Dr. David C. Driskell
Distinguished University Professor of Art, Emeritus; University of Maryland at College Park, USA
A Portrait: Passing for Black in Apartheid South Africa
My first visit to the Republic of South Africa in the fall of 1972 brought to my attention the many similarities between the system of legal segregation of Blacks in the American South and the oppressive system of apartheid imposed on people of color in South Africa. The purpose of my visit was to serve as guest curator for an exhibition of paintings by William H. Johnson at the South African National Gallery of Art in Cape Town. The logistics for my visit were handled by the US Department of State. But at no time prior to my visit had I been told that my racial identity while in South Africa would be “honorary white.” The unusual circumstances surrounding this unpleasant experience conjured up in my mind the notion that while there, I was passing for black and not as an “honorary white.” I reacted to this notion of racial displacement by creating a number of works of art that addressed the subject of race and identity as I experienced it in South Africa. The contents of my presentation will center on the curatorial experience in white – owned cultural and educational institutions in South Africa where I delivered a series of lectures on Black American art at places such as the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, The Johannesburg College of Art and at Stellenbosch and Witwatersrand Universities. My discussion, much of which will be taken from my South African Visual Diary, is a daily account of my personal experiences while in South Africa, depicted through writings, drawings, photography and assemblages; many of which I shall illustrate in my talk. These troubling reflections help paint a portrait of a Black American artist in Apartheid South Africa in 1972.
David C. Driskell is a visual artist, art historian, curator and philanthropist whose active participation in the arts has spread over five continents. His art has been exhibited globally and he is cited as a leading authority on African American Art. He is the recipient of 13 honorary doctoral degrees in art, the National Endowment for the Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton and was elected to the National Academy of Art in 2006. In 2001, the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African American and the African Diaspora was established at the University of Maryland. He and his wife, Thelma, reside in Hyattsville, MD and Falmouth, Maine.