Awarded The Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze for outstanding contributions to the visual arts in 2005.
Marjorie Wallace was born in Edinburgh in 1925, and trained at the Edinburgh College of Art, making such an impression with her early work that she became the youngest person to be elected to the Royal Scottish Academy of Art.
In 1953, after an extensive European tour, she was working in Paris when she met and married the writer Jan Rabie, later a leading member of South Africa ‘s “ Sestigers ”, the young Turks of Afrikaans literature in the 1960s.
Note on the Sestigers:
André P.Brink started up the bi-monthly review Sestiger with a group of other radicals – notably Jan Rabie, Breyten Breytenbach and Etienne Leroux. This dynamic, avant garde, cultural-literary group broke timeless Afrikaner taboos, and Brink lost many friends “who saw me as a renegade, as someone who was sticking a knife in the back of everything that was dear and important”. But the group generally avoided overt political statements. Only Rabie, who also spent time in Paris (and like Brink holds the Legion d’honneur) and whose book of short stories Twenty One introduced Brink to “awhole new world of possibilities”, openly challenged apartheid. “I think we were scared of taking the final step and really breaking away from the establishment,” Brink now reflects. “I think we were afraid of the wilderness surrounding the laager.”
In 1954 they settled at Onrus, near Hermanus, and for decades they held open house for a stream of writers, artists, poets, film and theatre producers and commentators such as Uys Krige, Ingrid Jonker, Jack Cope, Bartho Smit, Breyten Breytenbach, Jakes Gerwel, Katinka Heyns, Elsa Joubert and Richard Rive.
Wallace’s total identification with South Africa is reflected in her paintings, which cover a wide variety of themes, from landscapes to city-scapes to still-life work, but usually including people in all types of situations. According to Wallace’s friend and arts writer, Amanda Botha, people “were always important to Wallace, but she never had a voyeur’s approach. She lived alongside the people in her paintings … her lasting contribution is (her) cultural-historical record of work on the marginalised people in society.”
In spite of being immersed in South Africa, Wallace always retained a certain yearning for the effervescent artistic salons of Paris, but “she wanted to support Rabie in what he saw as his struggle on behalf of Afrikaans and his stand against apartheid and censorship”, according to Botha. “For Rabie and herself it was of critical importance to protect Afrikaans from the stigma of apartheid and to have it accepted as an African language.”
Wallace’s first solo exhibition in 1955 evoked critical praise and moved her to the front ranks of South African art, a position she retained to the end of her life. Among other distinctions she was awarded prizes at the Quadrennial Exhibitions in 1960 and 1964, and another at the 1981 Republic Festival exhibition. Today, her works are included in numerous public and private collections.
During her lifetime she held many exhibitions in Paris and South Africa , co-founded the Cape salon, served on the central committee of the South African Association of Arts and was a founder member of the Artists’ Gallery and the Artists’ Guild in Cape Town . Wallace went to great lengths to advise black and coloured artists and to promote their work; and one of those she tutored, the Langa painter Grace Mgudlandu, was honoured with a retrospective exhibition at the South African National Art Museum in 2004.
Marjorie Wallace’s outstanding works of art and her unflagging eagerness to help other artists to fulfil their talent speak volumes for her love for her adopted country and all its people.