Against the Grain:

  • Posted: Aug 19, 2013

Isaac Makeleni, Ishmael Thyssen, Shepherd Mbanya, Timothy Mafenuka, and Thami Kiti, sculptors from the Cape

Iziko South African National Gallery from 15 August until 17 November 2013

Against the Grain: sculptors from the Cape, showcases the works of five local wood sculptors:    Isaac Makeleni, Ishmael Thyssen, Shepherd Mbanya, Timothy Mafenuka and Thami Kiti.  For decades working with little acknowledgment and support, these artists have produced significant works that are skilful, imaginative, earnest and playful.

Hosted by Iziko Museums of South Africa at the Iziko South African National Gallery, this first- ever collaboration by Africa South Art Initiative (ASAI), Sanlam, Western Cape Provincial Government’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport; National Arts Council of South Africa; Business and Arts South Africa; Centre for Curating the Archive and the Michaelis School of Fine Art (UCT), this exhibition opens to the public on 15 August 2013. 

The exhibition addresses a diversity of themes that engage with the recent and distant past, as well as the contemporary present. Curated by ASAI founder, Mario Pissarra, Against the Grain questions the marginalisation of these sculptors within the South African art-world, as well as the low visibility of black African wood sculptors within the broader discourse of contemporary African art.

“ASAI is today playing an ever-increasing role in supporting and promoting the work of marginalized artists in South Africa and our southern African sub-continent as a whole. Their mission in documenting and archiving their work in the interests of promoting a more inclusive account of our art history deserves wider support.  Iziko supports ASAI’s vision and efforts and we believe that our partnership will be mutually enriching.Establishing firm, collaborative partnerships and strengthening our relations with our local communities and their representative cultural organizations is of central importance to the work and mission of Iziko” says Ms. Rooksana Omar, Iziko CEO.

Media enquiriesto Zikhona Tshwaku on 021481 3891 or via email on



About the Artists:

Isaac Makeleni(1950-2008) was born in Vasco, and lived in Nyanga. Makeleni’s creative and sometimes amusing works are rich in allusions to historical, political and cultural themes.

Ishmael Thyssen(1953-) was born in Jankempdorp in the Northern Cape. He lives and works in Retreat.  Thyssen’s contemplative art is influenced by modernist and African sources, as well as social concerns.

Shepherd Mbanya(1965-) was born in Bishop Lavis, and grew up in the Eastern Cape. He lives and works in Khayelitsha. Mbanya’s evocative art uses narrative forms to communicate his often critical views on contemporary issues.

Timothy Mafenuka(1966-2003) was born in Guguletu and grew up in the Eastern Cape. He lived in Khayelisha. Mafenuka’s imaginative art provides an enchanted view of the natural world, expressed through a creative use of materials.

Thami Kiti(1968-) was born in Machabini, Eastern Cape. He lives and works in Khayelitsha.

Kiti’s skilful art draws on his rural upbringing and Xhosa identity, and expresses deep respect for the natural environment.

About the Curator:

Mario Pissarrais the founder of the Africa South Art Initiative (ASAI), and a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town. Active in cultural workers and community arts initiatives since the late 1980s, Pissarra has lectured on art in Africa at the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch. He has published widely and is editor-in-chief of Visual Century: South African art in context, 1907 – 2007 (Wits University Press, 2011).

About the Africa South Art Initiative is a dynamic platform for research and debate in the fields of art and art history in Africa. ASAI aims to bridge academic and popular discourse, with artists central to this process. The organisation has a particular interest in contemporary artistic practices across the continent and more broadly in the global south, more especially those that operate outside or in critical relationship with dominant international frameworks.  ASAI’s online research projects include the development of archives on artists and community arts initiatives, the production of artists’ indexes and bibliographies, and the publication of a wide range of articles, from polemical opinion pieces to peer-reviewed research. ASAI complements its internet-based work with concrete interventions, including exhibitions, publications, workshops, talks and public discussions. For more information about ASAI visit

About Iziko Museums of South Africa

Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko) operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre, and three collection‑specific libraries in Cape Town.  The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure.  The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium). Visit our webpage at, join our online community on Facebook ( or follow us on Twitter (@Iziko_Museums) for regular updates on events, news and new exhibitions.


COMMEMORATIVE DAYS – FREE ENTRANCE (excluding Iziko Planetarium and Castle of Good Hope)

  • Human Rights Day: 21 March
  • Freedom Day: 27 April
  • International Museum Day: 25 May
  • Africa Day: 25 May
  • Youth Day: 16 June
  • National Women’s Day: 9 August
  • Heritage Day: 24 September
  • National Aids Awareness Day: 1 December
  • Emancipation Day: 1 December
  • Day of Reconciliation: 16 December

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