In The Art of Life in South Africa, Daniel Magaziner examines the history of art education under apartheid in South Africa. The book focuses on Ndaleni, an art school for black South Africans, and considers the travails and triumphs of its artists and their teachers under white supremacy. At Ndaleni, students and teachers were bound together in learning “the art of life”; due to lack of funds, they improvised materials for artistic production. While the school existed, between the 1950s and 1980s, about 1,000 students graduated; about 2,000 could not be admitted due to constraints of space. This shows how Ndaleni appealed to many black South Africans as one of the few places they could develop their art. According to the Bantu Education Act of 1953 (p. 3), the purpose of the school was to preserve white supremacy, the segregation between African and European education—what Oguibe (2004) refers to as “Play me the other.” The book is organized into seven chapters, with a prologue, an epilogue, and endnotes. The prologue considers the essence of education and examines the tension between academic classes and hands-on practical experience, drawing on a wide range of theorists/educationists on the issue of creative thinking and handcrafts as a means of sustenance. In chapter 1, “A Hillside in South Africa,” Magaziner laments the dearth of adequate art materials at Ndaleni: The lack was so severe that it was tagged a “major enemy” (p. 3). Teachers and students resorted to scavenging to improvise materials, a practice epitomized by Radebe's (1965) drawing of “a man in black and brown shoe polish” (p. 2). Despite inadequate materials and other challenges, the mementos left behind by the students exemplify their wonderful experience at Ndaleni. The students were highly creative, intelligent, and confident that whatever is imaginable is achievable irrespective of the Bantu Education Act. Twentieth century South Africa is also examined through the lens of the “colonial mentality” within which art teachers and students at Ndaleni endeavored to develop strategies to sustain their creativities (p. 11). Magaziner discusses art at Ndaleni as a manifestation of aesthetic consciousness that intersects the mind and the world, a beauty portrayed with “conviction that the world is worth beautifying” (p. 16), the prevailing circumstances of lack, repression, violence, frustration, and social segregation notwithstanding. At Ndaleni, art is the life of self-examination through which one transcends Bantu Education and the repressions of apartheid.
Chapter 2, “Craftwork,” explores what constitutes a genius among the Bantu of South Africa, looking at the works of Hezekiel Ntuli, George Pemba, Ernest Mancoba, and Moses Tladi, among others. Despite racism in South Africa and how it is often used to discuss art practices, the works of these artists are considered to be too outstanding to be subjected to “racial categorization” (p. 28). Magaziner stresses the need for African artists to explore their cultural background to achieve remarkable success (p. 33); even more so given that cultural heritage has been a vibrant source of inspiration for the African artists (Ijisakin 2016). With respect to preserving “the genius of natives” (p. 49), Magaziner considers the implications of exposing indigenous African artists to European techniques and the relevance of arts and crafts in the school curriculum. In chapter 3, “Art,” Magaziner discusses scholars such as John Grossert, Arthur Lismer, John Dewey, and Leopold Senghor. Grossert was apprehensive of the “loss of black South Africa's cultural tradition” (p. 54) that could result from exposure to formal education. Grossert fought for African art that is truly African; he propagated the Bantu education art program, especially at Ndaleni. Like Senghor, Grossert believed in eloquent expression and aesthetic achievements of African art; both “rejected the notion that African artistry was lost” (p. 67) through contact with Europe.
The fourth chapter, “Journeys,” traces how Ndaleni started as a Methodist mission settlement in 1847. Magaziner examines the contributions of Charles Loram, Walter Battis, Lismer, Dewey, Grossert, and Ann Harrison in kick-starting the art school and how people across South Africa journeyed “to the Art atmosphere of Indaleni” (p. 87). He also examines the struggles and aspirations of Blacks under apartheid. In addition, the chapter evaluates the contributions of Ndaleni art teachers such as Harrison, Alfred Ewan, Peter Bell, Peter Atkins, Georgina Hunt, and especially Lorna Peirson, who made significant positive contributions to her students' lives.
Different teachers' approaches to learning and other achievements are considered in chapter 5, “Apartheid.” Despite the fact that Ndaleni was meant to train art teachers rather than artists, the school excelled at art exhibitions. Magaziner evaluates art as a means of self-expression and self realization, the “ultimate expression within the experience of life” (p. 144). The curriculum, students' activities, and how to apply Ndaleni experience to the world in which they found themselves were also discussed. In 1964, a set of Ndaleni students made an excursion to Giant's Castle in Drakensberg Mountains that enthused them about the Bushman's cave paintings. Other excursions exposed the students to Oriental art and Egyptian mummies; they went to Durban Art Gallery, Rorkes Drift Art Centre, Durban beaches, among others. The memories of their new experiences overshadowed apartheid's restrictions on their movement. The students learned the arts of observation, art appreciation, and critical thinking: “At Ndaleni, creativity was the currency of highest value … investing in it would pay remarkable dividends …” (p. 181). Like cartoonists' visual satire, Ndaleni students subtly used their artworks to comment on South Africa's sociopolitical reality. A typical example is Michael Likhi's 1967 burned wood carving titled Railway Workers (p. 181). The chapter also recounts Lorna Peirson's eighteen years of handling the school and how the school left a life-long positive impact on its students.
In chapter 6, “Apartheid,” Magaziner examines the reality of life Ndaleni graduates encountered with the “quotidian frustrations of the apartheid bureaucracy” (p. 223). For instance, Silverman Jara, an artist, school principal, and Black Consciousness Movement supporter, was stoned to death by his students for preventing them from burning their school during a riot in Ciskei in September, 1980. By the late 1970s, the physical structures at Ndaleni started deteriorating; the government closed the school and moved the staff to Indumiso, a new training college at Mabopane. Chapter 7, “Artists,” opens with a discussion of the award-winning Dumile Feni's charcoal drawing Mother and Child. This award was reported in The World, a magazine whose editors wondered why such “sickly kind of art” (p. 241) could win an award. Mabusela argues that the editors' view suggests ignorance of the canons of art appreciation and is bereft of understanding how to dialogue with a work of art (p. 243). The artistic and intellectual trajectory of Ndaleni graduate Selby Mvusi, a distinguished black South African artist, is discussed. Other artists examined include Eric Ngcobo, Thelma Radebe, Silverman Jara, Godfrey Ndaba, Paul Sibisi, and Sophie Nsuza. The chapter catalogs the exploits, tensions, and lamentations of Ndaleni graduates; Samson Mahlobo for instance, was so overwhelmed by the struggle under apartheid that he committed suicide. The epilogue unfolds with how an article in the Christian Science Monitor, as well as ARTTRA, shot Ndaleni and its artists “far beyond the limits of South Africa” (p. 270) through the Harmon Foundation in New York. Yet, despite a retrospective exhibition at Tatham Art Gallery, Ndaleni is being “written out of South African art history” (p. 269), perhaps due to its focus on African students, in an African school, and under apartheid.
This book recounts the strategies and artistry the black South Africans at Ndaleni employed to cope with rigors, repression, frustrations, and social segregation under apartheid. The story is quite touching, interesting, and highly informative. Black or White, racism or apartheid, Ndaleni deserves a pride of place for its pioneering efforts, without which South African art history remains incomplete. As a historian, Magaziner judiciously brings his expertise to bear. The carefully chosen illustrations beautify the book, substantiate the facts, bring the readers closer to Ndaleni, and contribute to its better understanding. There are a few faults to be found: Reading through the book, one is tempted to question supposed interchangeable use of “Indaleni” and “Ndaleni”; Magaziner explains that Indaleni is the location, while the art school is Ndaleni (without isiZulu's locational i prefix; p. 85). As revealing and highly educative as this book is, it is not without a handful of typographical slips. Yet the book is written in down-to-earth, clear language, with an intriguing meditation that whets the appetite and curiosity of the reader. It is a wonderful contribution to art historical scholarship in South Africa; it will also be of great interest to scholars of sociopolitical history of Africa, as well as the general public.