Since its origin in 1990 as part of Kuru Development Trust, the artists from the Kuru Art Project have produced contemporary art that is original and remarkable in character. The Kuru Development Trust was established in the 1980's to create greater autonomy, capacity and social advancement for the San* of the Ghanzi district. The objective of the Kuru Art Project has been to facilitate the provision of technical advice, materials and studio space to artists from the Ghanzi community. In terms of content, techniques and style these have been left to the artists to develop on their own. The Kuru Art Project artists produce oil paintings on canvas, black and white and colour linoleum prints, etchings and lithographs. Occasionally the men also work on wooden sculptures.
In terms of subject matter much of what the artists choose to depict refers to the past. It is as if by capturing the stories and memories of how things were they will be able as a community to hold onto these things. The content of the work thus imparts both political and social content. The need to preserve their culture, traditions, stories and myths in visual form has played an important role in increasing self-awareness and pride within their community. This has been further enhanced by the extensive international recognition that the project has received over a relatively short period of time. In a society in which the hunter-gatherer, healer, shaman, dancer and artist are often united in one person, visual art becomes a powerful tool for expressing what one has to say about ones present circumstances. Looked at from this perspective the links with their rock art heritage are clear to see.
The artwork of the Kuru Art Project has also played an important political role. The San people have been marginalised throughout Southern Africa and hence today are to be found on the bottom rung of the social ladder. Denied access to mother tongue education most children drift into unskilled labour, alcohol abuse and the whole cycle of poverty that serves to reinforce dominant groupings in societies prejudice against them. That the San are able to show how well they can express what they want to say in visual terms that are internationally intelligible is due to initiatives such as this print project undertaken by The Artists' Press and The Kuru Art Project.
The artwork produced by the Kuru Artists also challenges what the art world has come to understand as Bushman Art. The work that these artists produce does not fall into a neat cliché of what stereotypical timeless primeval hunter-gatherers should be making. Like many indigenous communities they are a people who have been marginalised in modern society and are seeking ways to preserve their socially transmitted cultural roots. Fortunately the scope of these efforts includes amongst the law courts, government lobbying and land issues beautiful imagery which we can purchase and own, knowing that this time by consuming their initiatives we are assisting the people as a whole to be heard and understood.
Six of the Kuru artists came to work at The Artists' Press in September 2005.They all live in D'kar and all of them have grown up in the vast Kalahari desert in and around the Ghanzi district in western Botswana. Although almost all of the artists are illiterate X'aga Tcuixgao, Coex'ae Bob, Thama Kasa, Xgaiga Qhomatca, Ditiro Mokwena and Koaba Coco are proud to be artists knowing that they can communicate their lives, aspirations and experiences to people from all over the world using visual imagery.
During September the workshop was chaos, artists working on the stoep floor, on the tea table, on the proofing press bed, with Ndodonyane Ditsheko (their printer and translator) gallantly holding things together. While they were here we contacted Conraad de Rosner who worked for Bongani Mountain Lodge near Matsulu. Conraad spent ten years recording rock art in the reserve and is now busy researching the Kruger National Park (he is finding up to five sites a day). He is the rock art expert of the Lowveld and took the artists on a fabulous trip to look at some of the sites around Bongani Mountain Lodge. The Kuru Artists are the first San that he has taken to the sites and for some of the artists it was the first time that they had seen rock art other than images reproduced in books.
The Kuru Artists also visited the Kruger National Park. The game viewing was excellent, as it was the tail end of a long very dry winter we were able to see far into the bush. The highlight of the trip was seeing quite a few rhino, including a mother and calf very close up as well as a vast family of fruit bats suspended from the thatch roof of the Skukuza restaurant area. Although the time that the artists were at the press was chaotic things worked out well thanks to the presence of Ulrich Kuehle and Sarah Dudley, two Tamarind Master Printers of note who took it all calmly in their stride. They later took some of the editioned prints to the artists at Kuru to sign where they worked on a another print project with Marge Devon who is the director of the Tamarind Institute at the University of New Mexico.
Since the establishment of the Kuru Art Project in 1990 the artists have become well known internationally exhibiting in galleries in Gaborone, Windhoek, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Geneva, Berlin, London and Chicago to name but a few. They have won many awards both collectively and individually and their work is to be found in private and public collections throughout the world. Members of the project have had their work used in many publications, book covers, on the tails of British Airways planes and on a set of stamps issued by the Botswana Post Office. Description provided by Art Print SA