Review of People Like Us by Paul Hogarth…
The artist Paul Hogarth was a prolific illustrator, painter and author whose reportage style won him global acclaim and credit as an important figure in the documenting of the Cold War and in 1958 Hogarth’s fourth book People Like Us : Drawings of South Africa and Rhodesia gave his audience a remarkable insight into life on the African continent.
Published by Dennis Dobson of London it followed on from his travelogues to Poland, China and Greece with forty seven pages packed with black and white sketches many of which prompted serious thought both then and now. Hogarth was still relatively young and yet to publish the kind of paintings he became famous for in his collaborations with Graham Greene, Lawrence Durrell and Peter Mayle. These are simple, effective sketches done in situ and often in difficult circumstances which makes them so effective.
Hogarth loved to draw people, he was affected by the modern day slavery of South Africa and wanted to add another dimension to what had already been written about it by reporters and authors alike. In the book he writes of the surprise of a white official in Rhodesia when Hogarth said he wished to draw South African women with their clothes on, in itself a telling indictment on the treatment of African women by both white landowners and visiting artists and also Hogarth’s respect for his subject matter.
Hogarth had a socialist conscience, he believed in a fair and equal society but rallied against the abuse of the communist principles whose core beliefs he had once supported as a member of its party in the 1930s.
It is near impossible to think of apartheid Africa in any other way than its treatment of its black people to white rule. Opposite is a hauntingly brilliant depiction of the forced labour inflicted upon black Africans. This simple sketch speaks volumes to me and defines Hogarth as the artist he was to become. So often in his career he would capture the ugliness of division and the torment of the downtrodden, he spoke to his subjects, engaged with them, learnt their stories and shared their troubles through his art.
Time and again he would be challenged by the people he drew at both ends of the social ladder. In this book we see the black African trying to come to terms with a new industrial age and the captains of such industries enjoying the fruits of their success in the private drinking clubs, oblivious to the struggles of their workers. I feel almost certain that Hogarth would have found this stark contrast disturbing, indeed he ends the book thus:
“Maybe it was because I didn’t like this aspect of the Southern African scene, that I over-emphasised the inherent dignity and nobility of the African. Men and women who were yesterday living in primitive society and who today have been propelled into an often terrifying industrialism, do have faults as well as virtues. But whatever they are, they are neither the savages or the ‘accursed of God’ that South African politicians would have us believe. They are in fact, people like us”
Above is another telling sketch of the apartheid era; the colonial club with its ambassadors sat in comfort in their deep chairs, waited upon by black servants in air-conditioned ignorance of life in the townships and countryside. Hogarth went to these places, he drew working men and women, children older than their years and he witnessed first hand the sense of resentment felt by the black African: “Luthuli took me across the fields to a colony of migratory laborers who lived on the soil they cultivated. In huts of sacking and the waste of sugar cane, bitter-faced couples emerged from smoky interiors. The women clutched scrawny infants whilst the men glowered fiercely at me. Luthuli’s words made but little difference; there was no mock humility here. I was a white man and belonged to a completely different world and nothing Luthuli or I said would bridge that gulf between us”
Here then is a remarkable book of life in South Africa in the late 1950s, as industrialisation increased so the effects upon the people and their lands would unfold, nobody could have foreseen the Mandela era as Hogarth sat and drew his subjects but this and other such books from those days remind us where we have come from and where we still need to get to.
For more information on the artist Paul Hogarth including a full bibliography and reviews of many of his books please click here