On July 4 1990, five months after his release, Mandela's call for a Southern African leaders' summit was making headlines. "Mugabe, Chissano and Mandela to Meet" was top of the news in The Star. Just below that, beneath an account of an abortive Zambian coup attempt, was a third story: "Art Entry Rocks Grahamstown Festival". The story was the new South Africa's first contemporary art scandal and its popular introduction to the work of Wayne Barker.

National Drawing Competition
Deliberately breaking the rules, Barker entered two works in the prestigious Standard Bank Drawing Competition. One, under his own name, came from the Pierneef series. The other, a crudely charming and overtly political triptych called CV Can't Vote, was entered under the fictional (black) name of Andrew Moletse. Eager to redress decades of neglect, the judges found the Moletse work was just the kind of thing they were looking for. It was accepted for exhibition; the Barker was rejected.

"SA art caught with its pants down" was Powell's headline. Barker told journalists that he had created Moletse in order to test some of the problems facing local art - and to expose the "ethnocentric bias" of an art world he regarded as "dominated by patronising white experts."

In the slew of press that followed the Moletse scandal Barker would be accused by competition judge Alan Crump of "playing silly games" and of "shameless self-promotion".

In truth, Crump could just as well have seen Andrew Moletse to be watering the expansive ground for debate that existed between the old order and the new, between Third World art development and First World art trends and between issues of representation and appropriation.

These were to become cultural buzz phrases as the country opened up and cultures began to exchange real ideas. The academic art world was turned on its head, and political and social structures were changing irrevocably. Mandela's release had seen the cultural boycott begin to crumble, and the advent of the first large scale international showings of South African work outside the country.

Back home the nascent avant garde was finding its feet: alternative Afrikaners blew up on the music fringe; artist Braam Kruger initiated the Mamba Awards for contemporary art; state sponsored cultural institutions were boycotted by returning exiles. It was only a matter of time before Barker and his contemporaries would cross into the mainstream. By 1992, the Everard Read Contemporary Gallery had opened its upmarket doors, offering them a commercial home. Barker was selected as the debut solo artist.

Le Monde a L'envers

Wayne Barker: Artist's Monograph
Vienna Calling
60's Suburbia
Johnny Rottenism
Anyone for Tennis?
Fourteen Days in Hell
The Bad Art Attacks
The Famous Five do Downtown
Fragments of a Murder
Have you Hugged a Fascist Today?
Landscape with Target
Blood Money
Le Monde a L'envers
Bigotry on a Stick
The Heart of Neon
Divorce in Paradise
The South African Thing
Storming the Ramparts
The Wax Hand
A Love Story
Frankfurt in Latex
The Talking Curio
Back to Basics
Dirty Laundry
A New Kind of Freedom
Photo Credits & Works