College of Human Sciences

Unisa hosts exciting Breytenbach exhibition

Title: Light Dream; Year: 2018; Medium: Mixed media on canvas; Size: 289 x 113.5cm

The Unisa Art Gallery is pleased to announce The 81 ways of letting go a late self, an exhibition by Breyten Breytenbach. Unisa has a long-standing relationship with Breytenbach and his practice. A portfolio of etchings titled "Kawral", created during Breytenbach’s tenure at the Gorée Institute, where the artist collaborated with Melvin Edwards and Souleymane Keita, forms part of the Unisa Art collection.

While a South African audience might be more familiar with Breytenbach as a writer, he initially studied at the Michaelis School of Art, where he remembers Lippy Lipschitz as a particular influence. Breytenbach held his first solo exhibition of paintings in 1964, the same year he published his first volume of poems (Die Ysterkoei Moet Sweet) and his first book of prose (Katastrofes). This exhibition took place at Galerie Espace in Amsterdam, where Breytenbach shared the roster with Karel Appel and Francesco Clemente, among others.

In a 2017 interview he observed:

I prefer to paint. Painting is more satisfying and relaxing than writing. It's physical, you can smell it and feel it. And when you accomplish something, it is immediate. You have something to build on the next day. That is harder to do with a poem, those belong to a particular moment. Writing poetry is intense and poets tend to burn up early. You are building a labyrinth that often leads to illusions, disturbances and pathological dead-ends. If you only write poetry, you go mad sooner or later. Painting has kept me from that madness.

Title: Autoportrait masque; Year: 1990; Medium: Mixed media on canvas; Size: 146 x 114cm

The 81 ways of letting go a late self consists largely of works on canvas painted over the last few years, in addition to a few earlier paintings of similar scale and subject matter, such as Autoportrait masqué (1990), which combines a self-portrait with the recurring motifs of the window and the bird. The most recent painting in the show is also the largest - Light dream (2018) is a 300 x 120cm canvas, painted in the Spanish summer that reflects on love and loss. In addition to the paintings, the exhibition includes a selection of five Gongshi drawings (2017), named after the Chinese tradition of scholar’s rocks, as well as a selection of smaller works on paper ranging in date from 1970 to 2012.

Breytenbach was born on 16 September 1939, in Bonnievale, Western Cape. He left to travel Europe at age 20, and in 1961 settled in Paris, where he married a young woman of Vietnamese ancestry. Legislation against mixed marriages prohibited his return to South Africa, which solidified his opposition to apartheid. On a clandestine trip to South Africa in 1975 he was arrested and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment for terrorism. Upon his release in 1982 he returned to Paris, where he was granted French citizenship. His awards include the Alan Paton Award for Literature, the Mahmoud Darwish Award for Creativity, and the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award.

The exhibition will open at 11:30 on Saturday 2 February 2019 and close on Friday 22 March 2019. For further enquiries, please phone 012 444 8644 / 5683 or send an e-mail to

* Media release issued by Unisa Art Gallery

Publish date: 2019/01/30