The South African art society, pre-20th century and during, was represented predominantly by white people because African people had neither the training, resources, or gallery spaces to show case their art. During that time, white artists had begun employing western techniques and the styles of African rock art to portray a very romanticized view of South Africa which, although beautiful, was criticized as carrying a desensitized attitude toward the political climate at the time.
Even so, African artists were not deterred and began to use alternative or mixed mediums to express their works. Such artists include Dumile Feni, who utilized ballpoint, lead and wood carving to express the anger and despair caused by the Apartheid system. Similarly, George Pemba, who was known for his water colours and oil paints, depicted the struggle of black people (The Terror) and portrayed the simple lives of poor black people in humble or even humorous ways (fireside stories) to show their humanity.
From such artworks, stemmed the anti-apartheid art movement or struggle art which surpassed race as both African and White artists banded together under their common intolerance for the system.
For example, in 1986 South African sculptor Jane Alexander created her best known sculpture, Butcher Boys, wherein deformed humanoid figures were reflective of the South African 1985 state of emergency and the fear that was constant during said time.
In this way, struggle art not only offered the oppressed a way to express their frustrations and anger but also as a means to mobilize like-minded people and bring attention to the crisis that was the apartheid system in South Africa.
Thus, South African art was not only a means to express that which is aesthetically pleasing, but also to portray the reality of the country, both beautiful and despairing.