When the first sun rose
It found us awake and waiting
Long before others came to these hills
Our footsteps shaped the landscape
Tamed the buffalo and the livestock
We rode the wind
We silenced the hurricane
Yes, look at us
We have been here before
Our experience thus far has been a whirlwind. As you would have seen in prior blog posts, our days have been filled with lots to absorb. But, because our time in Johannesburg is fairly short, there is not a whole lot of time to decompress and process before the next activity. If you’ve ever been on a cruise then you understand docking just long enough to pique your curiosity and then you are whisked off to the next destination, the visits can feel a bit like that. Lot’s to cover within a restricted time frame. To be fair, at this point it doesn’t feel like there’s a time period that would have been long enough.
Day 3, our group visited University of The Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, home of the Origins Centre and Witwatersrand Art Museum (WAM). We finished our day with a visit to the studio of Khehla Cheapape Makgato.
Origins Centre Imagine that you are charged with communicating to every person that you encounter that the origin of humanity was in your backyard. Not only telling each person, but sharing evidence, and guiding them on a path of individual discovery to draw the same conclusion as your own. This is the role of the Origins Centre at the University of Witwatersrand.
The Origins Centre, which is part natural history museum part cultural space, is one of my favorites because there was a general theme of accessibility to information, objects, and space. The museum takes its role in education and discovery seriously and it shows. The exhibits were hands-on, visually stimulating, and took care not to be too long< or concentrated, but still provided enough valuable information to generate curiosity and thought. At times, there was an underlying message of national pride, but wouldn’t you be proud if you could claim the cradle of civilization as a national treasure?!
WAM The University of the Witwatersrand Art Museum is a tri-level art space with a collection of over 12,500 pieces of “African art, including contemporary and historical art from South Africa and art from West and Central Africa. displays traditional works, contemporary art” (WAM homesite), At WAM, we had an opportunity to check out the galleries and participate in an active observation/listening activity. In partners, each person selected an object, one at a time, and described the work to the other while the other person tried to draw the object based on the description being provided. At the end, we looked to see how close what we heard, and drew, was to the actual object before switching to the other person. Much of this was done blindly, walking and drawing, and so this was a trust activity as well. As an aside, I think it is important to note that Wits offers some Doctoral Degrees in fine arts and that the exhibit on the lower level was the work of a doctoral student.
Chepapeism In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in socially conscious businesses. Funding sources for not for profit organizations are changing, for-profit organizations are increasingly connected to some level of communal investment, and philanthropy a practice, historically, of the economically wealthy, has expanded to include benefactors who carry any or all forms of intellectual, creative, and network worth. This new generation of philanthropists is able to connect persons, or communities, with an area of need with a larger group of investors through the creation of a mutually interesting and beneficial exchange. Chepapeism is but one very interesting example. Chepapeism- Made in Africa is a brainchild of South African artist Khehla Chepape Makgato. His studio was our final stop on this day. Chepape talked about creativity, truth, and responsibility. As an artist, he focuses on untold stories in South African history. He has a series on miners (entitled) and is in the midst of creating around South African woman often overshadowed by other narratives of oppression and apartheid in national history. But to call Chepape strictly a visual artist would be inaccurate. As a student of journalism and fine arts, youth, and a committed South African he seeks to tell stories and to help other artists to connect with the resources which allow their artistry to be an economically & financially sustainable.
Overall this was a great day to explore and challenge our own personal comfortability in museums and other art spaces. Each visit was challenging in its own way. Cheers to greater discovery!