Willie Bester: Sculptor Extraordinaire
By Leila Dougan
Willie Bester (born 1956) is a South African artist known for his installations made of found objects. Although Sotheby’s once sold one of his sculptures for almost R 200 000 he is hardly known beyond the Cape or the arts fraternity. The Journalist Arts Editor Leila Dee Dougan filmed a short interview with him about one of his other passions… uplifting his community
Bester was born in 1956 in Montagu, a small town 150 km from Cape Town, South Africa. His father was Xhosa and his mother was classified coloured according to the apartheid systems of the time. Bester displayed talent early. When other boys made basic wire cars, his cars were elaborated and decorated, and he began to paint at the age of seven. When he was 10 years old, his family was forcibly removed in accordance with the Group Areas Act. Bester soon had to leave school to help the family economically.
In his late teens Bester joined the army, the South African Defence Force. He spent a year there and another in a military camp for unemployed black youth. The experiences of raw, naked racism and the war are important influences in his work.
At the age of 30 Bester returned to his childhood interest of art. The Community Arts Project (CAP) in District Six gathered a group of socially committed artists and he became involved with these cultural activists. He used his art to express a political conscience and became active in the anti-apartheid movement.
In the 80’s Bester became gradually more successful and known nationally and internationally and turned professional in 1991. Bester lives and works in Kuilsrivier, a suburb of Cape Town.
His works are collages assembled from scraps and junk from flea markets, townships and scrap yards. It can be anything like shoes, bones, tins, newspaper clippings, metal pieces combined with the use of oil paints and photographs. The themes of the art works stem from the political issues of the time. During apartheid it was forced removals and the brutalisation of society. Today he focuses on crime, greed, poverty and corruption. He says:
“People have built up a resistance to anything that addresses the psyche of mankind or people or themselves. I believe that we must protest against that which is wrong. There is no form of escape; remaining apolitical is a luxury that South Africans simply cannot afford.”
Some of Bester’s work is part of The Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC) of Jean Pigozzi. One of his works was sold for £10 000 at a Sotheby’s auction in London.