How we began...
2011 was a very tough year for many around the world with global markets tanking due the recession. For Soraya Sheppard, it was an opportunity to return to South Africa where she was born. Soraya immigrated to the United States during the uprising in South Africa in 1987 where many of her friends and family were being arrested for resisting the apartheid regime.
In 2011 Sheppard, a single mother of four adult children aged 28 through 40 returned to her birth country to explore new possibilities and opportunities. What she discovered was a sense of despair, resignation, hopelessness and frustration at the government for failing to deliver on its mandate. With Nelson Mandela no longer able to lead the country South Africa was losing direction and stature in the eyes of the international community.
Her love for art directed her to a pop up art exhibition in an upscale shopping complex where she struck a conversation with the artist. During the conversation about the art market in South Africa specifically Johannesburg, she learned about the racist, exploitative, dishonest practices of some art dealers and specifically the dealer whose art was on display. He educated her on the inner workings for these dealers and share some of the practice.
One of the dealers for example owned thousands of paintings by deceased, now well known, apartheid artists who never received the acknowledgement they deserved for their work.
Many artists live in poverty and many have died poor and destitute while these dealers have enriched themselves during apartheid. The arts industry in South Africa is still dominated by white South Africans much like everything else in the country.
Many artists were visited by dealers in the townships and were paid pennies for their work that was later sold in galleries for hundreds and thousands of dollars. These collectors never met or interacted with the of the artist if at all and never being known.
An excerpt from John Peffer’s book Art and the End of Apartheid
"In South Africa art was not deemed an appropriate school subject for non-whites by the South African government, art was not available from lower school to high school. Non-white students were prevented from studying art full time at South African colleges. Mission-run schools had offered a liberal course of instruction at a relatively high standard and had been the training ground for an emerging black middle class. But following the institution of the Bantu Education Act in 1953, these were either closed- if they were in “whites-only” areas or taken over by the state. According to former prime minister and Bantu Education architect Hendrick Verwoerd, My department’s policy is that Bantu education should stand with both feet in the (native) reserves. What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? There is no place for the Native in the European community above the level of certain forms of labor."
This excerpt moved Soraya so deeply to support artists in her native country and create a non profits art organization