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Soweto Art at Hofstra University Museum Gallery

Three Musicians, undated, by David Mbele (1940-2010). Mixed

Three Musicians, undated, by David Mbele (1940-2010). Mixed media on paper. Courtesy of the Collection of Violet and Les Payne. Photo credit: Rick Odell Credit: Rick Odell/

Some of the best art emerges during periods of difficulty.

“Soweto Art: From the Collection of Violet and Les Payne,” is no exception. This exhibit, which opens Tuesday at Hofstra University Museum’s Emily Lowe Gallery, highlights five artists of Soweto, South Africa who created work during and after the Soweto Uprising. The historic event in June 1976 encompassed several clashes between black students and residents protesting apartheid polices and South African leaders.

Despite the turmoil that they experienced David Mbele, Velaphi Mzimba, Hargreaves Ntukwana, Winston Saoli and Percy Konqobe created works that captured every-day life, said Karen Albert, the museum’s assistant director for exhibitions and collections.

The exhibit, which includes 32 paintings and works on paper and one sculpture, is borrowed from the collection of Violet and Les Payne – a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who covered South Africa for Newsday during the period of the uprising.

From representational to abstract, viewers will see a range of styles. Mbele employed bold black lines in his rounded figures with mostly black, white and grey coloring, while Mzimba created brightly colored, more realistic images of a group of women talking and a garbage man, Albert says.

“They wouldn’t overtly show any of the clashes because that would have gotten them into trouble,” she says. “It’s much more capturing the mood and the tone of the people in the township.”

That mood is evident in Mbeli’s work where a lot of people have their eyes closed – “blinded to the reality of their daily life,” or in Saoli’s work that features a series of three horizontal or zig-zag lines – representing the fact that he was imprisoned without a trial for participating in an African National Congress meeting, says Albert.

“I think that the importance for the individual artists was their own expression for what was happening,” she says, adding that the work “wasn’t bleak and dismal.”

“There was hope. There was belief that they were going to come through this.”

WHAT: “Soweto Art: From the Collection of Violet and Les Payne”

WHEN/WHERE: Opens Feb 1. Reception Feb. 3 at 4:30 p.m. with Les Payne and university students who will perform an original interpretive dance. On view with various programs through April 21 at Hofstra University Museum’s Emily Lowe Gallery, in Emily Lowe Hall on the South Campus. See website for specific directions. Gallery hours: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Tuesday - Friday, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. Saturday - Sunday.

COST: Free

INFO: 516-463-5672,

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