Unity, Democracy and Courage Favorite 



Aug 7 1983


South Africa

One of the most pressing questions before us in the United States now is how to resolve the tension between our personal visions and needs, on the one hand, and the demands of being a member of a community, on the other. Even a popular television series has recently broached the question, “What do we owe other people?” I had the privilege of knowing a South African artist—Thami Mnyele (1948–85)— whose life was strung up between the two poles of being absorbed in his own hopes and fears and of being useful to his community. Mnyele dealt with the dilemma by spending his first decade as an active artist expressing with delicacy his feelings while living under apartheid. Then he joined the African National Congress and put his gifts at the service of a movement fighting for liberation from white supremacy. The ANC gave him the daunting chance to sacrifice himself—his vision and his life— for the idea of a greater good. Mnyele’s art opens a window on the double-edged opportunity—for creativity and for sacrifice—afforded by a time of profound social crisis, not unlike the one we’re living in now.

The Medu Art Ensemble formed in the late 1970s in opposition to South Africa’s apartheid policy of racial segregation and violent injustice. Through graphic design and poster production, members forcefully articulated a call for radical change, advocating for decolonization or majority (nonwhite) rule in South Africa and in the neighboring countries of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. (https://contemporaryand.com/magazines/the-people-shall-govern-medu-art-e... )

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The art was informative, loud, bright, eye-catching, but just because it's all that doesn't mean that it was effective at producing change. It's not entirely clear if something ultimately shifted as a result of this poster, or if the poster is a part of the larger campaign that is to end Apartheid.