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Thursday, August 1, 2019


(Left: “Head” 1999 - Charcoal on Paper by Albert Adams)

The KZNSA Gallery will present the opening of Making Meaning - the art of Albert Adams (1929 - 2006) on August 6, 2019, at 17h30 for 18h00. There will be a walkabout and book launch on August 7 at 12h30.

'Between Dreams and Realities: A History of the South African National Gallery, 1871 - 2017" by Marilyn Martin. Between Dreams and Realities tells the engaging story of South Africa's pre-eminent art museum, and revisits important exhibitions, events and controversies. The foreword is written by Albie Sachs.

The title of this survey exhibition is inspired by Crain Soudien in his Foreword to Elza Miles’ 2019 biography, An invincible spirit: Albert Adams and his art. Soudien describes making meaning as the “central impulse” in Adams’ life and his art. Although he excelled at art from a very young age, growing up as a mixed-race youth in Cape Town was not easy. His application to study at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town, was denied due to the colour of his skin. Fortunately, his talent was recognised and nurtured by individuals, while his training and exposure to some of the great artists, thinkers, and writers of the 20th century provided the solid foundation from which he could forge his own style.

This exhibition celebrates the 90th anniversary of Adams’ birth and it spans more than 50 years. Moreover, his grandfather arrived in Durban as an indentured labourer and it was Adams’ dream to exhibit in this city. The KZNSA is fulfilling that dream. The paintings, drawings, and prints on the show reveal his prodigious talent, as well as the instinctive expressionism, charged with social awareness and commitment, which would characterise his work from beginning to end.

(Right: “Celebration Head” 2000 – Oil on Canvas by Albert Adams)

Although Adams did not subscribe to any religious denomination, he was deeply spiritual and religious subjects feature in his work (Crucifixion, c. 1950; Mosque, 1959). More often than not, he explored and developed his chosen themes in series. The Prisoners or Incarceration series was a particularly poignant one for him. The invisible but equally powerful shackles of apartheid South Africa, the visible imprisonments on Robben Island and the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib in Iraq are manifested in the drawing Prisoner (Incarceration Series) of 1999 and the monumental painting Abu Ghraib Figure, 2004. The series in which apes or ape-like creatures feature date from 1969 and Adams returned to the theme in 2001. The majority of these works are in black and white and his drawings and etchings are characterised by a powerful gestural quality and intense mark-making. 

Adams called himself a Londoner and engaged with genocide, natural disasters, and atrocities perpetrated across the globe, but he frequently returned to the country of his birth. After 1994, he explored the challenges, dangers, and threats that came with political change, compelling the viewer to see and share the disillusionment of the downtrodden and marginalised. The Celebration series forms a major part of his output, especially from 1999 to 2004. While alluding to the Kaapse Klopse (Cape Minstrels) – the New Year celebration held on January 2 – the drawings and paintings are anything but jolly, festive, celebratory works; on the contrary, the mask-like, distorted faces are angry and menacing – the dark side of ‘carnival’ and of life.

Adams’ identity and vision were forged in the crucible of apartheid but his range was universal and timeless, and his work, spirit and search for meaning speak to all of humanity – across borders and beyond his lifetime.

Making Meaning - the art of Albert Adams runs from August 6 to September 1, 2019. The KZNSA Gallery is situated at 166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood, in Durban. More information on 031 277 1705 or cell 082 220 0368 or visit