Art and science collide at the University of Johannesburg 

Africa’s first ever Bio-art exhibition pulls in a large crowd of enthusiasts 

The Creative Microbiology Research Co-Lab (CMRC) has introduced biotechnological art (bior-art)– the use of living and non living matter such as, bacteria, yeast and wet biological practices to create art for South African audiences – at the faculty of Art, Design and Architecture’s gallery at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). 

The exhibition, which is the first of its kind on the continent, aims to establish the practice of bio art in Africa, while interrogating the relationship between humans and the environment. 

The gallery was filled with artworks by nine UJ artists and scientists, physically exhibiting in the space.

Upon entering the gallery, people were met with Dr Nathaniel Stern’s art piece, The wall after us which was littered with electronic waste and botanical installations. 

VIAD team member Sinead Fletcher setting up The wall after us. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

Professor Leora Farber, co-founders of the CMRC together with Professor Tobias Barnard said: “This [exhibition] has been three years in the making, something that I passionately wanted, I did a five-month residency at a very prestigious bio-art laboratory in Perth at the University of Western Australia. I came back and thought [to myself], we just gotta have this and we’ve got all the facilities- so for me, this is a very special night.”   

The crowd was especially drawn to a work showing hands on which live bacteria were growing by Barnard titled, Come dine with us. This had a rotting stench which he attributed to the acidic contents and the fermentation stage.  

He explained that after Covid-19, people stopped washing their hands, and he wanted to illustrate to them how bacteria can find a home on human skin through touching everyday surfaces. He added that, “People don’t understand microbiology because its abstract, you can’t see it. So, we thought how we could show you what would grow on your hands if you didn’t wash them?”  

A picture of the Come dine with us exhibition showing a hand covered in bacteria at its rotting stage. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

Another enthralling work on the exhibition was CEION, the growing room, by Nolan Oswald Dennis because of its purplish fluorescent light. This room had a collection of Southern African wildflower seeds which were cultivated between the pages of Sister Outsider a book by feminist, queer black Audrey Lourde, translated into Sesotho.

Art enthusiasts exploring the growing room by Oswald Dennis. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

The exhibition marked the launch of CMRC bioart laboratory in the FADA building. Barnard, and architectural inventor, Xylan de Jager said that they hope to expand the space if granted funding. 

The UJ Vice Chancellor, Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi told Wits Vuvuzela that he was impressed with the event. “This exhibition emerges as a message of triumph and hope, it spurs us to embrace a journey of exploration and witness how interdisciplinary approaches blur the lines between traditional disciplines and transcend boundaries”, said Mpedi.  

UJ Vice Chancellor Professor, Letlhokwa Mpedi giving an opening speech at FADA Gallery. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov

The exhibition started on July 20, and it will end on August 19, 2023, with special walkabouts with the artists on July 22 and August 5, 2023.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Art enthusiasts walking past a Brenton Maart exhibition. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov


Student politics marred by party differences 

The University of Johannesburg’s student leadership tried to bring campus leaders together to collaboratively build on a shared vision for students, but was divided along party lines 

UJ’s first student parliament after four years of the covid-19 pandemic, collapsed as students refused to continue in the absence of the treasurer general and the academic officer. 

The UJ Central Student Representative Council (SRC) hosted the two-day student parliament at the Auckland Park Kingsway (APK) Campus. The hope was that UJ students from the four campuses could hold their various representatives to account. However, the student parliament did not reach this objective as delegates found it difficult to come to agreements on basic parliamentary rules throughout the sitting. 

The system at UJ is such that each campus has its own SRC, and a ‘UJSRC’ that is comprised of two members from each campus. The APK and the Doornfontein campuses are affiliated with the Economic Freedom Fighters Student Command (EFFSC) and the SRC members from the Banting (APB) and Soweto campuses, are affiliated with South African Students Congress (SASCO), which is the student chapter of the African National Congress (ANC). 

Missing delegates cause delays  

The first day of the student parliament came to a chaotic end because there were delegates missing, and according to student parliament secretary, Martin Huwa, suspicions were raised by the SASCO affiliated members of the APK SRC that the EFF affiliated members of APK SRC, may have removed names from the list of delegates, but these suspicions could not be proved.  

After the rules, duties and functions of the student parliament were adopted by the house, and the parliament speaker, deputy speaker and secretary were elected. The speaker of the house was Bonga Mshunqisi from the APK campus, deputy speaker was Karabo Kgobokwe from Soweto campus, and the secretary was Martin Huwa also from Soweto campus. 

Regalia relegation and no shows    

On day two political tensions flared when Lehlogonolo Mokwena came to the sitting dressed in EFF regalia. Student parliament rule number (I) states that “no member shall be allowed in the house with regalia of any political party”. Mokwena was asked to move to the gallery for contravening this rule.  

Mokwena refused, and this triggered a lengthy and chaotic back and forth between some members, the chair and deputy of the house. 

When calm was restored, new names for chief whips for each campus were brought forward for election.  

The treasurer general Zethu Mafuyeka and the academic officer Tshegofatso Molapo from the Central SRC were not present due to “academic commitments”. As such, they could not give their respective state of finances and state of academia addresses. 

Amotion was then raised to adjourn proceedings and call an emergency meeting at a later date, when all members of the APK SRC are available.  

The inter-political failures to set party politics aside and agree for the sake of the constituency, is something that has become increasingly problematic in South African politics. One need only think back to Johannesburg’s recent mayoral election, which was riddled with coalition failures and infighting. It is worrying that these political trends seem to be trickling down to student led organisations, sacrificing governance and efficiency to toe party lines.

FEATURED IMAGE: University of Johannesburg. Photo: Supplied


PROFILE: Kalanga Muya striding to greatness 

A young and energetic long jumper excels with unwavering passion and dedication in long jump.  

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and raised in South Africa from an early age, Kalanga Olivia Muya (20) recently set a new personal best of 5.54 metres at the University Sport South Africa (USSA) long jump qualifiers.  

Muya’s journey began when she enrolled at the University of Johannesburg in 2020, studying towards a degree in BCom business management. She caught the attention of her current coach, coach Patience Ntshingila.

Long jumper Kalanga Muya in action at the Free State athletic stadium. Photo: Supplied

Recognising her potential at the UJ stadium when Muya participated in the first-year athletics. Ntshingila, who is also a former long jumper herself, scouted Muya into the world of long jump.

Muya said she has always been athletic. “In my primary school years, I played netball, tennis and ran cross country. “While in high school, I played soccer and did high jump, sprints and short hurdles,” Muya said.  

Her sister Hervine Muya told Wits Vuvuzela that, “Olivia has dedication and perseverance when it comes to athletics, when her first jumps are not always the best or up to her standards, she doesn’t give up easily.” 

Muya said that sports not only sculpted her physique but also instilled vital life lessons. She added, “achieving my goals requires commitment, a lot of focus and hard work, because you can’t get to where you want just by simply showing up to training sessions but putting in effort.” 

Bethel Makoni, a BCom honours in quantitative finance student and Muya’s teammate, told Wits Vuvuzela that Muya’s greatest strength is how she embodies hard work. “[Olivia] understands that great performances don’t come easy and she’s willing to do the work that yields those performances,” said Makoni.  

Muya believes that her own capabilities have been boosted by the inspiring performances of athletes such as Tara Davis and Shaunae Miller-Uibo. Muya said her peers are also a source of inspiration, “I look at other athletes that I am surrounded by and seeing how hard they work and how well they perform pushes me to want to become better.”  

Muya said her most memorable achievement in her long jump career was “hitting a new personal and seasonal best of 5.54 metres at the USSA championships” which were held on May 5, 2023. 

 Juggling school and sports has been difficult. “I don’t really think there is even a balance if I am being real, but my school timetable is usually favourable to my training times, if I am not training or competing then I am focusing on academics,” Muya said.  

While long jump dominates Muya’s life, she remains grounded in her faith. She considers herself a ‘prayer warrior’, acknowledging that her strength, energy, and support system are gifts from God.

FEATURED: Kalanga Muya landing after a jump at the Germiston stadium. Photo: Supplied


REVIEW: Keeping play and art alive in the city

The exceptional childlike fusion of art forms enabled the audience to have encounters with our material conditions through art.   

Created by the renowned Jade Bowers (director), Lebo Mashile, Tina Redman (performers) and Yogen Sullaphen (musician), the site-staged work took to Nugget Street outside the Windybrow Arts Centre in Hillbrow from April 20 till April 22, 2023. The theatre work was produced by the University of Johannesburg Arts and Culture division and the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study (JIAS), and aimed at young audiences although with a broader appeal to people of all ages.  

Bowers, Mashile, Redman and UJ Arts and Culture students created childhood experiences of living in Johannesburg with all their innocence, naivety and boundless play. 

In a press release, UJ Arts and Culture said that Breaths of Joburg was part of a “larger research project that considered creative writing and site-specific theatre as tools for engaging urban publics in dialogue about every day, ground-up, place-making in city spaces”.

Lead researcher Alex Halligey told Wits Vuvuzela that a “smaller model of the research project asks the questions of how we use creative arts, how you can see something in the city and write a poem about it”.  

The Windybrow Arts Centre mostly draws in young people coming from school who use the centre as a place of play and diversion from the stresses of living in the city. Promoting access to art for everyone, Breaths of Joburg enabled the audience to have encounters with our material conditions through art.  

The performances, which were outside the arts centre, attracted children coming from school, students and adults, who lined the wall fence, settled on the pavement and on the theatre’s steps that lead to the street to resemble a theatre in the round.  

Using short and immersive acts, the actors took the audience to a Johannesburg familiar to me – from late night encounters to the vibrant economy of the city run by street vendors, hairdressers and taxi drivers who can take you almost anywhere in the city. 

This Johannesburg is Sindi’s and Babes’ world, two little girls played by Mashile and Redman respectively. The production used plastic beer crates as props and the performers’ creativity to create this world and the characters’ transition from childhood to adulthood. 

Babes (Tina Redman) and Sindi (Lebo Mashile) perform for an audience of schoolchildren at Windybrow Arts Centre. Photo: Mbalenhle Dlamini

“The show is about them (Sindi and Babes) travelling through the city. They want to learn how to make money, and we are those adults,” Redman told Wits Vuvuzela.

The actors had tough conversations with the audience as they explored themes that could be deemed complicated for young children to digest such as crime, death and sex work. However, Redman and Mashile and the student actors gained the young children’s attention with animated singing, dancing and hand-clapping games. 

Mashile captured the audience with her spirited spoken-word performance while the rest of the cast huddled quietly around her, moving in ways that symbolised air and a flowing river. She spoke about how Johannesburg was land that had rivers and fed its people before “they” (colonialists) “discovered” gold. It was an effortless transition of the child into the world of adults that they were trying to convey. 

After the three-day run at the Windybrow Arts Centre, Halligey said, “We are looking for funding to do Breaths of Joburg again and opportunities to do projects that are similar to what we did with Breaths of Joburg.”

Vuvu rating: 9/10

FEATURED IMAGE: Babes plays a monster chasing Sindi around the streets of Joburg. Photo: Mbalenhle Dlamini