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Culture on Track (Seeing is Believing) – London September 2016

Forecast by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby Design Biennale Ldn 2016 photo by VC Wilkinson

Written by Veronica C Wilkinson.

London as a cultural Mecca did not disappoint this pilgrim on a recent visit to its ever changing skyline and neuron stimulating cultural events.  The newly inaugurated London Design Festival showcased offerings from 37 countries at Somerset House and other venues around the city featuring work that was uniquely culturally specific and often innovative.  Themed ‘Utopia by Design’ a type of material impressionism in terms of style was embodied by Australia’s Brodie Neill with work entitled ‘Plastic effects’ reflecting  the current global threat of non-biodegradable waste in our oceans.  In the courtyard Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s sensitive kinetic installation described as an abstract meteorological machine inspired by weather-measuring instruments created links through time and between disciplines that emphasized the role of alternative energy for a more sustainable future.


At the Chelsea College of Art opposite the Tate Millbank Gallery I witnessed the final touches to the tulip wood installation ‘Smile’ constructed by Arup and designed by Alison Brooks Architects.  A young Sri Lankan engineer, Ishan Abeysekera shared information and enthusiasm about the fascinating project that will remain on site until the 12th October.

The sheer volume of the crowds in this cosmopolitan city is a challenge that at times becomes a little daunting for the pedestrian navigating past selfie sticks and enthusiastic group excursions but despite the occasional crush it does not match the human sandwiching of people using public transport during rush hour in Tokyo.

An exhibition relying on skillful media manipulation by Edmund Clark at the Imperial War Museum about ‘hidden experiences of state control’ during the global war on terror demonstrated the public’s general insensitivity to brutality and sound as groups of young men  giggled and joked their way through the rooms containing graphic  images and ghastly recordings about the inhuman punishment meted out to prisoners at places at places like Guantanamo Bay.  An unrelated tiny Tibetan peace garden memorial outside the museum provided a small measure of comfort for this visitor in terms of its quiet and unmanipulated dimensions and design.

London’s Guildhall provided treats on its open day when an installation by Rebecca Louise Law suspended from the ceiling reception area  provided visual inspiration.  A new City Garden map  has also recently been designed as an introduction to features of the city well worth visiting.  City surveyor Peter Bennett addressed visitors with an erudite and informative insight into the history and current developments affecting the efficient working of London.  The annual Open House event welcoming members of the public to explore elements of architecture, culture and history  remains a valuable source of information and inspiration thanks to the enthusiasm, generosity and knowledge of its volunteers – many of whom are fulltime employees of the city.

Monet’s irritation with structural colour was brought into focus when I visited Liz West’s exhibition at the Natural History Museum where the wonders of iridescence and angles of light were highlighted through visual displays.

Saatchi Gallery hosted the ‘Start’ art fair from the 15-18 September – a veritable eyeful of new and emerging talent in cubicles and booths occupying three floor levels of space. Here 70 galleries represented their selected talent in what often proved to be culturally relevant practical examples of social insight and documentary value.

London Museum provided a satisfying glimpse into a bygone era with accounts of historical fact and displays that made a free guided tour valuable for an understanding of the city’s history.  An artisanal infrastructure within the city with guilds that monitor productivity and quality continues to this day in many senses.

Switch House at the Tate Modern opposite Saint Paul’s Cathedral does not disappoint with its examples of finely crafted multi-cultural combinations in diverse mediums.  The exploratory nature of a lot of this artwork is inspirational.  As for the 360 degree view of the skyline from the viewing platform on the 10th floor – on a clear day it is rather impressive.  Visiting a place like this is always like popping in to see old friends…

The British Museum featured Maggi Hambling’s ‘Touch’ exhibition, contemporary work in different mediums displaying a range of technical competence.  I found the tender emotional maturity exhibited by her choice of subjects very satisfying.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum celebrating beetles and inspiration from nature takes on more than one form with the first example being the somewhat futuristic ‘Elytra’ glass and carbon fibre construction (filament pavilion) in the courtyard while inside the museum an exhibition ‘Revolution’ (Records and Rebels 1966-1970) celebrates flower power, Afro hairstyles  and nostalgia in leaps through a stylistic era that evokes memories of grooved music tracks on vinyl among others.

But from bell bottoms to Bow Bells cultural exploration takes me to the annual harvest festival of the Cockney ‘Pearly’ Kings and Queens at the Guildhall Yard who continue a 19th century tradition with Maypole and Morris dancing, miniature carts drawn by Newfoundland dogs and enthusiasm and pride reflected by the splendid outfits worn by participants.

Perhaps the pride taken in material accomplishment has given visitors to London an example of a cosmopolitan and inclusive heritage worth emulating for spiritual growth in time to come.

SAVAH TALKS 2014 Lecture 1. Modern or Contemporary: New Trends in Artistic Practices in Africa and its Diaspora by Prof Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz

As an organisation of art historians, art critics and professional art practitioners, the South African Visual Art Historians (SAVAH) provides a platform for research in the arts and seeks to forge relations with practitioners from other disciplines and regions. SAVAH recognises that new forms of scholarship in the arts necessitate continuous public engagement. To this end, SAVAH would like to hold lectures and panel discussions at public institutions around the country. This year one lecture and a panel discussion were held in collaboration with IZIKO South African National Gallery (SANG) and Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT.
Public lectures are given by academics as well as art practitioners whose work reflects engagement with various socio-political contexts. We seek to align most lectures and panel discussions with current exhibitions at institutions such as the SANG so that this series of lectures serves a greater purpose for the SAVAH and the public.

YouTube link: Prof Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz: Modern or Contemporary

PUBLIC LECTURE – Michael Godby | Maesta: Mediaeval, Modern, Marvellous


Dear SAVAH Colleagues

You are cordially invited to a Public Lecture by Prof Michael Godby | Maesta: Mediaeval, Modern, Marvellous.

Professor Michael Godby will discuss Duccio’s famous fourteenth century altarpiece, Maesta, at the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture.

Date: Tuesday 18th February 2014

Time: 18.00

Venue: FADA Gallery, FADA Building, Bunting Road Campus, Auckland Park.

Click here for the FADA Public Lecture Invitation

Merciless ll: an exhibiton at Alliance Francaise du Cap 6th-17th May

'River of Faith' pigment, sand and paper cutouts on board.

Merciless ll

This experimental mixed media exhibition incorporates visual signaling devices from cultures in the east that often highlight universal needs for understanding our individual translation of reality.  Taking inspiration from belief systems, history and gender, departure points include taboo subjects like threatened animal species that are slaughtered for dubious aphrodisiac qualities juxtaposed with benign elements inspired by nature which over time have influenced architecture and design.

‘River of Faith’ pigment, sand and paper cutouts on board.

Artist Veronica C Wilkinson has been influenced by her study and experience of and in cultures in the east.  She was invited to visit India as a member of an international media specialist’s team in 2007 and wrote published accounts of that experience.  The SA Art Times and other publications in South Africa and overseas commission specialized writing from time to time.  Her first solo show was at the invitation of the senior curator at Stellenbosch University in 1991.  She studied independently in Tokyo, London and Bangkok.  Her travels were made possible by accompanying her husband, a merchant navy Captain aboard cargo ships and subsequent periods living in foreign cultures.  Her interest includes archaeology, architecture, craft, performance and language.  She participated in the Bo Kaap heritage mural project which can be seen at 93 Wale Street Cape Town.

Alliance Française, 155 Loop Street, Cape Town, CBD
(opposite Vlaeberg post office).
Cafè and cash bar on premises.

Telephone 021 423 56 99 or email

Mon-Thurs 09h00 – 18h00
Friday  09h00- 15h00
Saturday 09h00-13h00

Elizabeth Rankin’s ‘Golden Anniversary’ in teaching

Elizabeth Rankin is not only a founding member of SAVAH but she has been teaching for a full 50 years! To celebrate the occasion, and to thank them their support, she held a morning tea for 50 of her colleagues in Auckland. She writes: “It’s hard to believe that it was February 1963 that I was appointed Graduate Assistant at Wits. 36.5 years there and 14.5 years here – whew! The real cause for celebration though is that I still love my job!”

Book Announcement: Picturing Change – Curating visual culture at post-apartheid universities, Brenda Schmahmann

As they responded to the challenges of repositioning themselves after the 1994 elections, echoing the national process of institutional ‘transformation’, universities not only commissioned new works but also had to address what to do with the old to adapt them to redefined objectives and a more inclusive university community. This study provides a fascinating microcosm of the production of visual culture in post-apartheid South Africa, engaging with thorny issues that provide insights for the wider practice and reception of art.
— Elizabeth Rankin, Professor of Art History, University of Auckland

Since South Africa’s transition to democracy, many universities have acquired new works of art that convey messages about the advantages of cultural diversity, and engage critically with histories of racial intolerance and conflict. Given concerns about the influence of British imperialism or Afrikaner nationalism on aspects of their inherited visual culture, most tertiary institutions are also seeking new ways to manage their existing art collections, and to introduce memorials, insignia or regalia, that reflect the universities’ newfound values and aspirations.

In Picturing Change, Brenda Schmahmann explores the implications of deploying the visual domain in the service of transformative agendas and unpacks the complexities, contradictions and slippages involved in this process. She shows that although most new commissions have been innovative, some universities have acquired works with potentially traditionalist – even backward-looking – implications. While the motives behind removing inherited imagery may be underpinned by a desire to unsettle white privilege, in some cases such actions can also serve to maintain the status quo.

This book is unique in exploring the transformative ethos evident in the curation of visual culture at South African universities. It will be invaluable to readers interested in public art, the politics of curating and collecting, as well as to those involved in transforming tertiary and other public institutions into spaces that welcome diversity.

Brenda Schmahmann is Professor in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. Editor and primary contributor to Material Matters (2000), and co-editor of Between Union and Liberation: Women Artists in South Africa 1910-1994 (2005), Brenda is also the author of Through the Looking Glass: Representations of Self by South African Women Artists (2004) and Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld (2006).

Buy this book from Wits Press here.


Recent appointments and promotions

Federico Freschi has been appointed as Executive Dean for the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg.   He began his duties on 2 January 2013. He was appointed to the board of Directors of CIHA (Comité International de Histoire de l’Art) at the Nuremberg Congress in 2012 and is now also on the CAA (College Art Association) board.

Brenda Schmahmann has been appointed as Research Professor in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg.  She began work there in March 2013. She has also recently been invited to serve on the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAF) Standing Committee on the Humanities.

Karen von Veh was promoted in December 2012 to Associate Professor in the Visual Arts Department of the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg. She was also voted onto the ACASA (Arts Council of the African Studies Association) board of directors in 2012.

Paul Cooper was appointed Lecturer (Visual arts and Art History) in the Department of Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology at UNISA in January 2013.

Also new at UNISA is Estelle McDowall, who has been appointed as Lecturer (Art History).


Exhibition – Landi Raubenheimer

Collecting the Landscape

Cabinet 2, 2013, 40 x 80 cm, found objects, drawings, paintings in resin.

On 7 March 2013, Artspace hosted the opening of Landi Raubenheimer’s debut solo exhibition titled Collecting the landscape. Prof. Federico Freschi, Executive Dean at the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture was opening speaker.


Raubenheimer explores the tradition of landscape art in her latest body of work. This young artist investigates the Johannesburg landscape in a contemporary manner, through photographs, paper pulp collages and found objects cast in resin. The colour palette of the city, burnt oranges and blues, which reflect the brick work of Johannesburg, are brought alive in Raubenheimer’s mosaic-like paper pulp pieces. Raubenheimer explains: “I make the Johannesburg landscape my own and take it home with me, a keepsake”.


Johannesburg’s legacy is embodied in smoke stacks and geometric buildings and yet the city is the largest man-made forest. Like the dualistic feel of the city, this body of work finds form in the dualistic usage of photography and found objects which Raubenheimer accumulates as she travels in and around Johannesburg. These interactions with the landscape articulate the notion of collecting or owning parts of the landscape which gives many of the artworks a nostalgic essence.


Subtly controversial, landscape art is traditionally an expression of humankind’s dominance over nature. More recent interpretations have reflected the destruction and decay that modernisation has wrought. Urban landscape is often a political expression of societal tensions, particularly in a South African landscape. As a medium of expression, landscape work seldom escapes the tinge of nostalgia for a “purer landscape” in its aesthetic. Rather than commenting on the power relationship implicit in the capturing of landscape, Raubenheimer collects the essence of her experience of Johannesburg, allowing her audience to feel nostalgic toward the cityscape, as she often does. The nostalgia for landscape is here ironically also a hankering for the simplicity of the 1970’s industrial cityscape in factories, power stations and the streets of downtown Johannesburg. Although working with photography and found objects, Raubenheimer joins South African artists like painter Henk Serfontein and draughtsman Jaco van den Heever in exploring the contemporary concerns of South African cities.


Collecting the landscape is the artist’s exploration of three interpretations of the landscape; photography, paper pulp and found objects. Through photography the artist keeps a visual record of the city and the things in it that she finds interesting. These photographs are often taken from car windows, allowing the viewer to experience the city as a tourist. The importance of light and colour when capturing a place is also reflected in these photos. This informs the second part of the work, paper pulp skylines. These works are made from pulp dyed in saturated blues, greens, aquamarines, burning pinks and oranges, and deep black shades. Lastly, Raubenheimer explores the landscape through a collection of found objects, which she casts in resin into cabinets. “Objects have a history, either of the landscape, or of the people who inhabit the landscape”, says Raubenheimer. She collects dead insects and birds, jacaranda blossoms, seed pods, containers, packaging, old keys, coins and more, as she travels around the city.


The exhibition is at Artspace, 1 Chester Court, 142 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood, Rosebank. It closes on 3 April.