Hassan’s exhibition, Fixing Time, at SMAC includes a series of his beautifully delicate watercolours, paper cut-out constructions, a photographic series and two intricate installations: one a collection of old spectacles and a similarly fused-together amalgamation of broken clocks. These works, like all of Hasan’s, reflect the fragility of the world around them. How much has time really changed? What has been seen by the former owners of these spectacles throughout South Africa’s troubled past, and the world’s? What do they see now? Certainly the view we imagine is an uneasy one, as evident in the complex visions of Hassan’s torn paper constructions, delicate watercolours, sensual photography and, of course, his disquieting installations.
Interestingly, while resistance in art was a process developing in the ‘Western’ world, there is very little indication that a similar process was happening in South Africa. Early South African art produced by or for white colonists does not seek to demonstrate resistance, perhaps due its close proximity to the institutions’ resistance art sought to undermine and the artists’ underlying economic and social reliance upon these institutions. The white artists of this time were educated in a way that allowed them to visualise the present only in an accepted Eurocentric way. Hence it was a way of ordering [negating] and misunderstanding the present. However, for black artists, paintings and sculptures remained elusive, they showed their resistance through dance, song and religion, unfortunately very little, if any, art of the ‘other’ remains. Missionaries educated many black artists that are now popular and so the resultant imagery is more often than not grafted-out of Eurocentric-Christian ideological systems of thought - steeped in Renaissance visual systems.
The ideas and themes employed in art during the colonial period can give us a clear idea of the social, cultural and political traditions surrounding our colonial ancestors. From the mid 20th century, for all South African artists, but particularly for black artists, the restrictions and backdrop of apartheid had a profound consequence on the work produced by local artists.
Black artists like Kay Hassan, participated in anti-apartheid protests and he believed, maybe naively, that the safest means of protest was expression through poetry and art. Black artists were further censored, at this time they were not allowed to participate in all the visual-art disciplines; they could not be curators, art administrators, teachers, gallery directors, or critics. Indeed, the Separate Amenities Act of 1950 prohibited different races from even visiting the same theatres or art museums. For a black South African to enter an art gallery during the apartheid era he or she had to be accompanied by a white person. The Areas Act of 1950, with its restrictions on movement and travel, served to isolate black artists who would remain unacquainted with each other and largely unaware of each other's artistic expectations. Finally, the Public Safety Act of 1953 identified artistic products such as pictures, photographs, prints, engravings, paintings, and drawings as having potential for subversive acts, thus subjecting their creators and those who displayed such works to incarceration. The definition of what was subversive was so broad that blank spaces where words or pictures had been deleted were sometimes seen as a form of subversion. Therefore, the fullest act of resistance art, by black artists in South Africa, from the 1950’s to 1980’s, was the blacked-out artwork; ironically it’s these blanked-out works [non works] by black artists that reaffirmed the post-apartheid policy of negating its recent past.