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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.


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.