1985 Vakalisa Calendar
Born two years after the landmark Culture and Resistance Conference, held in Gabarone, in 1982, Vakalisa Art Associates, a flexible group of about twenty artists, formed to reject the idea of the romantic artist and individual genius, opting to produce work with a purpose— art, in its broadest acceptation, that would develop society and contribute to the fight against racial oppression and apartheid. Open exclusively to black consciousness adherents, the loose network of self-identified “cultural workers” included Lionel Davis, Peter Clarke, Rashid Lombard, Hein Willemse, Garth Erasmus, Mario Sickle, Ishmael Thyssen, Hamilton Budaza, Sipho Hlati, Sydney and Patrick Holo, Keith Adams, James Matthews, Michael Barry, Mervyn Edwards (Hobbs and Rankin, 2014), and later, Mavis Smallberg, Gladys Thomas, Beverley Jansen (Adams, 2021). Together, they produced exhibitions in alternative spaces such as the Luyolo Recreational Centre (Gugulethu), community libraries across the Cape Flats, and the as-yet under-studied Concert Against Detentions (1985) at the Luxurama Cinema in Wynberg, arguably representing an early example of Black artist-led organization, and a radical, early by-passing of whitewalling (D’Souza, 2018).
Between 1984 and 1992, the network also produced a number of calendars with political messages and calls to action. Printed on inexpensive newsprint at Esquire Press in Athlone, where community newspapers such as Grassroots, Saamstaan, New Era, and Living Roots went to press, these now hard-to-find calendars were smuggled under t-shirts and distributed amongst the Flats community. According to “struggle printer” Prakesh Patel, this was risky, and marked by security police harassment, happening from four to five times a week, with the firm having more than 2000 printing plates seized and more than 100 criminal cases lodged against the company (Morris, 2004). The network produced its last calendar, dedicated to the then-recently deceased Dumile Feni, in 1992… read more