VISION & MISSION
Soweto Fine Art Gallery ~ Home of the Soweto School of Art
Established in 1996…
Soweto Fine Art Gallery was established and founded in 1996 by Martin G Britz. It first opened its doors in the Rosebank Mews, Johannesburg, South Africa, trading as Winston’s Fine Art. Martin chose the name in honor of his close friend and well known South African black artist, Winston Saoli | 1950 - 1995. For Martin, the opening of Winstons was a natural progression of his love and passion for the artworks created by his friends in Soweto, a group of unskilled self-taught black male artists working and living in Soweto. Martin first met the individual artists comprising the group as a 16-year-old teenager working in the warehouse of his father's Fine art and antique auction rooms in Jet Park, which was located on the East Rand, approximately 30km East of Johannesburg. The artists would bring their works to the warehouse for the approval of Martin’s father in the forthcoming auctions. They would unroll their latest canvases or works on paper, displaying them around the warehouse floor for viewing. It is here in the warehouse where Martin saw their artworks for the first time. His attraction and love for their paintings were instant, so deep was the impression on the young man, that he would later dedicate his entire 35-year professional career to the exhibition and promotion of their artworks …
Martin recalls ...
“I met my friends, the group of black male artists working in Soweto during the late 80’s as a curious 16-year-old intrigued and somehow captivated by their colorful artworks. Their compositions and the bold use of colors were very different from the classical, European influenced contemporary white art sold by my dad. Their paintings were alive and vibrant with bold unmixed colors, and blends of different materials, creating riveting textured surfaces, immediately captivating one’s attention. I fell in love with everything about the group, their artworks, their stories, their histories, and their passion. In the ensuing years, I began visiting them at their homes in Soweto, where I spent many weekends being taught the finer skills of their art. It was during these times, in the early morning hours, after many cold Black Label beers, that they began sharing with me the deep emotional undertones at the root of their compositions and the source of their inspiration. These things can only be talked about between friends in the dark hours of the early morning, hiding the tears rolling down the cheeks of men. It is these deep emotional interpretations of the hidden messages they blended into their precious creations, which they shared with me, that lay a heavy burden deep within my being, leaving me compelled, and bound by honor, to make sure, that their legacies are not lost or forgotten.”
The opening of Winston's art gallery in 1996, which became Soweto Fine Art Gallery later in the same year, in doing so, becoming the first white-owned commercial fine art gallery exclusively exhibiting and promoting black art only. In specific the artworks created by the group of artists in Soweto, which by now was referred to by Martin as the ”Soweto School of Art”. By this time, more than ten years after first meeting them in the warehouse, Martin had studied fine art and design at the School of Interior Design at Wits Technikon, and one of the classes he took was Art history. In these classes, Martin learned about the various art movements and schools of art emerging in different parts of the world throughout history. He was particularly intrigued by the French Impressionists and began studying them more in-depth. He soon saw the parallels between their history and artwork, and that of his friends in Soweto. In 1988 Martin first mentioned the idea that he had been exploring, that the group of artists in Soweto, by academic definition, was indeed an authentic school of art or art movement to his father George. The latter encouraged him to expand on it and develop his theory.
Martin followed his father’s advice and began collecting, cataloging and archiving material in evidence of his thoughts. This included original works of art, the written interpretations of these works by the artists themselves, written correspondence between the artists, collectors, galleries and family members, photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, exhibition promotional material as well as recorded interviews with the artists, their family members, as well as close friends using a standardized set of questions.
In 1994 Martin penned his first formal identification and definition of what he believed to be the Soweto School of Art. He began sharing his thoughts with some of the leading academics in Johannesburg and the owners of some of the foremost commercial fine art galleries. Sadly he found no encouragement or support. Instead, he was advised by a prominent gallerist to “quit wasting his time on the pavement artists in Soweto, and whose art was and would only ever be suitable for selling to the tourists visiting Soweto landmarks as souvenirs to take home.”
It was this sentiment in South Africa that left Martin no choice but to look beyond South Africa’s borders for support. Martin was concerned and felt heavily burdened by the fact that this incredible historical heritage would be lost forever if something untoward had to happen to him. He wanted to deposit his documents and the expanded written theory and two of the original artworks by Winston Saoli | 1950 – 1995, the latter, Martin believed to be the intellectual leader of the group, in a safe repository where it would be accessible for future scholars of the humanities for completion if he failed to do so. Soon after opening Soweto Fine Art Gallery at the beginning of 1996, Martin flew to the USA where he met with Dr. Rosslyn Walker, the Director of the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. Martin presented Dr. Walker with a folder containing some of the evidential documentation and a copy of his expanded theory. He also presented the two original works of art by Winston and requested that they be considered for inclusion into the Museum's permanent collection of 20th Century Artists.
In July 1998, Martin received a letter from Dr. Walker confirming their acceptance and inclusion into the permanent 20th Century Art Collection of the Museum, of the two original works of art by Winston Saoli | 1950 – 1995, titled “Shroud of Darkness” and “ Behind the Mask”. The folder of documents had also been documented and archived into the Museum's library. For the first time, Martin felt at peace and secure in his knowledge that the legacies of his friends and their enormous contribution to South Africa’s cultural heritage, and significant accomplishment as black artists were safe.
Identifying and defining the Soweto School of Art …
Encouraged by the credible support and acknowledgment Martin found in the USA he began working on his theory with renewed energy and vigor, developing it into a chronological manuscript identifying and defining the Soweto School of Art. Martin wanted his completed book to be more than a beautiful coffee table art book. Realizing the historical and cultural value of the body of work created by the Soweto School of Art, he wanted the completed publication to comply with internationally accepted academic criteria to serve as an invaluable future educational resource. Once again, not finding the academic support in South Africa, Martin turned to the USA. In 2000 he met a visiting Professor from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, who walked into the gallery.
Not only did this academic love the artworks of the Soweto School of Art group, but he encouraged Martin to complete his manuscript. Martin and Dr. Happy became close friends in the years following, and in 2004 Martin donated a collection of original artworks with historical relevance to Morehouse College for the use of scholars of the humanities and liberal arts. In 2008 Martin flew to Atlanta and met with the Rev. Dr. Robert Franklin, the President of Morehouse College, and Prof. Terry Mills, the Dean of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences. He presented them with his manuscript requesting the assistance of the college, in moderation thereof for publication. They agreed to assist after considering what Martin had presented, and Prof. Mills was appointed to oversee the project and work with Martin.
Under the guidance of Prof. Mills Martin began the task, never anticipating that it would take another 10 years to complete. In April 2018 Martin delivered the final draft of the manuscript to Prof. Mills for editing, and in October 2018 he received approval from Prof. Mills to go ahead with publication thereof.
“Many times I have reflected on my connection to Martin, as this book, and his vision became actualized. It has been an honor being an “insider” in the development of his manuscript, which identifies and defines the “Soweto School of Art,” as the first black fine art movement to emerge from the African continent. This project marks a significant milestone in the history of art. As you can see, the final book is a beautifully produced publication and is a work of art in and of itself. Through his commitment and efforts, Martin has preserved an essential part of the history of South Africa that will undoubtedly serve as an instrument of learning and healing that will strengthen and uplift generations to come."
~ Prof. Terry Mills
Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA, USA
Dean of the Division Social Sciences & The Humanities
The Book Release, ArtExpo New York, April 2020 …
The international book release was scheduled to take place during ArtExpo New York, April 2020. ArtExpo New York is one of the largest international art fairs in the world attended by ten’s of thousands of professional artists, gallerists, curators, art publishers, peripheral industries, and art collectors from all corners of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing international lock-down regulations and closure of international borders forced the re-scheduling of this year's ArtExpo, at first to November 2020 but presently finally re-scheduled for April 2021.
Martin G Britz is internationally recognized as the leading authority and specialist on the artworks created by the group of black South African fine artists accredited to the “Soweto School of Art”. The “Soweto School of Art” has received international recognition and acknowledgment, by noted academics and professionals, as being the first black fine art movement to emerge from the African continent.
© Copyright reserved by the MGB Family Trust 1998 – 2020 | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
A Promise Made …
To expand South Africa's cultural & historical resources by researching, documenting and collecting, and archiving evidence and personal records of the effect apartheid had on Sowetan society as captured and visually portrayed through the compositions of the visual fine artworks created by a group of untrained black male artists living in Soweto during the height of apartheid governance, spanning the specific period between 1960 through 2010.
Implementation of a 30 year strategy ...
1995 - 2000
To Identify the black artists living in Soweto during the period 1960 – 2010
To define the common socio-political circumstances influencing their artwork
To research, document, and archive the personal histories of each artist
To record the verbal interpretation of the artwork as told by the artist
To collect, catalog and preserve selected artworks of the group as a whole
2001 - 2005
To secure the copyrights to the reproduction of the collection of artwork
To create a national and international awareness and recognition of the group
To ensure the preservation of the original artworks & history of the group
To ensure the accessibility to the collection of artwork by scholars of the liberal arts
To develop new academic course material for studies of the social sciences & humanities
To identify and maximize the economic revenue streams
To design, develop and implement a strategic business plan
To establish and maintain a visible presence in the marketplace
To form strategic alliances with industry leaders in establishing credibility
To develop a digital, multi-faceted sales platform serviced through a central database
2011 - 2015
To develop community-based skills development projects
To economically empower graduating grade 12 learners
To create job opportunities for unskilled women over the age of 45
To develop an interactive educational curriculum for grade 10 to 12 students
2016 - 2020
To identify, develop and employ a black management structure
To expand the national footprint through the development of agencies/distributors
To expand the international footprint through the development of agencies/distributors
To expand online through the integration of e-commerce platforms & social media
To become the foremost international specialist black fine art gallery and auction house
2021 - 2025
To implement the use of the copyrights in the manufacturing of peripheral products
To enter the international & national markets offering peripheral products
To implement the economic empowerment model supplying the demand
To implement the skills development initiative at schools for Grade 11 & 12 learners
To transfer 90% ownership of Soweto Fine Art (Pty.) Ltd. to black shareholders
This will not be shareholders of the fatcat sort, but shareholders at grass roots level where it matters ~ Marty G