Revolutionary African Art

Work of Medu Art Ensemble on display at Art Institute of Chicago

An exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago will feature the work of the Medu Art Ensemble with more than 60 posters and more than 70 objects, in an exhibit titled, “The People Shall Govern! Medu Art Ensemble and the Anti-Apartheid Poster.” The exhibit will run from Saturday, April 27 to Monday, Sept, 2.

The Medu Art Ensemble was formed in 1979 in Africa as a cultural resistance to South Africa’s racially discriminatory Apartheid policy. The collective, which operated underground, drew exiled South African and international visual, music and literary artists to work in Gaborone, Botswana – across the South African border.

The posters created by the collective, often described as revolutionary, were smuggled into South Africa and often torn down by the police. The date of the opening is significant because the first post-Apartheid elections took place on April 27, 1994. It is recognized in South Africa as a national holiday, Freedom Day.

Antawan Byrd, assistant curator of photography, and Felicia Mings, academic curator of academic engagement and research, are the curators for the exhibit.

Byrd said the impetus for the show was a gift to the Art Institute of posters and other materials from the Artworkers Retirement Society and Johannesburg art dealers, Warren Siebrits and Lunetta Bartz.

“In order to honor the gifts, the show came out of it,” he said.

Mings said the posters, which were overtly political, were geared toward ending Apartheid.

“An extremely compelling aspect of Medu’s posters and publications is the sense of public education that pervades their work,” Mings said. “From the captivating graphic slogans on posters to the poems and essays produced in Medu newsletters, their efforts to raise public consciousness and galvanize people into action against Apartheid is something that I deeply appreciate.”

Byrd added, the posters also depicted political figures who were detained or killed during the struggle.

“It’s really important that the public gets a sense of this historical period. Medu was very conscious of this,” Byrd said. “Al- though the work is historical, the work is still alive.”

In addition to the Anti-Apartheid posters from the Medu Art Ensmeble, there also are photo- graphs, issues of Staffrider Magazine, rare books and vinyl records. A film of Medu’s 1982 Culture and Resistance Symposium and Festival of Arts is also part of the exhibition.

Byrd said he hopes the exhibit will force a present sense of urgency. He pointed to the redistribution of South African land in 2018.

Mings said it is important to ex- pose visitors to this type of work.

“I believe the content of the show will greatly resonate with audiences today, especially Chicagoans given the city’s rich history of political organizing,” Mings said. For more information about

the Art Institute of Chicago, visit www., or call 312-443-2600.


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