Shaping modernity in mid-twentieth century South Africa

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Helen de Leeuw and Ernst de Jong; Shaping modernity in mid-twentieth century South Africa

27 July - 11 August 2017

Born in 1917 in South Africa of Greek parents, Helen de Leeuw (nee Mentis) initially had no claims to artistic or design training per se, having majored in English and Latin at the University of the Witwatersrand. On completing her Master’s in English, she relocated to London to complete her Ph.D. on aspects of the writing of Virginia Woolf. She never completed this, opting instead to acquire skills in pottery at Camberwell College (School of Arts). With this rudimentary training abroad and an innate flair for design, she developed a deep respect for the fundamental values of post-war design in Europe. On her return to South Africa, she set about exhibiting her pottery. With the trained eye of a craftsperson, she was particularly desirous that standards and taste in South Africa improve. She consequently set about reflecting her taste in her shows, drawing on her diasporic background and idioms nurtured during her travels to diverse geographic regions abroad and locally.

Curated by Juliette Leeb-du Toit, the exhibition showcased her classic themes of truth to materials, natural fibers, and the durability of materials. Items typically found in her stores or galleries were exhibited at the FADA Gallery in 2017.