Artist Proof Studio (APS) offers a three-year printmaking-training program to diverse young people from across South Africa as well as neighbouring countries. Co-founded by the artists Kim Berman and Nhlanhla Xaba who act as mentors and teachers, this community-based arts organisation was built in the spirit of the country’s first democratic president, Nelson Mandela’s insistence on reconciliation and reconstruction. The two individuals came from two different backgrounds of Gauteng to build a multiracial printmaking centre. It was registered as a non-profit organization in 1992, located in an abandoned warehouse at 57 Jeppe Street in Newtown, Johannesburg.

APS is modeled after a women’s communal printmaking studio called Artist Proof Print Cooperative in Boston where Berman spent six years as an intern in the 1980s. She subsequently received a Masters of Fine Arts from the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University. Following the Apartheid government’s release of political prisoners and the unbanning of liberation movements such as the ANC, PAC and Azapo, Berman returned to South Africa in 1991. She brought along an etching press as well as the right to use the name Artist Proof Studio with a vision of keeping true with Mandela’s dream of rebuilding the country.

She met and developed a mutual friendship with Xaba who was exhibiting at her mother’s exhibition space, the Berman Gallery in Braamfontein. Prior to the meeting between the two artists, Berman had been enrolled at the University of the Witswatersrand’s fine art program in 1978. During this time Xaba, was working as a labourer at the Jabula Milling Company in Springs, with the hope of saving enough money to finish high school. He met the artist and designer, Madi Phala and the two men worked together for over three years. Consequently Xaba, who participated in the Khula Udweba art training at the Open School in Pimville as well as assisting Matsemela Manaka at Soweto Neighbourhood Museum, recruited Black artists such as Gordon Gabashane, Mmapula Mmakgoba Helen Sebidi, Vincent Baloyi, Muzi Donga and Charles Nkosi who became the nucleus of the APS. Some of these artists had received their initial training from Rorke’s Drift Art Centre. Xaba also recruited graduates from the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) such as Lucky Jiyani, Osiah Masekwameng and Samson Minisi to join APS.

The following year APS registered as a Section 21 company and moved to a warehouse at President Street until 2003, when a suspected electrical fault led to a fire that gutted the studio. Xaba was sleeping on a couch inside APS when he was caught up in the blaze that eventually killed him. As a temporary measure the Johannesburg City Council accommodated APS in the basement of the Bus Factory not far from the burnt down studio. Subsequently the Johannesburg Development Agency allocated APS space at the refurbished Bus Factory at 3 President Street, which they occupied the following year.

Nhlanhla Xaba Image source

Since its inception, APS’s main goal through art education and training is to encourage its students to become professional artists. Currently, the studio has a vibrant gallery as well as education and professional print studio spaces, which often accommodates post-graduate interns. APS hosts artists’ residencies as well as exchange programs and facilitates community outreach programs such as Phumani Paper and Paper Prayers that empower people across the country.  Currently the Studio trains 80 to 100 students yearly in drawing, printmaking, business skills and visual literacy. These young, dynamic artists continue to populate the South African visual arts landscape.

APS collaborates with both national and international contemporary artists such as William Kentridge and Joel Mpah Dooh. Individual artists who are presently creating waves in the art scene such as Philemon Hlungwane, Nelson Makamo as well as Blessing Ngobeni trained at APS.

APS alumni includes: Walter Oltmann, Norman Catherine, Diane Victor, Gerhard Marx, Willem Boshoff, Colbert Mashile, David Koloane, Rosemary Marriott and Mmapula Mmakgoba Helen Sebidi amongst many others.

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