When the name Durant Sihlali is uttered by those in SA’s visual arts sector, it conjures divergent connotations. Among the formalists, primarily interested in style and technique, Sihlali (1935-2004) is commonly invoked as one of SA’s greatest exponents of watercolour. From landscapes and portraits to domestic interiors and public scenes, his paintings are textbook examples of what can be achieved with the medium. Sihlali’s ability to create human figures, capture variegated surfaces, indicate depth and even reproduce texture with light strokes and daubs remains astonishing. For activists seeking to explore the relationship between art and politics, the benefit of Sihlali’s fast-working deftness with a watercolour brush was that he could document — almost in real time — urgent events: forced removals and the demolition of houses in Pimville, buildings on fire during the Soweto uprising of 1976, floodwaters rising. Art historians might prefer to emphasise the full scope of Sihlali’s ...

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