The Ifa Lethu collection is unusual in that it did not start with a clear policy of selection or direction, but grew out of the generosity of donors who returned works which they had originally purchased during the apartheid era, according to their personal taste and experiences. They had no idea the works would eventually become part of a heritage project.
Most of the donors were foreign diplomats or journalists who were able to look beyond the tragedies occurring in South Africa during that era.
This project began when Diane Johnstone and Bruce Haigh, both Australian diplomats posted to South Africa in the 1970s, donated their personal collections to the Ifa Lethu Foundation.
In these works we see the incredible talent and fortitude of the artists who struggled against the odds to make their art tell the stories that were so often hidden due to the marginalisation of South Africa's majority black population.
The title of the exhibition, Looking Back... Moving Forward, represents an opportunity to also showcase a small selection of contemporary works by three young artists in South Africa who have links to Ifa Lethu, links to resistance-era artists, or both. They are moving forward and, like those who have gone before them, are still questioning and interrogating the politics of the day.
This year, 2017, marks the 21st anniversary of the South African Constitution and it is appropriate that the exhibition be shown alongside the Australian exhibition, Memories of the Struggle – Australians Against Apartheid, to honour the founder of the Ifa Lethu Foundation.
The choice of Constitution Hill as a venue links the Looking Back... Moving Forward exhibition to the place where the Constitution of South Africa is upheld.