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Studio 360 Examines Post-Apartheid Art in South Africa

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With the World Cup heading into its final two weeks, all eyes are set on host nation South Africa. Sixteen years after the election of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid, it's an opportunity for South Africa to show the world the vibrant, multi-racial democracy it has become.

But for South African artists both white and black, the traumas of apartheid are never far away. From the Afrikaner novelist to the young black photographer, learning to cope with that past continues to shape the way they make art.

This week, WNYC's Studio 360 spoke with several contemporary artists in South Africa. They are literary magazine editor Ntone Edjabe, multi-disciplinary artist William Kentridge, Afrikaner novelist Marlene Van Niekerk and photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa.  

"It is a country of huge moral ambiguities around power," says Van Niekerk. "Power, I think, has probably been too much at the forefront of South African novels." Her book Agaat, praised by Tony Morrison as the most extraordinary book she has read in a long time, deals heavily with those issues of power as it traces the complex relationship between an Afrikaner white woman and the black servant girl she raised.

Each artist was touched, in some way, by the apartheid system. Ntone Edjabe immigrated to South Africa from Nigeria to write about the anti-apartheid struggles of the '80s. Zwelethu Mthethwa, who has an upcoming photography exhibition at Harlem's Studio Museum, was one of the few black students at a Cape Town art school that refused to teach anything about African art or aesthetics.

William Kentridge, whose work was featured at MOMA in May, has made several harrowing animated films that deal with the violence perpetrated against both black and white South Africans during those struggles.

For Van Niekerk, the way forward is neither white nor black. "I think the only way to go for South Africa is with hybridity," she says.

Find out more about these artists, and stream Studio 360's "New Culture for a New South Africa" here.