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Artists Who Use Art for Political Commentary

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Art and politics have a longstanding complex relationship. Art can compliment politics by helping push certain contemporary political ideologies. Art also has the power to show an imbalance in politics. Both influence people’s opinions about their political situation. These artists use art for political commentary showing that the  the artist is political, and the political is artistic.

Malnutrition has long been recognized as one of the largest issues in South Africa’s underdeveloped regions, and organizations like The Gift of the Givers and the Department of Health South Africa have worked together to address the issue by launching a food package campaign for those in need. When COVID-19 struck, many people who had part time jobs were unable to continue working and could not provide for their families. As a result, the number of people in need of food parcels increased. The government also stepped in at this time and sent food baskets to particularly disadvantaged homes.

Here are artists who speak out on injustice through their practice:

Themba Khumalo, South Africa

Image courtesy of ArtConnect

Themba Khumalo works with printmaking, charcoal drawing, and painting. His painting Waiting for Food Parcels formed part of what he called the Lockdown Collection whose aim was to capture the country’s historic Covid-19 lockdown. Born in Soweto in 1987, Khumalo has always been intrigued by using the idea of land to reflect on the social, political and spiritual landscape in South Africa today. When not using charcoal he uses coffee in order to highlight the different tones of earth and soil. When looking at Khumalo’s Waiting for Food Parcels one cannot help but think of Denis Farrel’s photograph which captured queues of voters in Soweto in 1994. The time difference between the two pieces of art is almost three decades but the similarities are evident. Residents were standing in a queue than in order to cast their first democratic vote and they are standing in a queue in Khumalo’s painting as a result of the political choice they made then.

Image courtesy of M & C Saatchi 2020 79.9 x 47.2 cm Charcoal on Paper

Kudzanai Chiurai, Zimbabwe

Kudzanai Chiurai. Photo:
Image courtesy of Ina Contemporary Art

Kudzanai Chiurai is a painter, photographer, printer, filmmaker, and activist whose work targets social and political issues in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa as a whole, such as xenophobia, violence, and displacement. He was born one year after Zimbabwe’s emergence from white-ruled Rhodesia. He studied for a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Pretoria and became the first black person to obtain this qualification at this institution. Since then, he has gained prominence in the African contemporary art scene.

Image courtesy of Interview Magazine 2017 136.6 x 102.4 cm Oil paint on paper

His most notable work was the 2008/9 image that he produced depicting Zimbabwe’s infamous president at the time, the late Robert Mugabe, with horns and swallowed by flames, which led to him being exiled from his native country. Since then he has found refuge in Johannesburg, South Africa where he still works.

Chiurai’s work is brutally honest, it tears apart the status quo and confronts the state of African governments while Khumalo’s is more of a softer and general landing that does not name anyone but still addresses the matter. Khumalo has exhibited at Galerie Atiss in Dakar, Senegal as well as the Montoro Contemporary Art in Rome, Italy while Chiurai has participated in exhibitions at SCAD Museum of Art in Georgia, the United States as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. 


Lelethu Sobekwa was born in Gqeberha, South Africa. She holds a BA Honours in English and an MA in Creative Writing with distinction from Rhodes University. Lelethu currently writes for Art News Africa.

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