Steps have been taken by WAM to diversify its exhibitions, starting with the TenX10 exhibition 

The Wits Art Museum (WAM) is currently hosting the TenX10 exhibition which will be on show until July 23, 2022. One hundred artworks made by female and gender-diverse artists are being showcased and celebrated. This coincides with Wits University marking its centenary and the museum’s tenth birthday. 

My Heart Stood Still by Anne Sassoon. Photo: Busisiwe Mdluli

The special projects curator at WAM, Fiona Rankin-Smith, said, “We looked through what our exhibition programming has been over the 10 years, and it became very clear to us that over that period, we had done quite a nice group of exhibitions but so many of them were dedicated to one person shows of male artists.”

Rankin-Smith said underrepresentation of female artworks persists because in the past, museums and powerful institutions were spearheaded by white men, therefore these men would decide what to showcase and who to include or exclude.

Upon arrival, visitors are given a book and a laminated sheet about the exhibition, with space to expand on additional themes that come to mind as they view artworks, for a truly interactive experience.

A highlight of the exhibition are twelve embroidered pieces by the Mapula Embroidery Project, which document the covid-19 pandemic. The chairperson of the Mapula Embroidery Trust, Sally Currin said that there was a need to document how covid-19 had drastically changed the lives of South Africans. These changes included lockdown regulations, the closure of stores, and an increase in the unemployment rate. This embroidery project was done by over 30 women, and it started in January 2021.

A tourist from Zambia, Mwali Simwinji said, “I was expecting more art and sculptures that can make me experience the culture and traditions of the natives, something that will speak more and make me more curious of the [South African] culture.” Her takeaway was some of the unique talent South Africa has.

According to Rankin-Smith, the Wits Art Museum will attempt to purchase more artworks by female and gender-diverse groups and educate people about the value of artwork done by these artists through more exhibitions in future. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Untitled by Pamela Melliar. Photo: Busisiwe Mdluli