Edoardo Villa

Born: 1915, Bergamo, Italy Died: 2011, Johannesburg, South Africa  Edoardo Villa was born in Bergamo, Italy and studied at the Andrea Fontini Art School. While studying in Milan in 1939, he was conscripted for 2 years into the Italian army at the start of World War II. In 1940 he was posted to North Africa, there he was injured and captured by the English in Egypt. Between 1941 and 1942 he was shipped to South Africa where he spent 4 years at the Zonderwater prisoner of war camp. After his release Villa remained in South Africa where he continued his vocation as a sculptor. He later did a sculpture of Colonel HF Prinsloo, head of Zonderwater for the military museum. Villa’s first work was conventional heads and figures and later changed to stylized abstractions. His work includes abstract explanations of the human condition but also retains some figurative concepts. His work also has strong cross cultural synthesis which involves Italian and African styles. His sculptures developed further in the 1950’s whereby he started to make use of cut steel and bronze. That was also the time when he was teaching at the Polly Art Centre in Johannesburg. Originally an adult education centre, it was then converted into an art and exhibition centre. It was also the only place, apart from a few private galleries, where black artists could pursue their art and exhibit it as well. Edoardo Villa represented South Africa at the Venice Biennal on five occasions and he has received awards at the Sao Paulo Biennalles of 1957 and 1959. He has exhibited in over a hundred shows in Europe, the UK, iIsrael, South America and the United States.
Artist CV 
Edoardo Daniele Villa is a notable South African sculptor of Italian descent who worked primarily in steel and bronze. Villa was born in Bergamo Italy in 1915 and he studied at the Andrea Fontini Art School. While studying sculpture in Milan,in 1939, Villa was conscripted for two years into the Italian army at the outbreak of World War II. By 1940 he was posted to North Africa, where he was injured and captured in Egypt by the English. Sometime between 1941 and 1942, he was shipped to South Africa where he then spent the next four years at the Zonderwater prisoner of war camp. Zonderwater was opened in February 1941 and by the end of 1942 and held 63 000 prisoners under the care of Colonel H.F. Prinsloo whose head was later sculpted in bronze by Villa for the military museum. After his release, Villa remained in South Africa where he continued his vocation as a sculptor.
Villa started work with conventional heads and figures and changed to work on stylized abstractions. His work includes abstract explanations of the human condition but retains some figurative concepts. Villa's work has a strong cross-cultural synthesis which involves the Italian and the African. It is clearly informed by the cubism of Picasso (who had discovered African art in Paris at the Trocadero).
Villa gave an interview in which he said, “After being a prisoner of war in South Africa I decided to stay and start my career because of the opportunities available for the youth, the ‘open space’ as opposed to the ‘closed’ life of a continental. Everything in Europe I felt had been done, questioned and exhausted. Here, in Africa, I felt I had the opportunity to explore ... If anything could sum up my fundamental concern in art, it is that of the human and the individual – the human condition …. Museums are marvelous but human participation, physical proximity and tactile engagement is more important”.
Villa's sculpture developed further during the 1950s, when the use of cut steel and bronze. At this time he also taught at the Polly Art Centre in Johannesburg. The Polly Art Centre was originally founded as an adult education institution; in 1952 it was converted into an art and exhibition centre. Until its closure in 1960, it was the only place – apart from a few private galleries – where black artists in Johannesburg could pursue their art and show their works.
In 1961, along with Cecil Skotnes, Cecily Sash and Giuseppe Cattaneo and Sydney Kumalo, Villa made up the artist group “Amadlozi” (Bantu for “spirit of the ancestors)” for the conscious appropriation of African sculptural traditions.
Villa's work includes larger than life steel installations, such as Reclining Figure in Pieter Roos Park, Johannesburg. This work was intended as a play statue for children, paid for by Anglo American, selected by the Parktown and Westcliffe Heritage Trust and donated to the City of Johannesburg and unveiled by the Deputy Mayor of Johannesburg Councilor C.E. Fabel on 8-9-1984.
Edoardo Villa represented South Africa at the Venice Biennial on five occasions and he has received awards at the São Paulo Biennales of 1957 and 1959. He has exhibited in over a hundred shows in Italy, Europe, England, Israel, South America, Africa and the United States.
In 1994/1995 Villa donated 140 small and 10 large works to the University of Pretoria. On 31 May 1995, to celebrate the artist's 80th birthday, the Edoardo Villa Museum was officially opened at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
Villa lived and worked at his home in Johannesburg, He was a friend of the artist and art collector, Vittorino Meneghelli and the author Jillian Becker and the architect, Monty Sack. Edoardo Villa Died in the Hospital on 1 May 2011 at age 95.
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