Brothers in art: Keeping SA art in the crosshairs of today

29 September 2015 - 02:24 By Yolisa Mkele


There are no absolute heroes and no absolute villains. These words seem fitting in respect of Ivor Ichikowitz, a crusader for the arts whose day job is selling armaments. People involved in the business of war are typically characterised as the antagonist in an action movie, and in some people's view Ichikowitz might be exactly that, but his passion for art and for reconciliation in South Africa might cast him in an altogether different light."The beauty of assessing art is that you don't have to agree with the artist. Art provokes thought, dialogue and debate. We want people to accept that it's cool not to agree."It's by having a difference of opinion that people learn to respect others' views," Ichikowitz said.The "we" he refers to is the Ichikowitz Family Foundation: a philanthropic organisation that runs a number of programmes focusing on local art. One of those projects is the Heritage Art Collection, an offshoot of his African Oral History Archive."The oral archive was created to capture the original testimony of people who were involved in the struggle, and in the creation of our constitution," he said."We captured thousands of hours of testimony, mainly from key actors who were around at that time. But what's missing is a sense of what was happening on the ground."So the Heritage Art Collection was born - a collection of art from the 1970s and 1980s with a focus on the Zeitgeist of that era."The one thing that captures the mood of a time, any time, is art. So we started a collection, not a valuable one, but a collection of people's art, of street art."We found as we built the collection that we were creating an archive that was based around a whole range of subjects that are relevant to our country's transformation," Ichikowitz said.Through this and his other work Ichikowitz came to realise that South Africa was losing its artistic heritage and the benefits that came with it."We must not kid ourselves: we're still going through a healing process in this country and art has a huge role to play."We don't see art playing enough of a role in schools. This is because of economic constraints and other priorities. Art is not taught as extensively as it should be and, as a result of that, I think we're losing part of our artistic culture."We want to go out there and help re-create an art economy because if there isn't a market for art artists are going to stop making art, and if artists stop making art then children are going to stop learning about it ."He explains that a lot of the art in the collection was made for economic reasons and that reviving that economic motivation for more than just a select group would be beneficial.

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