BENCHMARKING VISIT TO A WELL-KNOWN ART GALLERY, A GREAT BOOST TO VUT FINE ARTS STUDENTS’ MORALE
By: Qhawekazi Memani – 16 November 2022
VUT Fine Arts Students at the University of Pretoria
The Vaal University of Technology (VUT), first years to master’s fine arts students recently visited the University of Pretoria (UP)’s Javett Gallery for a benchmarking exercise. The visit was organised by Nkululeko Khumalo: VUT Fine Arts Lecturer and Independent Curator together with Sipho Nkosi; Events Coordinator: VUT Centre for Academic Development.
The main aim of the visit was for the VUT students to see that art doesn’t just happen in the classrooms; arts education happens in our everyday lives. And, in endeavours to ensure that the students excel in their craft, the VUT fine arts department aims to set new art curation, conservation, education while encouraging students to start thinking outside the four walls of the University.
Describing the Javett-UP gallery Ms Khumalo said: ‘In my view the Javett UP is a space that enhances unique and exceptional transdisciplinary learning through arts, and it engages diverse public group to explore human conditions and thus assists in reimagining our futures. She added that what stood out for her at the gallery was the fact that the Javett-UP is part of the University of Pretoria’s research, teaching and learning mandate, “this means that this is a place not only for enjoying arts but for learning about it, too. At the Javett-UP, learning and enjoyment are two sides of the same coin. Both are valued, and both are encouraged,” she said.
Ms Khumalo further indicated that the significance of the collection at Javett Gallery is that it focuses on the Black artists that were working and practicing during the 1960-1990’s. “Most of these artists are not found in literature and yet they played a significant role in contributing to the creative sector of our history, as a nation. These artists include, Bongi Dhlomo who also studied art in the 70’s from one of the first art schools in South Africa. Brought by the missionaries Rorke’s Drift, Dhlomo played a crucial role in the collection of the artworks, “she said.
According to Ms Khumalo, this also gives the right to recognise how in the paradigm shift, women especially black women are taking up leadership roles. Bongi Dhlomo’s collection includes a unique and educative assemblage of over 100 classical twentieth-century artworks produced by Black artists in South Africa.
“This proved to the VUT students that artist in those time frames not only had one talent or skill, but they also engaged more than one form of art, like music or playing an instrument. Majority of artists within that era understood that they needed to learn more than one genre of art to make it in life as an artist. These diverse artworks provide aesthetic glimpses into the personal and collective experiences of South Africans during the tumultuous twentieth century. The collection was formed to facilitate meaningful dialogue between contemporary audiences and the country’s recent history,” said Ms Khumalo.
While conversing amongst each other about the artworks, Tumelo Mosaka, curator for the Yakhal’Inkomo exhibition said: “there are shifts and changes depending on the decade, and when one looks at the work, even though there are familiar tropes, such as ‘township art’, there are nuances that open doors and questions that exist and have not been dealt with.”
The students were particularly zooming in on the Yakhal’Inkomo collection, which was published on March 07, 2022, Exhibition Narrative by the Javett gallery. The title, Yakhal’ Inkomo, which translates as “bellowing bull,” is borrowed from saxophonist and composer Winston Mankunku Ngozi’s 1968 jazz masterpiece Yakhal’ Inkomo from the same period. In this song, the ‘bellowing bull’, the bull is crying to be rescued before being slaughtered – this translated to stands for the brutal victimisation of black people during the apartheid era. In essence, the musical composition of Yakhal’ Inkomo captured the sound and cries that were not permitted, instead expressing the mood, and feeling of suffering through the rhythms and sound of the horn. The bellowing bull cannot be silenced.
Drawing on the “bull” metaphor Mosaka said, “the bull embodies strength, hope, material wealth, resilience, and spiritual connection.’’ According to Mosaka both the collection and other artistic expressions from the same period seek out conceptual linkages that address how physical and imagined realities offered opportunities for artists to explore their subject positions under apartheid.
“The most earring energy about this title and its historic context is that the birth of Winston Mankunku song – Yakhal iNkomo 1968 – was out of an apartheid inflicted trauma on a ‘black’ body, it was in response to the continuing erosion of human dignity during his time. We are now three decades into the liberated free democratic society within which the manifestation of trauma is still very prevalent to the same body. This is an irony of a post-apartheid South African liberated society. The curatorial concept and process begins to respond to this persisting trauma via creative artistic processes. It calls for revisiting our histories to learn-anew on how to use culture to confront corrupted power,” said Lekgetho Makola, CEO of Javett-UP.
He added, Yakhal’ Inkomo aims to incite, inspire, and sustain new engagement with various creative forms that are at the heart of articulating a raw and truthful experience of apartheid. The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive educational and public engagement programme taking place at the Javett-UP, online and in locations around Gauteng. It will feature film screenings, conversations, workshops, and performances.
According to Ms Khumalo, overall, the visit boosted the students moral and made them understand the professional practice of artworks.” Some students felt that their artworks are better than the works they have seen. Some felt extremely inspired that their own works will also be curated and exhibited in such big gallery one day. Some started feeling like the lecturers are too strict after they saw artworks of that time. For students to understand that when you create, you develop your own voice and signature. Your artwork becomes your own weapon and may earn you recognition” she concluded.