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Maker: Willie Bester
born 1956, South Africa
Apartheid Laboratory
Date: 1995
Medium: Mixed media assemblage
Dimensions: 222 × 205 × 80 cm (87 3/8 × 80 11/16 × 31 1/2 in.)
Credit Line: Gift of Gilbert B. and Lila Silverman and Jerome L. and Ellen Stern
Geography: South Africa
Signed: Signed lower right of painted panel "W Bester '95"
Object Number: 2017-15-1
Search Terms:
Exhibited: African Mosaic: Selections from the Permanent Collection

Immersive installation composed of found materials. A mechanical metal stool with a sign in Afrikaans (Streng privaat; “strictly private”) sits before half of a wooden table. This assemblage sits before a large rectangular easel form, supported by a white wooden stool, a metal bed frame with wheels interlaced with barbed wire, and a tube that ends in a metal washbasin, filled with further found materials. A wooden clipboard with English and Afrikaans-language magazines, as well as written descriptions of the work, sits on the floor beside the basin. The rectangular board that composes the center of the composition is treated in an allover composition with found materials and painted marks, symbols, numbers, and faces. Near the center of the board, an inset rectangular box contains seven carved and chained figures, each with a number and Afrikaans term (Blanke 00 “white”; Kaapse Kleurling 01 “Cape Coloured”; Maleiers 02 “Malay”; Grieking 03 “Griqua”; Sjinees 04 “Chinese”; Indier 05 “Indian”; Ander Asien 06 “Other Asian”). A series of tubes from this box leads to four IV-bags that hang above the composition alongside a lettered sign (“C-E-O-C-E-Y-5-3-6”) and a red-and-white-striped arrow pointing in one direction. Signed lower right of painted panel: “W Bester '95'”.

Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 1995 (acquired from artist)


Acquired jointly by Jerome L. and Ellen Stern and Gilbert and Lila Silverman 1995-2017


African Mosaic: Selections from the Permanent Collection, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 19, 2013-ongoing (installed March 16, 2018)



Apartheid Laboratory, The Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor, February 2007



Colours, Kunst aus Südafrika, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, May 1996


Hug, Alfons. Colours: Kunst aus Südafrika. Berlin: Haus der Kulturen der Welt, 1996, 76.


House, Gloria. Apartheid Laboratory. Windsor, Ont.: Art Gallery of Windsor, 2007, fig. 4.


Williamson, Sue. South African Art Now. New York: Collins Design: HarperCollins, 2009, 92.


n.a., The South African Sale. London: Bonhams, 22 March 2017, lot 47.


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