Brown wins Heather Martienssen art prize

Kirsty Morrison’s piece The Cut (2013). Attendees were invited to cut the artist's hair at the Wits Art Museum on Wednesday Night. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

Kirsty Morrison’s piece The Cut (2013). Attendees were invited to cut the artist’s hair at the Wits Art Museum on Wednesday Night. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

The Wits School of Arts held the Heather Martienssen art exhibition at the Wits Art Museum (WAM) last night.

The Heather Martienssen prize is an annual award presented to a senior Wits Fine Arts student.The winning artist was Antonia Brown,  3rd year Fine Arts, for her piece titled I will tell him when he comes back.

Brown studied in Edinburgh, Scotland, before coming to the Wits School of Arts this year.

The prize is considered to be indicative of a potentially prosperous artistic career.

The Martienssen prize of 2010 was held at Museum Africa in Newtown. Hosting the art competition at Museum Africa was  strategic, as it was an attempt to build relations with Johannesburg’s cultural institutions.

The 2011 prize was held at the Wits Substation gallery. Last year saw the exhibition at the then, recently opened WAM.

Merit awards were awarded to Daniella Dagnin for Relational Time and Enjay Ndlovu for his piece entitled It looked so much better in my mind.

Dagnin’s piece involved her sitting in WAM from early in the day until the time of the exhibition.

When Wits Vuvuzela arrived at the exhibition she had been sitting for seven hours.


IMAGE: Art in Motion

Photo: Palesa Radebe

Photo: Palesa Radebe

ART IN MOTION: A new art exhibit that incorporates cutting edge technologies likeWits Art Museum is on display at the Wits Art Museum. The artwork, by Nathaniel Stern and Tegan Bristow, makes use of visitors moving in front of the exhibit. Full-body interactions from the public participants make spoken word, sound, projected animation, text, drawing and video shift and change with movement. Viewers explore, experience, and practice making meaning through how they move and interact with the art. The exhibit continues until August 2 when the museum will be presenting their first event targeted at young adults, WAM AFTER HOURS.  There will be music, a unique digital arts interaction.

Tribute to Gerard Sekoto at WAM

TO celebrate a hundred years of Gerard Sekoto’s life, the Wits Art Museum (WAM) is staging a retrospective of his artwork in an exhibition titled Song for Sekoto 1930-2013.

In collaboration with the Gerard Sekoto Foundation, WAM brings an intimate and exclusive display of Sekoto’s celebrated pieces. Some which have been brought overseas, loaned from the Johannesburg Art Gallery and private collectors.

Gerard Sekoto's artworks inspired by Sophiatown. Photo: Palesa Radebe. Copyright Gerard Sekoto Foundation.

Gerard Sekoto’s artworks inspired by Sophiatown. Photo: Palesa Radebe. Copyright Gerard Sekoto Foundation.

“He [Sekoto] is an important artist for South Africa for many different reasons. We now have an opportunity to see an overview of his life as well as why his work is important and that’s what the exhibition is about,” Education Curator Leigh Blanckenberg said.

Wits Vuvuzela was invited to tour the exhibition that tells the story of Sekoto’s formative brush with art, life in the now defunct Sophiatown and District Six, his humble childhood, famous political statements through paintings and his unfinished artworks.

It took the Gerard Sekoto Foundation 10 years to put together the exhibition which is staged in a salon style.

Commemorating the Natives Land Act

South Africa also marks a hundred years of the controversial 1913 Natives Land Act this year that segregated white and black people from living in the same areas and disposessed black Africans of land.  Blanckenberg said WAM will in future commemorate this milestone.

Sekoto himself was notorious for using his craft to make political statements, among them the devastating results of the Natives Land Act that features in his painting Song of a Pick (1946).

The painting depicts Sekoto’s feelings about the dire conditions of black people and the lives of the working class in areas such as Sophiatown, Eastwood and District Six – which Sekoto lived in and was the common theme in his paintings.

One of Sekoto’s more famous paintings Dawn (1944), tells of the dawn of new time in the country, also features in the exhibition.

The painting depicts a woman with a child hanging down her neck, which hangs at the end of the museum’s ramp.

About the prolific painter

Sekoto, a self-taught painter, carved a successful career for himself at a time where few black people chose to enter the art profession.

In a self imposed exile move to Paris, Sekoto left South Africa to remove himself from a racially tumultuous country and to leverage art opportunities in a foreign land.

In Paris he learned creative art and was immensely inspired by post impression art.

“He missed home. He was passionate about South Africa but he never came back. So there is an element of sadness in the story…which is seen in the narrative of this exhibition…he also paints in a positive way,” she said.

Political statements through Sekoto’s art pieces

Blanckenberg said of Sekoto’s political statements through his work: “He said it wasn’t intentional, he argued that he wasn’t a political artist but you can’t really say that he wasn’t. He spent most of his life in Paris, about over 40 years, self imposed exile… He never wanted to come back either.”

“He painted a subject matter of South Africa despite the fact that he was in Paris and he could have chosen a subject matter of what he saw around him. And based on memories and media, a lot of his work came back and was bought. He did make heavy political statements,” she said.

The exhibition’s offering

In tandem with Sekoto’s artworks, WAM also documents his life as a poet, musician and author of children’s books with original handwritten transcripts and an honorary doctorate awarded to him by Wits University.

The exhibition will run for five weeks from 24 April- 2 June on Wednesdays to Sunday.

The museum also runs educational programmes on Sekoto.

Fine art and good coffee (soon)

Wits Art Museum at night Pic: Wits Art Museum

After a decade of planning and years under construction, the multi-million rand Wits Art Museum has opened its doors to the public offering access to the university’s rich African art collection, but sadly it does not yet represent the welcoming space conceived by the architects and Wits.

The art museum’s double volume glass windows and doors which open onto the bustling corner of Jorissen and Bertha streets were meant to symbolise a close interaction between the university and the wider Braamfontein community, but for now the building’s sleek architectural lines and concrete finishes simply highlight the vacant dead zone where a coffee shop should be.

Several hundred thousand rands worth of shiny new shop fittings and top-of-the-range equipment stands unused in the lofty foyer, awaiting the awarding of the contract to grind and serve the coffee.

The unused kitchen and coffee machine   Pic: B. Read

The shop fittings, including a scullery area, cold storage, oven and high-end coffee machine, have been provided by the Wits Services department which is managing the tender process.

The initial idea was to seek tenders for an operator that could run a number of outlets on campus from a centralised kitchen, but there were no suitable takers so a second closed tender process for a unique coffee shop for the museum foyer is now underway.

While the decision will be made within weeks, it will likely be months before frothy cappuccinos and light lunches are served up – mid-August at the earliest.

But after the care and expense to redevelop the iconic Lawsons building to showcase the university’s extensive African art collection, every care is being taken to secure the right coffee shop operator to fit the vision of the art museum.

“We want a slick, fabulous coffee shop befitting of a world class gallery,” says Wits Art Museum special projects curator Fiona Rankin-Smith.

Even details like the choice of tables and chairs call for design approval from the architects Nina Cohen and Fiona Garson to be mindful of the space and consistent with the architecture of the museum.

According to Rankin-Smith there are plans to allow for a public space at the far corner of the coffee shop area, where a ramp offers access from the road.

“We want to keep that as an engaging space, where we can host site-specific installations, poetry recitals or performances. We want to activate that space, make it a truly public space.”

But for Rankin-Smith it’s not all about aesthetics – the key to the success of the coffee shop is the quality of the coffee.

“It’s actually all about the coffee,” says Rankin-Smith. “It has to be really good coffee, roasted, ground and brewed just before serving.”