I paint therefore I am? : an exploration of contemporary Bushmen art in South Africa and its development potential.
Barnabas, Shanade Bianca.
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In this research the contemporary art of the !Xun community in Platfontein, Kimberley is used as a case study to ascertain whether contemporary Bushman art, contrary to the mid-nineteenth century perception that it was child-like, and the present-day sense that it belongs to the past, is based on recognisable aesthetic principles. A functional-semiotic approach is applied, which takes the signs in painting, separates and categorises them in order to locate a painting’s iconic, indexical and symbolic signs. This analysis is done to assess whether or not contemporary Bushman art can be validated as a valuable area of contemporary art and whether creative individuals among the !Xun community may be viewed not as relics of a past people but as legitimate contemporary artists. This argument is revealed through post-structuralist analysis of the individual artworks of two particular !Xun artists. Interviews with !Xun artists uncovered the ways in which they represent themselves in their art, not only for themselves but for the viewers of that art. The constituents of the power relations between art dealers and the artists are also considered. The problematics of ‘authentic Bushman art’ is discussed and ‘authenticity’ in this regard is shown to be a contestable issue. The research then moves to an examination of the impact of modernity on the Bushmen and their art. Mindful of the economic exploitation of these artists in the present day, recommendations are made concerning forms of development which include teaching the artists about art markets, in order to empower them to engage effectively with dealers. Further recommendations are made toward the creation of a code of conduct which would apply to indigenous arts and the relationships between artists, dealers and consumers of the art.