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Indepth Arts News:

"Willie Bester: 15 Years"
2003-04-07 until 2003-04-26
Association for Visual Arts
Cape Town, , ZA South Africa

The Association For Visual Arts (AVA), 35 Church Street, Cape Town, is hosting a solo exhibition by WILLIE BESTER in all three gallery spaces. Among the approximately twenty pieces that BESTER will have on show, is one large size sculpture made from industrial waste and recycled scrap and entitled "Monument vir die Agtergeblewenes". This is dedicated to those South Africans taken for a ride by the previous regime in South Africa as part of a system which dragged them through the metaphorical mud so that they are now unable to align themselves with the new order.

This can encompass those who either do not want to and are unwilling to try to adjust to new times deliberately, or those that simply cannot. Ironically, these people often regard themselves as superior, living as witnesses rather than actively trying to find new ways to interact and work towards change.

On exhibit is a large relief wall sculpture entitled "Family Unit" examining problems experienced in normal families on a daily basis. The remainder of the exhibition will comprise paintings on canvas, either framed in BESTERíS unique manner making use of distressed and painted metal or using spades as a backdrop. These will take the form of portraits and still-lifes. None of these works has been on exhibit before.

Born in Montagu, Cape, in 1956, BESTER received no formal art training, other than part-time art studies in 1986 at the Community Arts Project while he was working as a dental technicianís assistant. He thus remains largely self-taught. In 1991 he became a full-time professional artist, after which time he began exhibiting extensively on group exhibitions throughout South Africa, as well as abroad.

BESTER has participated in several international biennales, including the Venice Biennale in 1993, the Havana Biennale in 1994 and the Dakar Biennale in 1998. In 1996 he took part in the art fairs of Chicago and Basel. Selected international exhibitions include (amongst many others): the Zabalaza Festival in Oxford and other centres in the UK in 1991/92, the "Dialogues of Peace" exhibition for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations at the Palais Des Nations in Geneva in 1995, "De Kleur Van Verandering" at the Groote Kerk in The Hague in Holland in 1995, "On The Road" an exhibition at the Delfina Studio Trust by 10 Southern African artists as part of the Africa í95 Festival in London, "Simunye" an exhibition by 10 South African artists at the Adelson Gallery in New York in 1996, "Contemporary Art From South Africa" at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin in 1996, "Common and Uncommon Ground: South African Art to Atlanta" at the City Gallery East in Atlanta in 19996, "Otro Pais: Escalas Africanas" at the Palau de la Virreina in Barcelona in 1996, "South Africa" at the Kohn Turner Gallery in Los Angeles in 1997, "The Edge of Awareness" at the World Health Organization in Geneva in 1998, "(Rewind) Fast Forward SA" at the Van Reekum Museum of Modern Art in Appeldoorn in Holland in 1999, "Claiming Art Reclaiming Space Ė Post Apartheid Art From South Africa" at the National Museum of African Art in Washington DC in 1999, and "Passport To South Africa" at the Trevi Cultural Centre in Bolzano, Italy, in 2002

BESTER began holding solo exhibitions in 1982 at the Forum in Cavendish Square, Cape Town. Since then he has held numerous one-person shows in South Africa, mainly at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg and at the SAAA, Western Cape (now AVA) in Cape Town. His international solo exhibitions have taken place mainly in Italy, in Trento, Rome, Turin and Bologna, all from 1999 to 2000, while in 2001 he held a solo exhibition at the Centre DíArt Contemporain in Brussels.

BESTER won a merit prize at the last Cape Town Triennial in 1991 and in 1992 he was awarded the Prix De LíAigle at the 4th Grand Prix International DíArts Plastiques De La Ville de Nice, France.

BESTERíS work is represented in most major public and corporate art collections in South Africa, including the Cape of Good Hope Bank, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Engen, Foschini Ltd, Gencor SA, the HSRC, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the King George V1 Art Gallery, Metropolitan Life, Naspers, Oceana Fishing Group, Pretoria Art Museum, Rembrandt Van Rijn, SANLAM, SASOL, SA Breweries, SABC TV, SA National Gallery, Tatham Art Gallery, UNISA, the Universities of Stellenbosch, of the Western Cape and of the Witwatersrand, Vodacom and Woolworths. His work hangs in countless private collections around the world.

His work is featured in numerous books and magazines on art, including Elizabeth Rankinís "Images of Metal", Andre Magnin and Jacques Soulillouís "Contemporary Art of Africa", Sue Williamson and Ashraf Jamalís "Art In South Africa Ė The Future Present" and Yacouba Konateís "Willie Bester". In addition, there have been articles on his work in several editions of "Revue Noire", as well as several articles by Michael Godby and Sandra Klopper, and a feature in the French edition of Vogue in 1993.

Says Alberto Fiz in his article "In The Besterís Dump" in the Italian catalogue "Willie Bester opere recenti": "this South African artist works on the society debris digging into the history dump, with the same method applied by those who bring to light past civilizations. To Bester, archaeologist of the present time, the most important thing is to reconstruct the connective tissue of history, taking again possession of the hidden sites of the township, where black people are mostly marginalized." Says Bester in the same article: "I am sometimes tempted to go to the seaside and to paint beautiful things from nature. But I do not do it because my art has to be taken as a nasty taste medicine for awakening consciences."

In their article in the catalogue "Willie Bester:15 Years" Sandra Klopper and Michael Godby say: "In recent years Bester has also made small oil studies, mainly of the day-to-day activities of communities living in informal settlements. Surrounded by frames made from salvaged metal, most of these scenes are seen independent of the context of urban degradation, on the one hand, and overt political expression, on the other. In these works Bester celebrates the morality of ordinary life, in some cases by underlining the continuity in urban situations of rural traditions, like the production of home-brewed beer and the slaughter of animals for ritual purposes. In others, he focuses on portrait studies. While many affirm the dignity of people struggling to support their families on meagre incomes, others, like those depicting elderly people, also serve to underline the resilience of men and women who have survived lives marred by economic hardship and racial abuse."

Willie Bester
Head North
painted metal and found objects

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