South African Cultural Center Opens…
The South African Cultural Center, the first of its kind, has opened in New York City. Housed on the same premises as both the South African Consulate and Permanent Mission to the United Nations, it was officially opened to the public on September 23, 2021.
The Cultural Center was opened by South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr. Naledi Pandor.
“We are here to officially launch the first-ever South African cultural center, which we hope will not only serve as a window to South Africa but [will] also provide South Africa-based artists, as well as those in the diaspora, a platform to share in the state of New York, and in the continental USA, and to bring to life the artistic vibrancy of our culture. In order to ensure that you have a true sense of the talent that lies in South Africa and of its colorful culture.”
“I would like to really underscore the important role that culture plays in crafting a unique identity for us as Africans, us as a South African people, and for the global community in its entirety. In South Africa, we have an incredible, colorful artistic identity, which we’ve absolutely keen to share with the world.”
The Center is meant to be a site that showcases the country’s deeply rich culture and heritage through art. The inaugural art displayed in the Cultural Center was Zakes Mda’s WASHBOARDS AND MIRRORS: The Collages of Zakes Mda. The art collection is Mda’s exploration of his life both as a citizen of South Africa and a resident of the United States.
It includes paintings paying homage to Mda’s late friend, the great musician Hugh Masekela and the washboard as a musical instrument, amongst other things. “Some of my paintings will have mirrors and washboards, that’s why the exhibition is titled mirrors and washboards,” said Mda. Mda,74, was born in the Eastern Cape and is a writer, musical composer, and painter. He has won both British and South African literary awards for his plays and novels.
The Cultural Center was created with the intention of being a safe haven primarily for South African artists but not limited to them. Recently there was an exhibit of photography by Alfred Gonzalez, a native of New York. The exhibit, titled Beautiful People of New York, was scheduled to run from May 26 to June 30 but has been extended to July 31st.
The collection was made up of 50 black and white images photographed by Gonzalez over the course of three years. These photographs consisted of people roaming the streets and parks of New York City.
Gonzales would ride his bike through the city and strike up conversations with people on the street. All of the people in the exhibit agreed to have their portraits taken. When discussing the exhibit and the process, he said it was a “real joy and labor of love” to work on. Gonzales hopes that his work will be seen by as many people as possible and is grateful to the South African Cultural Center/South African Consul General.
Earlier this year, an exhibition dedicated to the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu was presented at the Cultural Center. Titled Desmond Tutu: Then and Now, the photographic exhibition was presented by Sumaya Hisham and Eric Miller.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu played a huge role as an anti-apartheid activist. This collection of photographs spans a three-decade period, displaying Tutu’s leadership during the years of apartheid and his more recent work as a post-apartheid activist. The exhibition ran from February 22 until April 29.
The Cultural Center is a place that has catered to the arts and will hopefully continue to do so well into the future.