2022 is cause for celebration at Wits as it marks the university’s centenary as well as WAM’s tenth birthday. The TENX10 exhibition features artworks by 100 women and gender diverse artists, an often underrepresented sector in the art world. With all the works on show drawn from the Wits Art Museum collections, some dating back to more than a 100 years ago, it provides a rich tapestry of the diversity of South Africa’s creative talent.
Viewing the exhibition becomes a journey of discovery as many of the works have not been exhibited for years, decades even, with many artists whose names have almost dropped out of sight. There is for instance Ilona Anderson’s large raging diptych, Die kind is nie dood nie, 1987 inspired by Ingrid Jonker’s famous poem, and Berenice Michelow’s powerful painting of marching conscripts boots simply titled ‘1986’, a reminder of the State of Emergency during South Africa’s dark 1980s.
Several of the works express their individual takes on identity such as Michelle Raubenheimer’s outrageous sculpture of feminist fury Slugabed, or Isolde Kram’s humorous Lady on a piano from a series of sculptures she modelled of self-portraits of herself as a hooker who used to dance in seedy bars.
Jane Alexander’s powerful work, Untitled dates back to 1982 when she was a final year undergraduate student at Wits University Fine Arts Department. It predates the famous Butcher Boys sculpture from the National Gallery permanent collection and still resonates 40 years later.
Bonny Alice’s installation The crane of goodwill is made out of paper, 1998 remembers the story of Sadako Sasaki and the Japanese legend of the crane, a poignant acknowledgment of the lasting impact of the devastation of Hiroshima and nuclear power.
Sasaki was a baby when ‘Little Boy’, the first nuclear bomb to be used in warfare, was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. She died of radiation-related leukemia ten years later. While in hospital, about 8 months before her death, a friend reminded her of the Japanese legend. The gods, the friend told Sadako, would heal her if she folded one thousand paper cranes. Sadako died in 1955, having folded 644 cranes. Her classmates folded another 356 and she was buried with 1 000 cranes. In 1958, on Children’s Day, a monument in memory of Sadako was unveiled in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park. Children still visit the monument leaving thousands of multicoloured paper cranes on its base. For the Japanese, the crane is a symbol of renewal and universal goodwill.
The amazing 17-part series 2020 Through the eye of a needle by the designers and embroiderers of Mapula Embroidery Project in Winterveld is an extraordinary chronicling in monthly instalments of a very recent trauma, the history we have just lived through, of the coronavirus pandemic that continues to wreak havoc across the globe, pictured in their signature bright thread on black fabric.
The dates of the works on show span almost 100 years ranging from a 1929 watercolour landscape of Edith King’s beloved Eastern Cape called River and Trees to the most recent acquisition, DAN VII, 2021, by Nandipha Mntambo, from her Agoodjie series of photographs that represent an army of women who protected the Dahomey king.
The historical depth, range of media and diversity of artworks in the selection express the history of the collections and richness of the University’s holdings – appropriate given the marking of the Wits centenary.
The exhibition at WAM is on show till 23 rd July.
Main image – Jane Alexander
Steel, animal bones, wax, plaster of paris, hair, wood
Wits Art Museum.