Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa, San Francisco

Opening this month is Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa, a collaborative exhibition from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). Challenging the typically perceived visual history of a country divided by apartheid, the exhibition, including the work of over 25 artists, delves into the intimacy of everyday life in South Africa. Spanning a range of mediums, Public Intimacy presents a frank and honest portrayal of a community still undergoing change, exploring how the politics of South Africa are embedded within the acts of the everyday.

Through video, painting, sculpture, performance, publications and more, Public Intimacy traces the outline of a tumultuous history, taking the fragmented past of South Africa and reassembling it in the face of new possibilities and the promise of a bright future. Exploring this land through close-up views of street interactions, portraiture, costume and unfamiliar public actions, the show draws together a previously unseen and underrepresented alternative life in South Africa.

The exhibition, which opens on 21 February, gathers a fresh and exciting collection of works exuding hopefulness from within a landscape torn apart by political turmoil. Featuring photography by artists such as Ian Berry, Ernest Cole, David Goldblatt and Billy Monk, as well as painting and sculpture from Nicholas Hlobo and Penny Siopis, Public Intimacy not only approaches the normality of daily life with tender reverence, but holds in meditation the continued commitment to activism and political thought within the artistic community.

Billy Monk’s late 1950s nightclub photos and the images taken by Ian Berry at an underground drag ball capture the vitality of a South African past while performances from artists such as Athi-Patra Ruga and Sello Pesa bring the collective focus of the exhibition to its future. Public Intimacy acts to reframe the everyday, treating it at once with a tender familiarity and also with a harsh truthfulness, providing an uncompromising look at the direction of ordinary people living in South Africa.

Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa, SFMOMA San Fransisco, runs until 29 June. For more information visit

1. Athi-Patra Ruga, The Future White Women of Azania, 2012; performed as part of Performa Obscura in collaboration with Mikhael Subotzky; commissioned for the exhibition Making Way, Grahamstown, South Africa; photo: Ruth Simbao, courtesy Athi-Patra Ruga and WHATIFTHEWORLD/GALLERY.

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