Amita Makan Ubuntutu | | Art in South Africa
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A group exhibition curated by Professor Marsha MacDowell and Aleia Brown


For Leah (After Rashid Lombard) 2016
Hand embroidered with silk, viscose and metallic threads on silk organza
(116 x 80 x 8cm)

Artist Statement

'For Leah' (After Rashid Lombard), 2016 by Amita Makan

The hand-embroidered portrait is inspired by a photograph of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu taken at his residence in Bishopscourt, Cape Town in 1988 by Rashid Lombard.

I was drawn to the historical associations evoked by the photograph. Lombard’s sensitive and powerful sepia photograph captures the ‘quintessential Desmond Tutu’; the Tutu etched in the collective memory of South Africans and people around the world. I was a university student in the mid-1980s when the courageous, bespectacled black priest adorned in a purple cassock and clerical collar, a moral force defiant of Apartheid, leader and guardian of thousands marching, was a constant and pervasive image on our televisions and in our newspapers.

Lombard’s photograph recalls Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 1984. Of the Tutu, who dedicated the prize to ‘the courage and heroism shown by black South Africans in their peaceful methods in the struggle against apartheid’.

The archival photograph is also a poignant reminder of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) appointed in 1995. Perpetrators of apartheid crimes, between 1960 and 1994, were invited to confront their pasts and the families they had wronged and to tell the truth in return for amnesty and forgiveness. The TRC hearings, aired live on South African television, suffused by tears, wailings and consoling embraces. Tutu absorbed the sinful confessions steadfast in his vision for a new South Africa, ‘the rainbow nation’. The stories of cruelty and inhumanity caused Tutu to weep.

I retrace our country’s past in Tutu’s stitched visage. The black canvas alludes to South Africa’s history and the black majority, the shadows are an allegory of our dark past and our bruises as a nation and as individuals. Tutu is the emerging light. Tutu recognizes his dear wife, Leah, as the strength behind his public courage underscoring their inseparability and our indebtedness to both. Hence, the portrait of Desmond Tutu entitled ‘For Leah’.

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