KURU ART PROJECT
Since 1990 the artists from the Kuru Art Project have produced contemporary art that is original and remarkable in character. The Kuru Development Trust was established in the 1980's to create greater autonomy, capacity and social advancement for the San* of the Ghanzi district of Botswana. The objective of the Kuru Art Project has been to facilitate the provision of technical advice, materials and studio space to artists from the Ghanzi community. In terms of content, techniques and style these have been left to the artists to develop on their own. The Kuru Art Project artists paint on canvas, and print in a variety of media including lithography, colour reduction lino prints and monoprints. Occasionally the men also work on wooden sculptures.
In terms of subject matter much of what the artists choose to depict refers to the past. It is as if by capturing the stories and memories of how things were they will be able as a community to hold onto these things. The content of the work thus imparts both political and social content. The need to preserve their culture, traditions, stories and myths in visual form has played an important role in increasing self-awareness and pride within their community. This has been further enhanced by the extensive international recognition that the project has received over a relatively short period of time. In a society in which the hunter-gatherer, healer, shaman, dancer and artist are often united in one person, visual art becomes a powerful tool for expressing what one has to say about ones present circumstances. Looked at from this perspective the links with their rock art heritage are clear to see.
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The artwork of the Kuru Art Project has also played an important political role. The San people have been marginalized throughout Southern Africa and hence today are to be found on the bottom rung of the social ladder. Denied access to mother tongue education most children drift into unskilled labour, alcohol abuse and the whole cycle of poverty that serves to reinforce dominant groupings in societies prejudice against them. That the San are able to show how well they can express what they want to say in visual terms that are internationally understood is due to initiatives such as the print projects undertaken by The Artists' Press and The Kuru Art Project.
The artwork produced by the Kuru Artists also challenges what the art world has come to understand as Bushman Art. The work that these artists produce does not fall into a neat cliché of what stereotypical timeless primeval hunter-gatherers should be making. Like many indigenous communities they are a people who have been marginalized in modern society and are seeking ways to preserve their identity and egalitarian culture.
Since the establishment of the Kuru Art Project in 1990 the artists have become well known internationally exhibiting in galleries in Gaborone, Windhoek, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Geneva, Berlin, London and Chicago to name but a few. They have won many awards both collectively and individually and their work is to be found in private and public collections throughout the world. Members of the project have had their work used in many publications, book covers, on the tails of British Airways planes and on a set of stamps issued by the Botswana Post Office.
(Courtesy Artists press)
* Terminology is fraught with a loaded history when it comes to the Bushmen/San. The people themselves reject all the labels and prefer to be known by their group names, or as the Red People. Although not correct the term San is used here for ease of use.