Can artists change the world through their creations? That's the goal of the worldwide debut of the acclaimed South African contemporary exhibition If You Look Hard Enough, You Can See Our Future. Now on display at the historic African American Museum, Dallas, these artists immerse audiences into diverse social themes, from the fight against apartheid to LGBTQA rights.

There are more than 60 pieces from 55 emerging, mid-career and established Southern African artists on display at the exhibit. "Our supporters, visitors and community have rarely witnessed an exhibit that so exquisitely tells the stories of Africa's diverse cultural and political experience," Dr. Harry Robinson Jr., president and CEO of the African American Museum, Dallas, tells EBONY. "We’ve had very large crowds and our visitors have warmly embraced the powerful, beautiful and bold messages presented by these talented artists.”  

See how the works of four South African artists play their part in the country's ongoing voice for activism.

Mbongeni Buthelezi, Saxiphone Player

Saxiphone Player, Mbongeni Buthelezi, 2013. Image: courtesy of the artist, Nando's Art Collection.

A painter known for his transformative skill of turning plastic waste into art, Buthelezi was born in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“The piece comes from the series entitled 'Jazzing it Up.' As we might all know, music is therapy and so is visual art. This is one of the perfect examples of how I fuse the subject matter with my choice of materials, which is plastic, in creating a visual dialogue. I remove one plastic at a time from the environment to create my art for a better world for us all. The world around me, everyday life struggles and experiences, make a perfect learning environment for me.” 

Kagiso Patrick Mautloa, City People, Morning Haze

City People Morning Haze 1995
City People Morning Haze, Kagiso Patrick Mautloa, 1995. Image: courtesy of the artist, Nando's art collection.

Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Mautloa has made multi-media visual art for nearly 60 years.

"This piece talks about the inherent differences of cultures in our rainbow space. My motivation is not fixing my processes to singular happenings but to embrace the emerging socially diverse complexion of the city and the country’s dynamics. My motivation is not fixing my processes to singular happenings, but to embrace the emerging diverse complexion of the city and the country’s dynamics.”

Zanele Muholi, Fisani, Parktown

Zanele Muholi
Fisani, Parktown, Zanele Muholi, 2016. Image: courtesy of the artist, Nando's Art Collection.

Hailing from Umlazi, South Africa, Muholi delivers her work in photography, video and installation format.

"In each and everything we do, there is some element of activism. We rewrite the story of the Black LGBTQIA+ community. I’m talking about the presence and existence of people who look like me, who feel like me, who are here and part and parcel of this beautiful country called South Africa. If we talk of people who are displaced, people who are excluded, people who are vilified because of who they are, and you have an image that I have produced that informs that particular issue and changes that person’s life, then—in that way—I feel it’s beyond me. It becomes a project of the world."

Portia Zvavahera, In The Wings

In the Wings, Portia Zvavahera, 2014. Image: courtesy of the artist, Nando's art collection.

The 38-year-old painter was born and resides in Zimbabwe, Africa.

“My work is motivated by God and talks about my relationship with [my higher power], my dreams and my life experiences. For this piece, drew from a visual vocabulary that includes women, family, God and shape-shifting animals."

See the full collection at the African American Museum, Dallas, through October 22, 2023.