The Thupelo workshops were initiated in 1985 in Johannesburg by the South African artist, David Nthubu Koloane, together with William ‘Bill’ Ainslee and a group of artists. Koloane had been a participant in the first Triangle Network artists’ workshop in New York in 1982 and based Thupelo on a similar approach of the artists run workshop. South Africa had gone into a state of emergency and facilities and resources were not offered to Black artists on both educational and professional levels.  The workshops aimed to address and make artworks that dealt with the current the socio-political climate that affected South Africa and the impact it had on Black artists.

Thupelo held its first workshop at the Convention centre in Rustenberg in 1985 and was supported by the Johannesburg Art Foundation (JAF), The Federated Union of Black Arts (FUBA) and FUNDA community college in Soweto.

The workshops provided an opportunity for artists to create a space for new forms of expression and a platform to exchange creative ideas through a collaborative process with other artists. The workshop was styled after the Triangle Network artists’ workshops which focused on experimenting within a shared creative process and learning about different disciplines, experiences and techniques from various artists worldwide. “Thupelo”, which is a Sotho phrase meaning ‘to teach by example’, is an indication of the philosophy of learning through shared experience.

In the late 1980’s, Thupelo moved to Cape Town and hosts annually, a two-week workshop that offers ten local and ten international visual artists an opportunity for artists to engage in a socially and culturally diverse environment while sharing their skills in a supportive space. This exchange leads to personal artistic growth for the individual artist and creates a sense of community between artists from around the world. At the end of the two weeks, the works are presented to the public at an Open Day event. 

Thupelo is supported by the Triangle Arts Trust and has helped establish other arts organizations such as Greatmore Studios in Woodstock, Cape Town, and the Bag Factory in Newtown, Johannesburg.

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