As the scratchings on the 70 000-year-old Blombos ochre reveal, that non-figurative mark-marking long predates the very notion of ‘art’ itself. While abstraction’s ‘invention’ in the early 20th century by European avant-garde is now being celebrated, its traditions are ancient. Resisted in colonial South Africa, and belatedly accepted as part of the ‘international’ mainstream of modern art, disillusionment later arose as to its political relevance. Despite this, many artists persisted with abstraction as an expression of personal and spiritual freedom.
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