Memory and Image Contemporary Art of the !Xun and Khwe

  • Location: South African National Gallery
  • From: September 23, 2006     To: January 31, 2007
Memory and Image Contemporary Art of the !Xun and Khwe


Memory and Magic, explores the world view of immigrant !Xun and Khwe speakers, descendants of ancestral hunter gatherers, who sought refuge in South Africa from the brutal trauma of political violence experienced during the Angolan/Namibian/SADF wars of liberation and counter-liberation at the end of the 20th century.

The exhibition draws on works from the private collection of Hella Rabbethge-Schiller of Rosenheim, Germany, all of which have been produced by the artists from the !Xun and Khwe Cultural Project near Kimberley. The works on paper and canvas span a decade of production that has created an international profile for the eleven artists. Stefaans Samcuia is the most recognized artist for his collaboration with Brett Murray on the iconic mural at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. 

This is the most comprehensive collection of !Xun and Khwe contemporary art in existence, and is traveling throughout South Africa. Through the exhibition and publication, the artists have finally been given the recognition they deserve.

The exhibition is a partnership between the Goethe Institute, Iziko Museums, the collector and the artists, and is supported by Commerzbank and CD International Shipping.

A beautifully illustrated catalogue in both soft and hard-cover is available from The Gallery Shop.


Carol Kaufmann
Tel: +27 (0)21 467 4672

Opening address

Dear Ms Marilyn-Martin Director of Iziko South African National Gallery
Dear Mrs. Rabbethge-Schiller, owner of the works shown,
Dear Mrs. Kaufmann, curator of this exhibition,
Distinguished artists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish you all a warm welcome to the “Memory and Magic” exhibition. I consider it a great pleasure to have been invited to open this magnificent exhibition of contemporary works of !Xun and Khwe artists here at Iziko South African National Gallery.

Mesdames et messieurs les délégués auprès de la deuxième assemblée générale d’AFRICOM au Cap,

Je vous souhâite la bienvenue à la vernissage de „Mémoire et Magique“, une exposition d’objets d’art contemporains d’artistes des !Xun et Khwe peuples en Afrique du Sud.

J’espère que vous pouvez admirer les peintures réflectant la sensibilité aesthétique et créativité extraordinaires des artistes.

Maintenant, j’essaierais d’élaborer un petit peu sur les objets exposés ici à la IzikoGalérie Nationale d’Afrique du Sud et leurs importance pour la révitalisation de la culture des !Xun et Khwe peuples après des années difficiles pendant lesquelles ils étaient reloquées des territoires des leurs ancestres en Namibie et Angola.

The "Memory and Magic“ exhibition features works by various San artists on paper and canvas from the private collection of Hella Rabbethge-Schiller who over the last decade has gathered some 400 works and, thereby, established the largest and most comprehensive collection of that kind anywhere.

This unique collection reflects the extraordinary aesthetic sensibility and creativity of the artists. By means of their artistic works the San created a new awareness of their own culture while trying to overcome the traumas and deprivations they experienced in the past when they were removed from their ancestral land.

Although the San are since no longer living in nature, they are still people of nature and are intimately familiar with the mythology and rituals practiced by their forefathers. That is why each sketch, print or painting tells a story.

In a number of works the artists depict magic alluding to the San’s world view and inherited belief systems influencing them.

The themes that are depicted in the works range from plants, animals, everyday life, war experiences, memories of the good life they lived in their ancestral lands in Namibia and Angola before the wars, their traumas during the wars to abstract and symbolic designs. Often dreams are the artist’s source of inspiration.

Through Hella Rabbethge-Schiller’s investment in the livelihood and skills development of the artists she is helping to preserve the San’s new form of art and culture. Being aware of the fact that her collection forms an important part of South Africa’s cultural heritage she carefully preserves and promotes it while it is abroad. This is a valuable initiative as such even more so as only a few works can be found in local or a small number of corporate collections like the William Humphries Gallery, MTN, De Beers, Cape Town International Convention Centre or World Bank.

With this exhibition the San work of art is returning to its country of origin where it finally belongs according to Hella Rabbethge-Schiller. By doing so the exhibition builds a bridge between Germany and South Africa.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me finish by expressing my appreciation and sincere gratitude to all those who have been involved with this exhibition. An ambitious exhibition like this would not have been possible without their aid, cooperation and support.

It is a great pleasure for me to mark this fruitful cooperation by officially opening the exhibition “Memory and Magic” for you to enjoy.

Thank you for your attention!

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