Artist Siopis continues to inspire

Artist Siopis continues to inspire

Globally acclaimed South African artist Penny Siopis opened her latest exhibition Time and Again at the Wits Art Museum on Monday. A retrospective view on Siopis’ 30 years of artwork, Siopis remains relevant and inspirational. 

RETROSPECTIVE VIEW: Exhibition goers take a look at one of Siopis' works. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

RETROSPECTIVE VIEW: Exhibition-goers take a closer look at one of Penny Siopis’ works at the Wits Arts Museum in Braamfontein. Photo: Katleho Sekhotho

“Where’s Penny? Where’s Penny?” asked curator Fiona Rankin-Smith.

“Oh there she is,” says Rankin-Smith. “It’s wonderful to welcome Penny Siopis back to her second home.”

“Penny” is globally-renowned artist Penny Siopsis who on Monday opened a celebration of three decades of her work at an exhibition at the Wits Art Museum (WAM).

The evening was buzzing with many trying to get Siopis’ attention.

I was able to speak to her for just a few moments before she had to dash off. Kind and sweet, it was the first time I was able to put a face to the woman who had been an essential part in my visual arts learning in high school.

I want to dedicate the exhibition to my partner, my husband Colin Richards, who died very tragically and suddenly in 2012

Indeed the exhibition was focused around her many years of artwork, but more importantly her artwork was a commemoration to her late husband Colin Richards.

“I want to dedicate the exhibition to my partner, my husband Colin Richards, who died very tragically and suddenly in 2012, said Siopis. “He’s a very strong presence in the exhibition as he would be, and he’s also a very strong presence in the book that’s been published to coincide with the exhibition.”

Fellow artist Clive van den Berg introduced Siopis with the words, “Penny it gives me such profound happiness to celebrate with you, in loved ones present and absent, the results of 30 years of work.”

I first encountered the mythical idea of pink pinky as a child and then seeing that depicted in Siopis’ Pinky Pinky series of hand printed lithograph’s felt familiar.

As Van den Berg says: “So when we look at Pinky Pinky paintings or the so-called cake paintings, Penny’s method has already created a bridge for our understanding even before we think of their imagery.

”Similarly if we look at the history paintings which were formed by cutting and pasting illustrations from history books , the method, the sharply cut edges, the disjuncture of scale of association and narrative, tells us viscerally what she is doing before we put into words their basic premise.”

During her opening speech Siopis gave a heartfelt recount of the years of artwork that had finally lead her here:

“I also want to say that Clive has a very special meaning in my life, we were best friends when I first started out in Durban, we taught together … That was the time I made Queen Cakes and some of the earlier cake paintings. So to start this exhibition effectively in 1980 with the Queen Cakes and have Clive open the exhibition, and have Fiona here at WAM, putting a whole show together, is very, very special to me.

“So it’s this whole personal angle which is quite different,” she said.

Sipois said the exhibition includes her work up to 2012, when her husband passed away.

“There have been no works on this exhibition since he died. So for me the physical objects in this space mark his presence as much as my memory of him, and those who knew him at Wits would recognize in the exhibition.”

The exhibition ends on the 20th of July 2015.

Art or Vandalism: Graffiti and street art in Braamfontein

Art or Vandalism: Graffiti and street art in Braamfontein

Perceptions of graffiti in Johannesburg range from it being beautiful artworks to malicious damage of property. Removal of graffiti is a difficult process and where to draw the line between vandalism and art is often difficult to find.

STREET ART: Graffiti on the corner of Henry and De Korte street, Braamfontein done by  graffiti artist Rasty and  crew. Photo: Samantha Camara

STREET ART: Graffiti on the corner of Henry and De Korte street, Braamfontein done by graffiti artist Rasty and crew. Photo: Samantha Camara

Hanre Heunis spends his time removing graffiti from other people’s property. The managing director of a local graffiti removal service, Heunis believes there is an artistic side to the practice of street art. He says many property owners think that graffiti is vandalism because they did not choose to have their walls defaced or tagged (when a new graffiti artist spray-paints their name on a wall to practice and develop their own style).

Property owners who have been the victims of repeated tagging often remove the tags because it makes their business premises look unprofessional or decreases the value of the property. “There is a fine line between being artistic and repeat tagging,” said Heunis.

There is a high concentration of graffiti in the inner city and removing it is a highly-skilled, specialised and expensive process, says Heunis. It involves chemical testing, high pressure water tanks and newly developed products that often need to be imported from the United Kingdom due to a lack of local manufacturing. Removal is also extremely labour intensive as more porous surfaces require more applications.

But perceptions are shifting especially when artists ask for permission, according to Vorster, an ex-Witsie who did his honours in Fine Arts. “If you wake up in the morning and someone’s tagged your window it sucks … get permission and do your art … you’ll be surprised how many people say yes.”

Graffiti artists find it exciting to work illicitly at night but it often means that the quality of the work decreases because there is less time and more pressure to get the work done in a short amount of time, according to Vorster.

The other side of the (street art) coin 
ADDING COLOUR: Comic style graffiti done by American graffiti artist, Pose in De Korte street, Braamfontein. Photo: Samantha Camara

ADDING COLOUR: Comic style graffiti done by American graffiti artist, Pose in De Korte street, Braamfontein. Photo: Samantha Camara

In Johannesburg there are a few designated walls for street art on Barry Hertzog Avenue and Empire Road but Brian* says these walls are mostly used for graffiti style advertising and the limited amount of wall space restricts the art.

One of Vorster’s first tags was a Vodacom telephone box, he saw it as a victory when the box was removed. Vorster now gets permission for his work and is often commissioned to do murals. One of his commissioned pieces was removed for safety reasons because people were constantly taking photos at the wall, which made the owner feel unsafe.

Brian* says he doesn’t mind his art being removed: “It [the art] has its lifespan. It doesn’t faze me, I just need to do more. For every one that is taken down, I need to put up another one.”

*Names have been changed.


Xhosa struggle is a black and white issue

UNSETTLING HISTORY: Cedric Nunn posing with some of his photographs from the Unsettled exhibition on the opening night. Photo by Sibongile Machika

UNSETTLING HISTORY: Cedric Nunn posing with some of his photographs from the Unsettled exhibition on the opening night. Photo Sibongile Machika

A black-and-white photographic exhibition highlighting the struggle of the Xhosa people opened at Wits Art Museum (WAM) this week.

The photographs, by acclaimed South African photographer Cedric Nunn, depict landscapes and buildings where key events took place.

The exhibition reflects the story of the Xhosa people that managed to resist British and Boer domination for 100 years in the Eastern Cape. The people in his portraits are the descendants of active participants in the wars and negotiations of that time.

“All this before the Shaka reign, yet history does not remember the Xhosas with the same glory.”

Nunn started his career documenting the realities of apartheid. His work mainly focuses on social change with particular interest in rural communities and issues. But reflecting a 100-year journey authentically was difficult. He said he focused on landscapes because land has an amazing ability to hold time. Black and white photography simply enhances that effect, said Nunn.

“This is an incredible story,” said Nunn. “That’s why I was drawn to it. Often people forget to see the good. Here is a nation that resisted British rule for 100 years,” Nunn said.

They had a dignity and code of conduct that carried them throughout the nine wars that played out at the time. “All this before the Shaka reign, yet history does not remember the Xhosas with the same glory,” said Nunn.

He said he felt a deep connection to this story because he is a descendant of a British settler who went on to marry a Zulu woman at time when it was seen as the ultimate taboo. More importantly this is a South African and that’s why it matters to him.

This project took three years to complete and was funded by Mellon Senior Scholar funding from Rhodes University. The scholarship allowed Nunn to be entrenched in the Grahamstown community while doing his work. Most of the pictures were shot in film so it took months before he could see the results of his work.

“More importantly this is a South African and that’s why it matters to him.”

Nunn said he hopes to leave a positive legacy for young South Africans and his exhibitions are one way of doing it. Unsettled depicts an important time in South African history and showcases the strength, dignity and humility of the Xhosa people which Nunn said he could still experience 150 years later.

Unsettled: One Hundred Years War of Resistance by Xhosa against Boer and British is showing from the 10th March to the 12th April 2015. WAM is open to the public Wednesday – Friday between 10a.m and 6p.m.


About those stacks of bricks you’ve seen on the Wits campus

About those stacks of bricks you’ve seen on the Wits campus

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HOME DÉCOR: Masters Students Jamy-Lee Brophy and Megan Heilig exhibit recreations of the home environment at various venues in and around campus. The displays are part of their new project which focuses on creating what they call ‘institutions’, which explores and examines what we as multicultural beings experience as an institution and the effects of this experience. Photo: Provided

You’ve probably seen the stack of bricks arranged outside the Wits School of Arts, the Great Hall and other random places around campus and been curious and confused about why they’re there.

As part of a new project, Wits Fine Arts students Jamy-Lee Brophy and Megan Heilig have collected unused bricks from campus and around Braamfontein and built small-scale structures they call ”institutions”.

The project focuses on exploring and examining the idea of what different institutions, especially homes, mean to us in Johannesburg and as students on campus.

“We’re questioning the ideas of institutions, and how institutions reinforce ideologies and constructions and we try and challenge them,” said Brophy. “We have collected bricks … and what we do from this is basically try to build an institution, one that can create a conversation in different spaces and one that’s kind of transitory.”

Heilig added: “I think an institution is an experience, so in everyone’s lives we experience things such as race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, cultural background, and all these things amalgamated within the city and especially in Johannesburg.”

Brophy and Heilig collected the bricks for free from people who wanted to get rid of them, but they also “stole” materials some of them from campus. Heilig said they stole materials because Wits wouldn’t give them funding for their project.

The duo also want to challenge and question the idea of claiming space on Wits campus. The current installation placed outside the Great Hall, which appear to be a pile of bricks, is seen as a “cornerstone”, the implication that there’s an institution outside of another institution. They move the bricks around to rebuild these institutions in various locations so that people will start talking about it and about why they’re doing it.

The focus of their project is somewhat political, and they look at political parties as institutions in themselves and what they represent or how they misrepresent. They created the Halfa Pitchca Party, which is their own organisation and which helps them examine the idea of the relationship between politics and art.

“I think that art is political, and that what’s happening here can be political and it can be social, and it can relate to other people,” said Heilig. “This thing is not just about art for art’s sake, we’re not painting to look how nice paint looks on a canvas, that’s not what all people do here.”

They want to encourage other students on campus to go to exhibitions held at places like the Substation and the Wits Art Museum and know that art is for everybody and something everybody can relate to. Their current project is a way of getting out on the streets and getting talking.

“We want people to know about it [exhibitions],” said Heilig. “We don’t want it to be this underground thing where only if you’re cool and in with the art kids you can come and check out their stuff, that’s bullshit. We need something fresh, something new, and we want to open up spaces in the city on the street and have spaces that we create, especially in the city.”

Selfies stretch back 300 years

Selfies stretch back 300 years

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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.