • 1964 Malawi and Zambia gain independence from Britain.

  • • 1966 Lesotho and Botswana gain independence from Britain.

  • • 1966–70s Tom Blomefield, a trained artist and tobacco farmer in Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe), organizes a stone carving workshop among his migrant farmworkers with the help of Malawian artist Lemon Moses. Works created by Henry Munyaradzi, Bernard Matemera, Josia Manzi, and Amali Mailolo, among others, are exhibited at the National Gallery under the sponsorship of Frank McEwen.

  • • 1970s–80s As opposition to apartheid grows, many South African artists utilize their creative abilities to speak out against racial oppression. Artist collectives such as Afrapix, formed in 1985 by a group of multiracial photographers, seek to expose and redress the conditions of life under apartheid. They receive support from the African National Congress, which, in 1987, joins the Dutch anti-apartheid movement in sponsoring the creation of Culture in Another South Africa (CASA) in Amsterdam. An accompanying conference organized to discuss the future of a multiracial South Africa attracts over 300 South African artists.

  • • 1975 Mozambique gains independence from Portugal.

  • • 1976 Gibson Kente's (born 1932) How Long Must We Suffer…? is the first black-made film in South Africa. It is filmed during the Soweto uprising in the Eastern Cape.

  • • 1980 Rhodesia gains independence from Britain and, under the government of Robert Mugabe, is renamed Zimbabwe. Reggae superstar Bob Marley performs at independence celebrations.

  • • 1980 The Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) Academy is founded in Johannesburg.

  • • 1980 Director Jamie Uys (born 1921) releases the satire The Gods Must Be Crazy, starring N!xau.

  • • 1980–90 The United Nations institutes a cultural boycott against South Africa.

  • • 1983 The Life and Times of Michael K, by South African writer J. M. Coetzee, is awarded the Booker Prize.

  • • 1984 South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

  • • 1984–90s Inspired by the New York Triangle Workshop, which cultivates short-term, intensive creative collaborative works by international artists, South African artists Bill Ainslie (1934–1989) and David Koloane (born 1938) organize the Thupelo Workshop in Johannesburg. The success of Thupelo spawns a series of Triangle International Workshops held throughout Africa, including Botswana (1989), Mozambique (1991), Zambia (1993), Namibia (1994), and Senegal (1994).

  • • 1985 Tributaries: A View of Contemporary South African Art opens in Johannesburg. The exhibition brings together the work of both urban and rural African artists to explore the role played by "transitional" art in the mediation between traditional African and international aesthetics.

  • • 1985 Video News Service (VNS) is formed with the assistance of the liberation movement and overseas financial support. Fifteen- to twenty-minute videos are created as a type of news network distributed covertly across the country. These short documentaries cover vigilante killings, the corrupt electoral process, human rights activism, and political resistance.

  • • 1986 Gavin Jantjes (born 1948), from South Africa, is among the featured artists in From Two Worlds, an exhibition of contemporary African art held at Whitechapel Art Gallery in London.

  • • 1986 Great Zimbabwe is designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

  • • 1986 Great Zimbabze and Khami ruins are designated UNESCO world heritage sites.

  • • 1987 The Weekly Mail Film Festival supports the emergence of a new genre of short films as part of a critical South African film art. Over 200 fiction and nonfiction short films and videos are created and shown as part of this venue between 1980 and 1995.

  • • 1987 Saturday Night at the Palace, based on the award-winning play about racial tension in contemporary South Africa, is adapted into a film later featured at the 1988 Seattle Film Festival.

  • • 1987 The film Fiela se Kind (Fiela's Child), adapted from the book by author Dalene Matthee, launches the career of South African actor Jan Ellis.

  • • 1987 Mapantsula (Hustler) is the first anti-apartheid feature film by and about black South Africans. Directed by Oliver Schmitz (born 1960) and shot in Soweto, the film contains a multilingual emphasis, featuring Afrikaans, English, Sotho, and Zulu.

  • • 1988 Stone sculptures from Zimbabwe are exhibited at the Barbican Art Gallery, London.

  • • 1988 Namibia gains independence from South Africa.

  • • 1988 Freedom Square—Back of the Moon, a documentary on the first black urban area in South Africa to be bulldozed for whites under the Group Areas Act, is co-directed by artist William Kentridge.

  • • 1988/89 The Johannesburg Art Gallery hosts The Neglected Tradition: Towards a New History of South African Art (1930–1988), curated by Steven Sack. As its title implies, the exhibition attempts to illuminate the largely unrecognized creative achievements of artists stifled by apartheid policies. The display consists of the work of one hundred black artists, including that of Gladys Mgudlandlu (1917–1979), considered the first black woman painter from the region.

  • • 1989 Newly elected South African president F. W. De Klerk announces his program to reform the apartheid system.

  • • 1989 Magiciens de la terre, the first major museum exhibition to prominently display modern and contemporary art from Africa, opens at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

  • • 1990s Madagascar's stunning akotofahana cloths enjoy a renaissance. Inspired by early historical textiles from the British Museum and the Queen's Palace of Antananarivo (destroyed by fire in 1995), British art historian Simon Peers and a group of Merina weavers revive this stunning tradition.

  • • 1990 Nelson Mandela (born 1918) is released from prison after twenty-seven years in jail.

  • • 1991 The African National Congress announces the victory of its thirty-year struggle against apartheid.

  • • 1991 The Brenthurst Collection of Southern African Art is installed at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The event represents an important acknowledgment of the artistic value and significance of the region's traditional arts.

  • • 1991 The exhibition Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art opens at the Center for African Art, New York.

  • • 1991 South African author Nadine Gordimer is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

  • • 1992 Mbongeni Ngema's popular musical Sarafina about the Soweto protests of 1976 is produced as a film directed by Darrell James Roodt and staring Whoopi Goldberg.

  • • 1993 Nelson Mandela and F. W. De Klerk are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

  • • 1994 Nelson Mandela is elected president in the first multiracial elections held in South Africa.

  • • 1995 The first Johannesburg Biennale is held.

  • • 1995 Africa '95, a festival of African art in England, includes the work of several contemporary artists in exhibitions such as Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa at Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, and Self Evident at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.

  • • 1996 The Guggenheim Museum, New York, hosts a landmark exhibition of photography from throughout the African continent entitled In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present.

  • • 1996 The artistic achievements of black South African watercolorist George Mnyalaza Milwa Pemba (born 1912) are recognized in a retrospective organized by the South African National Gallery, Cape Town. Largely self-taught, the artist is a keen observer who utilizes oil paints and watercolors to depict and document aspects of black South African existence. While many of his works can be characterized as social realism, Pemba also embraces the conventions of genre and the allusive qualities of allegory to communicate his perspective on black life in South Africa.

  • • 1996 Cape Town Castle, the former intelligence headquarters of the South African Defence Force, hosts the exhibition Faultlines: Enquiries into Truth and Reconciliation, which shows works created by artists with materials from the Mayibuye Archive, a collection of photographs, videos, and other documents gathered by friends and members of the African National Congress while in exile.

  • • 1997 The Second Johannesburg Biennale is held in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

  • • 1997 The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater of Harlem begins a residency in Johannesburg to mark the historic end of the cultural boycott against South Africa.

  • • 1999 The Carnegie International in Pittsburgh includes the work of South African artists Kendell Geers (born 1968) and William Kentridge (born 1955), and Bodys Isek Kingelez (born 1948) from Democratic Republic of Congo. Kentridge wins the Carnegie International Prize.

  • • 2000 Disgrace, by South African author J. M. Coetzee, wins the Booker Prize. He is the only novelist to have won the prestigious award twice.

  • • 2001–3 A retrospective exhibition of the work of South African artist William Kentridge is held at the South African National Gallery, Cape Town, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. The exhibition includes animated films, drawings, and two sculptural installations.

  • • 2001 Victory is declared after South Africa wins a major legal battle against multinational pharmaceutical companies who tried to prevent the importation of generic AIDS drugs.

  • • 2001 Nigerian curator Okui Enwezor curates The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994, for the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich. The exhibition travels to Berlin, New York, and Chicago.

  • • 2001 Sudanese Salah Hassan and Nigerian Olu Oguibe are the first African curators to participate in the Venice Biennale. Their exhibition is entitled Authentic / Ex-centric: Africa in and out of Africa.

  • • 2001 Tsodila in Botswana becomes a world heritage site. It has one of the highest concentrations of rock art in the world.

  • • 2001 The Royal Hill of Ambohimanga in Madagascar, a royal city and burial site, is declared a world heritage site by UNESCO.

  • • 2001 The Gold Museum opens in Cape Town. It presents a comprehensive display of the artistry of sub-Saharan gold.

  • • 2002 A land-acquisition law takes effect in Zimbabwe. Under the law, 2,900 white farmers must leave their land.

  • • 2002 A constitutional court orders the South African government to provide anti-AIDS drugs at all public hospitals. The government establishes a network of drug-distribution centers and preventive programs.

  • • 2003 South African author J. M. Coetzee wins the Nobel Prize for literature.

  • • 2003 Rock painting and early occupation sites of Matobo Hills in Zimbabwe are designated UNESCO world heritage sites.

  • • 2004 According to the UN, Swaziland has the world's highest rate of HIV infection.

  • • 2004 Thabo Mbeki is democratically elected to succeed to Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa.

  • • 2004 South Africa's Constitutional Court moves into its new home on Constitution Hill, built on the site of Johannesburg's Old Ford Prison Complex. The new building houses a collection of more than 200 contemporary artworks chosen by Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs. The collection includes works by South African artists Gerard Sekoto, Marlene Dumas, William Kentridge, and Cecil Skotnes.

  • • 2004–5 The exhibition Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, under the curatorial direction of Simon Njami, travels to Düsseldorf, Paris, London, Tokyo, Stockholm, and Johannesburg.

  • • 2005 The Zimbabwean government razes thousands of shanty dwellings and street vendor stalls, leaving some 700,000 people homeless.

  • • 2005 South African artist William Kentridge's production of Mozart's Magic Flute tours the world to international praise. It is produced in Belgium, France, Italy, Israel, the U.S., and South Africa (both in Cape Town and Johannesburg).

  • • 2007 A group of African artists is presented in the exhibition Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense at the 52nd Venice Biennale. Works by about 100 artists and groups are shown at the Arsenale and the Italian Pavilion in the Giardini; Among the African artists represented in that section of the Biennale are paintings by Congolese Chéri Samba, photographs by Malian Malick Sidibé, comics by Ivoirian Faustin Titi and Cameroonian-born Eyoum Ngangué, and installations by Ghanaian-born El Anatsui. In addition to his monumental works shown in the Arsenale, Anatsui also transforms one of Venice's most celebrated Gothic landmarks with a site-specific installation that redefined the facade of the Palazzo Fortuny.

  • • 2007 Twyfelfontein or /Ui-//aes, Kunene region, Namibia, is declared a world heritage site. It features one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs (rock engravings) in Africa.

  • • 2008 In Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangiri defeats incumbent Mugabe in the presidential race, but Mugabe refuses to accept the voting results. A power-sharing agreement is signed: Mugabe remains president and Tsvangiri becomes prime minister.

  • • 2008 Simon Njami organizes the first African Art Fair in Johannesburg.

  • • 2009 Following democratic elections, Jacob Zuma becomes president of South Africa.

  • • 2010 South Africa is the first African country to host the FIFA World Cup, the premier international football tournament.