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Listening for light, a retrospective


Artist and creative, Yannis Generalis, is the product of many countries. Born in Africa to Greek immigrant parents, he grew up between Zimbabwe, Botswana, Greece and South Africa. He arrived in Johannesburg in 1983 and it has been his home ever since. Witness to profound socio-political events in these four countries during his formative years, and having absorbed the rich cultural diversity on offer, has brought a multi-layered perspective to his work.

His parents were economic migrants, who left the severe economic hardships of their beloved Greece behind, seeking a better life abroad. Generalis was born in 1967 in the small town of Bulawayo, in present day Zimbabwe. Later his parents moved to Francistown in Botswana.

 In the mid- 1970s, at age of 8, he was sent to live with his aunt and grandmother back in Greece, in order to get a strong grounding in Hellenic education. Generalis attended a school in Athens, established by the Greek author I.M. Panagiotopoulos. He would travel back to see his family in Africa, once a year, during the summer holidays.

 Ten years later, during one of these summer breaks in Botswana, his grandmother passed away unexpectedly, prompting the decision to stay closer to his family to complete high school. He was enrolled at SAHETI School in Johannesburg, in 1984 and matriculated in 1985.

 In 1986 Generalis was accepted to study at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). His Bachelor of Arts degree, with majors in the fields of Modern Greek literature, psychology, and international relations, has influenced his outlook, artmaking voice and creative storytelling. During his time at Wits University, Generalis was actively involved in student politics, as well as the student Hellenic association amongst others. He served as editor of the SHA publication: “The Aristotelian” for two years.  He then established and became editor of the magazine “New Horizons”, a broader reaching, South African Hellenic student publication. In 1989 Generalis served as national president of NAHSOSA.

After graduation, in 1990, Generalis joined the Johannesburg Art Foundation, a ground-breaking art school at the time, established by the late Bill Ainslie.

In 1993 he founded his commercial design company, Salamander Design Concepts. Other than a core focus on event design and event management, over the past three decades, his scope of work has included theatre stage and prop design, public art projects, production design, as well as commercial interior and product design.

Since 2009, Yannis and Melissa Generalis, his sister, have established, actioned and managed the fund-raising arts platform and arts portfolio for the GBSSBF (George Bizos Saheti Scholarship and Bursary Fund). Through this work they have facilitated in establishing new Arts scholarships and bursaries for talented scholars.

Over the years Generalis has remained a productive part of the Hellenic community in South Africa, having been involved in cultural projects with the Greek Consulate, The Hellenic Archive, The Lyceum Club of Greek Women, SAHETI School and the Pantanassa Art show, amongst others. From 2010 until 2015, Generalis served on the board of directors of project Rendezvous, a multicultural arts exchange initiative, between South African art institutions and France, under the auspices of the French Embassy.

Beyond his commercial design career, Generalis’ art career has seen his work exhibited extensively both locally and internationally and is represented in both private and public collections. Other than 7 solo exhibitions at commercial galleries (2013-2020), Generalis has participated in a multitude of group exhibitions, in South Africa, Greece and the United States.

In the past decade, Generalis has also curated many successful group art shows and collaborated with a number of galleries and academic institutions throughout South Africa. He has also curated exhibitions for North West University, University of Johannesburg, as well as the inaugural annual art exhibition for the Aardklop Arts festival.

Generalis has collaborated with other South African artists, including Gordon Froud, Sybrand Wiechers and Artemis Pouroulis amongst others, on a number of creative projects. In 2016 he curated a major retrospective of Pouroulis’ work entitled: “A Life Creative”, as well as co-authored her biography which was published in 2019.

In 2017 Generalis returned to academia, completing his MTech Fine Arts at the University of Johannesburg, which he received cum laude in 2019. In 2020, he received the Chancellor’s Gold Medal, an annual award of excellence, for outstanding research for his dissertation and critically acclaimed solo exhibition entitled Hybrid Vigour: Ecce Homo.

His work is often layered creating visual, as well as contextual, palimpsests realised in various media. He often draws from his Hellenic roots, which he combines with his life in Africa, to weave a unique narrative of his own diasporic experience. The creative dialogue which is generated in this process challenges universally accepted archetypes of gender and identity within transient socio-political landscapes. In this context, the multiple layers of signification that drive the work, become evidence of what the artist describes as hybrid vigour.

Generalis’ oeuvre is diverse, strategically combining both traditional and experimental approaches to artmaking. The works range from traditional oil painting, to rust drawings, sculpture, embroidery and installation.

In conversation with the artist Yannis Generalis

Join us for the artist walkabout for Yannis Generalis retrospective art exhibition Listening For Light Artist and designer Yannis (John)

Art exhibition official opening: Yannis Generalis listening for light

Artist and designer Yannis (John) Generalis is the product of many countries. Born in Africa to Greek Immigrant parents, he

Legacies Gala dinner

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