“I use art as a tool to confront reality. I use art as a tool to get to know the world in which I live. And I use art as a tool to experience my own reality within the world in which I live.”
Manfred Zylla, was born in Augsburg, Germany in 1939, and arrived in South Africa in 1970. A series of woodcuts about the 1976 Soweto uprising, and the creation of large-scale drawings, prints and paintings in the unstable 1980’s gave him a name as an artist highly critical of apartheid.
Figure 1: Picture in "Interaction" 1982
One of his most controversial displays was "Inter-Action". This event took place at Community Arts Project (CAP), in an old Anglican church left behind after the demolition of District Six in Cape Town. Zylla produced various pencil drawings for this event, up to 3 x 2 meters in size, depicting typical South African characters and scenarios.
Zylla's artistic involvement began with the production of oversized pencil drawings up to 3 x 2 meters during a period of eight months. They satirized classic South African people and scenarios, and depicted men drinking beer at a braai with bombs and grenades in their cooking pot; grinning, selfish business-men, soldiers and headless uniformed government authorities. Then he invited members of the community to express their emotions about apartheid by adding to his works. More than 200 people came and painted on the artworks while they danced to reggae and ate. Zylla therefore managed to break the boundaries between artist and community, and promote free expression.
Zylla then produced a catalogue of this event with the help of some friends. The first copy sold was handed to the police, and subsequently banned. This was the first of several difficulties Zylla would have to undergo in order to save his art works. In 1986, he left Cape Town with his family and donated his drawings to the South African National Gallery.
Figure 2: Manfred Zylla Bad Boi, 1988
The artist has since returned to Cape Town, where he presently resides. He is best known for working in printmaking and drawing, and produces work that criticizes political issues and social imbalances. Zylla has exhibited in a number of one-man and group exhibitions, nationally and internationally, and has organized and attended many socialist-driven interventions.
Since the 1990’s, his focus has shifted to include issues of global concern. Zylla takes his queue from the media, and as a result his art comments on what is happening around him on a global scale.