From Sitting to Selfie: 300 years of South African Portraits

The exhibition included a broad selection of portraits that record the likeness of particular individuals: William Mellville's Lady Smith (1842), George French Angas' Utimuni, Nephew of Chaka 1(848) and John Centlivres Chase's John David Christian (Captain zu Bersaba) (1843) offer excellent examples of this oevre.

The trajectory of the exhibition moved on to later, more expressive portraits: Gerard Sekoto's Girl with an Orange (1993), Maggie Laubser's Portrait of Kalie (1925) and Dorothy Kay's Cookie: a Portrait of Annie Mavata (1956) gave a real sense of the characters and moods of three very different women.

Moving on in time, the exhibition introduced a range of characters and the artists who chose to subject a particular facet of their identity to the public gaze. What message, we might wonder, was Hugo Naude intending to communicate in his enigmatic The Hottentot Chief (undated)? Paul Stopforth's large-scale monochromatic work, The Interrogators (1978) must rank as one of the most iconic reflections of a dark time in South African history. A series of portraits captured at various times by Sydney Harpley, Dorothy Kay and Edward Roworth remind us that identity is never fixed; it's transmutable. A timely reminder that those lauded today may very well be castigated tomorrow.

Moving into the present, the exhibition included photographs by David Goldblatt, Pieter Hugo and Mikhael Subotzky and Candice Breitz's video series, Factum, 2010 - images that stretch the bounds of photography, a far cry from many of the mindless selfies piling up in cyberspace.

From Sitting to Selfie raised many interesting questions about how and why people make portraits of themselves and others, and how the reasons for this have changed over time. It was a visual feast, a richly textured walk through South African art and social history and an opportunity to come face-to-face with those who peopled our past and share our world.

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