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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

Reminder – Prof Annie van den Oever Inaugural Lecture: Foundational Questions for a Film And Visual Media Programme

See invitation attached for details.


Critical Thought, History and the Aesthetic Regime: Freedom and the Work of the Imagination. SAVAH Conference 2013 Keynote Address by Professor Anthony Bogues

Edouard Duval Carrie memoire sans histoire 2009

In a wonderfully engaging keynote address Professor Bogues discusses three topics: The relationship of aesthetics to the question of history; Artists creating visibility in their work; and how we can think about the work of the imagination and its creation of symbols. Professor Bogues made reference to the artwork of Haitian artist Edouard Duval Carrie, who he is currently writing a book on.

Please click the link below to listen to the keynote on SoundCloud:
SAVAH Conference 2013 Keynote

Vote for the SAVAH Council

Image by (Creative Commons License)

All SAVAH members in good standing are entitled to vote for the new SAVAH council. Please check your mailboxes for an email in this regard. If you have not received it, please contact Karen Von Veh (info [at] SAVAH [dot] org [dot] za).

If you have not voted yet, please do so before the closing date on on the 28th of August 2013 at 14:00 (GMT+2).

Footsteps in the land of the Lotus – Veronica C. Wilkinson

Artist Veronica C Wilkinson, who exhibited at the Alliance Francaise in Cape Town in May 2013, has been influenced by her study and experience of and in cultures in the east.  Here she looks back at a trip she made just over ten years ago, in July 2003.

* * *

The 17th-century frescoes inside sandstone Po Win Daung caves near Moniwa in Myanmar link visitors to enduring facets of Burmese culture. Sculptures and reliefs portray mythical characters and significant symbolism recording dress codes and hairstyles providing visual clues to custom and social hierarchy in bygone times.  Myanmar, known as Burma until 1988, has a population of around 50 million people; more than 80% Buddhist with nat (spirit) worship still a significant element in their belief systems. Burma is bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand.

All photos by Veronica Wilkinson

My journey to this ideologically torn country was to visit historically important temples, museums and archaeological sites.

Cloth (sap-lwe) wrapped Palm leaf manuscripts are bound with tablet-woven cord (sazigyo).  These written or carefully incised religious scriptures, many still in use today, have motifs on the binding cord ranging from the mythical bearded chinthe – in some instances a bearded lion that guards stairways to pagoda platforms to the nat – depicted as a supernatural being holding a staff to strike the ground in order to placate subterranean spirits and offer them a share of the spiritual blessing known as ‘merit’.  This merit is also earned by offering sustenance and gifts of necessities to Buddhist monks and nuns.  Red and white thread or cloth attached to mirrors or dashboards of vehicles also acknowledge versions of these brother and sister nats.

Major cultural and design influences in this part of the world stem from China and India with fascinating assimilations and innovations resulting in spectacular architecture like Shwedagon Pagoda (its present form dates back to 1769) in Yangon and the pagoda peppered plain of Bagan where structures have been divided into three stylistic periods by Paul Strachan dating from 850AD to around 1300 – to name but one source.

Manual craft production is generally of a very high standard and examples of visual art, performance, music and culinary delights like a common dessert of pickled tea and fried nuts are part of everyday existence in a land where superstition and religion are jointly acknowledged. It was often possible to watch artisans engaged in every stage of production making laquerware, intricate sequined kalaga wall hangings and other prized objects sold in tourist and collector’s markets.

During the rainy season roads often subside but although I was advised to fly from Yangon to Mandalay I opted for road travel with a driver and guide, discovering that language was no barrier when we found our sedan vehicle deep in mud during a detour through a rice paddy near Moniwa.  When I realized that both driver and guide were fervently praying we agreed to appeal to a passing truck to tow us back to the road.  Passive travel is rarely an option in this part of the world although sensitivities do need to be observed carefully.  My colleagues at the Siam Society in Bangkok warned and advised me about the realities of travel in Burma as a preparation for my journey.

Heat and circumstances sometimes invited Kiplinesque leaps of the imagination but the reality of my encounter with this interesting country where more than 60 ethnic groups are formally recognized and regions retain their distinctive identities kept my observations clear.

On a visit to Inle Lake I discovered that prized lotus cloth used for making monks sacred robes continues and the labour intensive process of extracting filaments from lotus stems and rolling them into thread before they are manually processed for weaving forms part of a respected tradition. Reputed to be stronger than cotton extensive detail about this natural fiber can be found in Sylvia Fraser Lu and Ma Thanegi’s chapter 5 ’Stemming from the Lotus’ in the Fowler Museum publication ‘Material Choices’.

Cosmetic thanaka bark paste is worn to protect skin from the sun by adults and children while the sarong-like lungi is worn like a skirt by men and women.  It is necessary to remove shoes and socks within the sacred precincts of pagodas and holy sites so when possible I’d visit early in the morning before the sun had warmed tiles and stone to uncomfortable temperatures.  Somehow the idea of a impromptu macarena didn’t seem appropriate and might have offended devout locals who don’t often have a high opinion of foreigners anyway.

Before I left Yangon for my tour of Myanmar which took me as far north as the remote northern town of Mrauk U local artist Min Wae Aung invited me to a gathering of his colleagues at his studio and home.  I met  journalist Daw Ma Thanegi, painter U Min Wae Aung, English teacher U Maung Maung Thein and painter U Soe Moe (Artist’s House art gallery) among other local artists and writers who gather regularly to watch screenings of films like ‘Frida’ as part of their cross-cultural artistic enrichment.

The open brick production sites in the city with their slurry and sensuous textures contrast with museum offerings mapping history, cultural production and development of a still conflicted country once colonized by the British.  Indeed, pointing an umbrella at anything sacred is still considered an offence to this day!

From pavements splattered with red betel and discarded green cheroot butts – an abstracted gritty urban vision of effect reflecting social habits to the welcoming words of the airport official who greeted me to the country with ‘Mingalabar’ (it’s a blessing!) differences and similarities inspire my belief in the transformative power of positive creativity. My notebooks packed with drawings and written observations and my camera were companions during these travels and remain records of unusually rewarding explorations in eastern cultures.

Vacancy: Head of School – Wits School of Arts

The Faculty of Humanities of the University of the Witwatersrand invites applicants for the Headship of the Wits School of Arts. One of the top interdisciplinary institutes of its kind, the School brings together the divisions of Digital Arts, Film and Television, Fine Arts, Heritage and Cultural Management, History of Art, and Music, Dramatic Arts and Drama for Life. Some of South Africa’s leading artists, composers, performers, and cultural theorists are affiliated with the School, which combines a strong academic programme with rigorous training in performance and artistic practice.

The Head of School is expected to provide strong intellectual leadership, to have a detailed knowledge of the visual and performing arts, and to be an effective and practical administrator. In addition, the successful candidate should have an excellent sustained record of teaching in the humanities, as well as a record of high quality research or artistic production. She or he should also demonstrate an understanding of both research-driven academic practice and practice-based activities; such as performance, directing, visual art, and curating.

Such an individual must also have a proven record of effective human resources management, and must be able to articulate a vision of the interdisciplinary arts in South Africa, and in Johannesburg, that will carry the School into its next phase of academic planning, recruitment, and fundraising. The candidate should have excellent communication and inter-personal skills. There should be evidence of the her/his ability to maintain and extend the School’s existing international partnerships and its Africa exchange programme in the interests of enhancing  the School’s academic and creative profile.


The standard period of appointment is 5 years, after which the candidate may seek another term or be integrated into a senior teaching and research position in the School.

Remuneration will be appropriate to the seniority of the post and will be negotiated on an individual basis.

Enquiries: Acting Dean of Humanities: Professor Ruksana Osman, Tel: 011 717 4011 or e-mail:;

To apply: Submit a letter of motivation, a CV, names and contacts details (include telephone numbers and e-mail addresses) of three referees to Lolo Ngubeni, Human Resources Manager, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Private Bag3, WITS 2050, South Africa or

Closing date: 31 May 2013

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

President’s Letter

April 2013

President’s letter for SAVAH members

Dear SAVAH Members

This epistle begins with an apology from me and the SAVAH council for the lack of a newsletter for so long.  The end of 2012 was frenetic for various reasons, and we have waited for so long this year because we wanted to publish the newsletter with the launch of our new website.  This marks the ‘maiden voyage’ of our website which will now replace our old (and erratic) newsletter.  Many thanks to Neil Lowe for his efforts in getting this much needed development finalised.  We hope to use this in future as a platform for current news, local job opportunities, conference information and general information about the membership benefits and fees as well as Conference Proceedings.

Karen in front of a Sol Le Witt in Williamson, Massachusetts

Wherever possible information will be published on the website rather than e-mailed individually.  I have tried to keep you in touch via e-mailing which can sometimes become problematic , firstly for me (to send timeously) and for you (as it fills your mailboxes, particularly when you have been absent from the office).  I am hoping that e-mail messaging can be limited to important or urgent information along with international calls for papers which often have a short response time.  A recent case that raised the issue of e-mailing is last year’s Getty Grant for travel to the CAA conference in New York in February 2013.  I e-mailed the request for applications to all SAVAH members and then decided to apply for this grant myself.  I was one of the lucky recipients (see the report on this visit below) but when I have spoken to SAVAH members about the wonderful opportunity it afforded they asked me how I knew about it.  It seems many people missed it in the plethora of daily e-mails and thus missed out on an amazing opportunity  –  do not despair, however, the grant application process will be distributed this year for next year’s CAA conference, so look out for it.

I hope you are all aware of our 2013 SAVAH conference at Michaelis in Cape Town.  The annual conference is one of the cornerstones of SAVAH’s activities as it is our opportunity to network and keep in touch with current research.  Talking of networking, as an organisation we have been trying to reach out beyond the borders of South Africa and forge links with other African countries and with international people interested in the art of Southern Africa.  To this end our link with ACASA has proved invaluable – not only do we have access to research in African Art from across the globe but we also have a direct link with other scholars in African countries.  For those of you who might be new members of SAVAH I would like to urge you to join ACASA.  Membership is free to residents in Africa and it is a wonderful platform for extending our connections with African scholars in other countries.  At this point in time we have difficulty organising the payment of SAVAH membership for anyone overseas who would like to be a member here but at least we can send the conference invitations to international colleagues and keep them in touch with our activities.  The same reasoning applies to our link with CIHA, in conjunction with the funding opportunities these connections make available to us.

There has been a huge amount of change this year with SAVAH members changing jobs and moving from one part of the country to another.  Here at UJ we are lucky enough to have 2 SAVAH council members who have joined us recently (more about this under the heading of New Appointments and Promotions).  This is a voting year for the SAVAH council and and we will shortly be sending out the nomination forms.  Please approach any enthusiastic art historians you know and ask them if they would be willing to serve for a two year period to further our discipline in South Africa. We would like to include council members from areas beyond Gauteng and are looking particularly for nominees from across the country (we use Skype for meetings so location is not a limiting factor).

I would like to thank the present council members for their hard work over the last two years, Federico Freschi as Past President, Landi Raubenheimer as Secretary, Paul Cooper as Treasurer, Neil Lowe as Webmaster, Bernadette van Haute as De Arte Liaison, Annemi Conradie as convenor of the next conference and Rory Bester (‘minister without portfolio’).  Thanks also to Brenda Schmahmann who joined us more recently to take up the urgent duties of Newsletter editor and information manager.  They have been a wonderful team to work with and I hope many of them will agree to continue serving on the next council as they have developed necessary skills over the last two years for the smooth running of SAVAH.

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.