Selfies stretch back 300 years

13_Gallery From sitting to selfie (800x533)

The exhibition, From Sitting to Selfie, creates a history of the phenomenon of taking  ‘selfie’. Photo: Tendai Dube.

The ‘selfie’ has had such an impact on society that the word itself is now part of the dictionary. To capture the history of the phenomenon, the Standard Bank Art Gallery is currently hosting the exhition the From Sitting to Selfie. The  exhibition showcases the origins and history of the phenomenon, often seen to be the result of social media and camera phones.

“There is a lot of variety, it covers a long period of time”, said Sue Isaac, gallery administrator.  The exhibition showcases 300 years of South African portraits, dating back to the 1617 with two portraits by Cornelis van der Voort, Portrait of a Gentleman and Portrait of a Lady.

The collection is proof that the obsession with one’s image has been around for much longer than Instagram selfies.

Capturing a moment in time is not necessarily external; art was created from a retina image from a visit to the optometrist. Another of metal carved into a skull by laser.

One of the more lighthearted time-stamps is a self-portrait of Mikhael Subotzky by Marc Nicolson after being stung by a bee in 2004.

“It’s like looking at Facebook, I just don’t get it [selfies]”, said Linda Engelbrecht, an art aficionado who visited the gallery. “I can’t imagine why people would want to publish bad photographs of themselves”, she added.

Curator Barbara Freemantle explained that sitting portraits in the past were done to “best capture the essence of another human” while selfies are “a memento or to document the photographer’s own presence at a particular occasion.

“I think it’s just a popular fad at the moment which I think will run its course, maybe not because we are all pretty egotistical, so perhaps it won’t”, said Isaac.

The exhibition ends on September 6 and is held on the corner Simmonds and Frederick street.


DFL encourage art and medicine collaboration

HEALTHY ART:  Victoria Hume explains to Drama for Life about how to integrate music and art into medicine. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

HEALTHY ART: Victoria Hume explains to Drama for Life about how to integrate music and art into medicine. Photo: Ilanit Chernick

Art and medicine combined can be used as a tool to heal people, Victoria Hume told members of Drama for Life (DFL) recently.

DFL is trying to close the gaps between these two fields by incorporating art into medicine and bringing this into South Africa’s public health system. They are currently working on a project about using drama and its techniques to educate the public about diabetes.

Musician and artist Victoria Hume spoke to DFL on Monday about using music, singing and breathing techniques to help patients who are dealing with “complex conditions” such as diabetes and those who have been through “traumatic healthcare experiences”.

She also focused on how to “make hospitals a centre of community”.

“It’s about building relationships between South African institutes like Drama for Life and Baragwanath.”

DFL and Hume have collaborated on this project to educate the public about “drawing attention” to things that are “little known” about medical conditions like diabetes.
Hume also told Wits Vuvuzela that despite the economic problems in South Africa’s public health system, it is still possible to implement drama and music techniques into our hospitals without just “sticking pictures over cracked walls”.
“It’s about building relationships between South African institutes like Drama for Life and Baragwanath [Hospital] for example” she said.
DFL are currently training students in drama therapy and techniques and Hume said it is “important to train them in this type of context as well”.

The art of hyper security

By Zelmarie Goosen and Robyn Kirk

Barbed wire stretched across a portion of wall and a ceiling-high “bouquet of security cameras” are just some of the installations produced by Amber-Jade Geldenhuys. 

A piece in Amber-Jade's collection, CCTV cameras showing how security plays a big role in our every day lives.

A piece in Amber-Jade’s collection, CCTV cameras showing how security plays a big role in our every day lives. Photo by: Zelmarie Goosen

At her Masters exhibition, opened at the Substation on the Wits Campus on Thursday, Geldenhuys, a fine art student at Wits focused on the issue of “securitization” of the homes that South Africans have come to think of as normal.

In the exhibition running until 18 March, she hopes to make visitors aware of the South African obsession with safety.

“We create these elaborate constructions, and they always go without any questioning [or] second thought, so it’s interesting to start to think of ways to push those boundaries and maybe… find a way over the walls,” Geldenhuys said of her work.

Crime in South Africa

According to official South African Police Service statistics released by the Institute for Security Studies, incidences of robbery increased 4.6% (or by 4 685 cases) from 2012 to 2013 and instances of residential burglary increased 6.8% to a total of 262 113 incidents, meaning there was an average of 720 house burglaries each day.

Jeremy Wafer, Geldenhuys’ supervisor described the exhibition as interesting because it attempted to display something so often considered threatening into something beautiful.

“I think she’s working with really interesting themes, themes that depict all of us living in a big city like Johannesburg, with issues of what it means to be in secure homes, of security and at the same time overturning that to some degree,” Wafer said.

“[Her work] is a bit like our homes: spaces of comfort, and in these spaces you also always feel anxious whenever you hear a noise and you rush out to see what’s going on, and it isn’t just a class thing, everyone experiences what’s going on and has anxiety, ” he added.


Artists collabo for LGBTI awareness

CRAFTY SYMBOLISM: Onlookers were drawn to the Faces and Faces wall, full of black and white photographs taken by visual artist  Zanele Muholi.                                                                                                  Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

CRAFTY SYMBOLISM: Onlookers were drawn to the Faces and Faces wall, full of black and white photographs taken by visual artist Zanele Muholi. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Walking onto the eerily silent ramp that leads to the new exhibition at the Wits Art Museum, one is met by death. Small mounds of sand stand,holding up colourful wooden crosses that have dates of birth and death written on them.These graves that lie in glass containers are in the Zanele Muholi’s Mo(u)rning section of the exhibition.

The next piece of the collection, Faces and Faces catches the eye immediately as a wall of black and white portraits look one in the eye. There are some gaps between some of the photographs by Muholi which speak to the nameless but dated graves.

“The spaces were left there to show that they could have been a part of this section of the exhibition if they weren’t killed for being gay and lesbian,” explained facilitator Ace Kekana, whose face appears in one of Muholi’s portraits. Queer and Trans Art-iculations: Collaborative Art for Social Change is a collaborative exhibition by visual artists, Muholi and Gabrielle le Roux. [pullquote align=”right”]”…men who gang rape women, who murder lesbians, who beat their wives – they walk the streets as free men.”[/pullquote]

Muholi’s work is on the ground floor of the museum with a focus on the LGBTI community in South Africa – their beauty, their struggle, their murders and more. Muholi is not only a photographer, so her work varies and in this exhibit includes some of her bead work and a documentary film.

The most elaborate display in Muholi’s section are rosaries that hang from the ceiling. The beads in the rosaries are tennis balls and kitchen utensils. The vertical end of the cross at the end of the rosary is made from a knife which represents the violent killings of members of the LGBTI community experience, and the horizontal end from braai forks to represent the supposed hell killers think they’ve sent their victims to, or perhaps the lived hell victims endure.

This is one of the rosaries that hang from the ceiling. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

This is one of the rosaries that hang from the ceiling. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

“When people kill based on gender they like to say it’s for religious reasons, these crosses represent how dangerous that kind of thinking can be,” said Kekana.

The most moving part of Muholi’s exhibited work is a wall with a number of written messages from victims and their family members about their experiences. One of the messages read: “Here in South Africa you have judges sending women to jail for stealing a loaf of bread to feed her baby, but men who gang rape women, who murder  lesbians, who beat their wives – they walk the streets as free men.”

In contrast to the quiet reception on entering Muholi’s floor of the exhibition, walking down the ramp into the basement area, sounds from the television screens set up with short documentaries by Le Roux lure attendees with their mixed up buzz.

Le Roux’s collection, Proudly African & Transgender and Proudly Trans in Turkey looks at the experiences “trans and intersex people in Turkey and Africa,” said Kekana. Another facilitator, Thekwane Mpisholo is in one of the portraits put on display by Le Roux.

The painted portraits are inclusive of their “subjects” and this can be seen in the quotes the artist let them scribble on their actual portraits.

The newly launched Wits Centre for Diversity Studies, helped to find the funding for this project. “They’re the ones who helped us with the planning and funding because they (Diversity Studies) study things that aren’t ordinarily studied by other faculties – that’s how they came on board,” said Mpisholo.

There is a lot to read, watch and see at this exhibition and people can do so until March 30 2014 at the Wits Art Museum.


WITH GALLERY: The 1913 Land Act realised through photos

A crowd of eager art lovers could not resist the magnetism of the historical photographic archive dating back to the 1800’s and commemorating the 1913 Land Act.

The exhibition Umhlaba 1913-2013: Commemorating the 1913 Land Act opened this week at the Gertrude Posel Core Gallery in the Wits Art Museum.

1913 Land Act

This year  marks 100 years since the 1913 Land Act was passed. The act helped to successfully disenfranchise indigenous South African’s in terms of land ownership and its repercussions are still felt today.

[pullquote align=”right”]”No single photographic exhibition could illustrate the full diversity of our complex realities”[/pullquote]

Curator of the Umhlaba Exhibiton, Bongi Dhlomo-Matloa said that the exhibition’s purpose was to help people remember their history. “Commemoration is a relative term here, we are remembering this act that left blacks with only 7% of the land,” she said. Dhlomo-Matloa coincidently wore a black and white ensemble matching the monochromatic nature of most of the photographs on display. She said it was merely a coincidence but nonetheless she carried the colours of our history around her neck and on her shoulders.

Remembering history

Next to the exhibition’s entrance was a plaque detailing the aims, limitations and history behind the curation. “No single photographic exhibition could illustrate the full diversity of our complex realities,” but this by no means, kept the artist/photographer from making an attempt  to illustrate those complex realities.

This history could not only be seen, but was also heard as  jazz, afro-soul and choral music ushered people up the ramp and along the walls of the gallery. It was quite jarring  to hear the juxtaposition between Miriam Makeba’s voice sing Gauteng and then immediately after, a choir sing Die Stem, while standing at the wall with all the apartheid-era photography on it.

Photographic reality

[pullquote]“Commemoration is a relative term here, we are remembering this act that left blacks with only 7% of the land”[/pullquote] Dlomo-Matloa went on to say that these photos were used as they “are very exact” and can therefore accurately depict the reality they captured. The first colour picture seen in the gallery was on the apartheid wall, a photograph by David Goldblatt. It was taken in 1987 at a resettlement camp in the Wittlesea district of the then Ciskei.

Fourth year photography student Melissa Bennett, said  she loved how the photos told a story of overcoming boundaries. She was also particularly intrigued by the way the photos had been arranged  according to a historical timeline.

Dhlomo-Matloa said that the exhibition  was displayed in chronological sequence laid out in a timeline to reflect how things and people changed as time went on. Although a huge amount of images were available, budget and space constraints restricted how many photographs could be exhibited.

The photography on display showcases some of the most talented photographers in the country, like Peter MagubanePaul Weinburg and Ingrid Hudson.

After a walk about the whole gallery, the reality of our history was more than apparent. The exhibition will be on display until January 2014.

Watch the video below in which curator Dhlomo-Matloa talks about the exhibition:




WITH AUDIO: Kentridge gives art lessons in Braamfontein

THE MOVEMENT from artistic imagery to the spoken word is the reason for the significant interest in the William Kentridge lecture series currently being held the Wits theatre in Braamfontein.

Renowned artist William Kentridge

Internationally acclaimed South African artist Kentridge has been hosting a lecture series since 20 June. Tickets have been sold out every night and some famous faces were even spotted in the audience.

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Kelly Gillespie, a senior lecturer in the department of Anthropology at Wits and one of the organisers of the lecture series.

The lecture series entitled “The Five drawing Lessons by William Kentridge” draws from philosophical epistemology, knowledge and art practice.

One would not think that art would create interest in the mainstream public however from the very first evening, the Wits theatre was packed to capacity with people keen listen to one of SA’s most prolific and celebrated artists.

Gillespie added that Kentridge conducts activities in his lectures. He uses visuals and sound to break from the monotony of a lecture in order to immerse the audience in the heavy content spoken addressed in the lectures.

Gillespie said the lecture series was initially presented at Harvard University in 2012. She said that sometimes local artists tend to showcase their work abroad more often than they do locally. Kentridge is doing these lectures for the local public for free.

internationally acclaimed South African artist William Kentridge in a gallery with his work displayed behind him. Photo: Provided

Kentridge is one of South Africa’s most celebrated artists.  Photo: Provided

Kentridge is also a Wits alumnus. He obtained a BA degree from the university where he majored in Politics and African Studies.

His work is very content-dependent which draws on his South African upbringing during the years of apartheid. Kentridge is best known for his print work and animated films.

The “Five drawing lessons by William Kentridge” is part of the Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism session on “The Life of Forms.”

Gillespie also told Wits Vuvuzela what to look out for in the coming lectures

The lecture series started on June 20 and will come to a close on 2 July.

Bookings are essential at


Predictive test

It is expensive to check whether anti-retroviral drugs are working in an HIV-positive patient, but a new approach could halve the costs.

Doctors monitor the success of anti-HIV drugs using a “CD4 count”. The fewer CD4 cells a patient has, the more HIV has damaged the immune system.

When an HIV positive person starts antiretroviral treatment (ART) against HIV, the number of CD4 cells should increase if the ARTs are working. If the CD4 count is below 200, the person has AIDS, according to the Centre for Disease Control.

But these tests are costly and, in developing countries like South Africa, lab equipment and trained staff are limited. To address this, Wits researcher Prof Ian Sanne and a team of international researchers have suggested a new way to predict which patients are likely to have a low CD4 count.

 Those patients who are predicted to have a low CD4 count can then have the test done to confirm it. Their “Prediction-Based Classification” tool correctly predicted 90% of low CD4 counts.

Their study was published the PLoS Medicine Journal in April 2012. The authors emphasise that their tool should not replace CD4 tests, but could improve the monitoring of treatment by making better use of money, staff and equipment.

“Introducing PBC will diminish the burden on poorly resourced laboratories, releasing funding to reach more patients,” Sanne told, a prominent science news website for developing countries.

The tool, a mathematical algorithm, could also reduce the need to repeat tests that give unexpected results. Their research also provides a basis for future studies to look at the economic and health benefits of the tool.

Sanne is the founder and director of the Clinical HIV Research Unit at Wits.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela, 18 May 2012

Learning from a height

“I was inspired to paint this view because I like the way nature and architecture co-exists in the city,” said Marc-Anthony Madella, first year Fine Arts, during a live-painting course on top of the Wits School of Arts Building on East Campus.  The students will be painting different perspectives of the Braamfontein cityscape for the next week.

For more photos from the class go to Jay’s Blog