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Change the world

25/06/2024

A new exhibition at the Bird Street Gallery, on Nelson Mandela University’s Bird Street Campus  is drawing a line under the colonial histories of Makhanda and Gqeberha over the National Arts Festival.

Land/lines curators Jonathan van der Walt and Uthando Baduza at the opening of the National Arts Festival exhibition at the Bird Street Gallery in the Nelson Mandela University’s Bird Street Campus. They are standing in front of Mxolisi Dolla Sapeta’s triptych ‘The Lost Supper’. Picture: Gillian McAinsh

The University’s Department of Visual Arts, in the Faculty of Humanities, presents land/lines curated by Visual Arts lecturer Jonathan Van der Walt and the University of Pretoria museum curator Uthando Baduza.

Their cross-gallery exhibition, now open at the Bird Street Gallery in Gqeberha and simultaneously in the Atherstone Gallery in the 1820 Settlers' Monument in Makhanda, emphasises the historical, geographical, cultural and spiritual significance of the Eastern Cape.

The innovative exhibitions feature 42 artworks, with two works by each artist or collective, one in each of the two colonial sites-turned-galleries, as part of the National Arts Festival 2024 Main Curated Programme.

Media include painting, photography, textile art, video and sculpture from 26 contributors. Visitors are urged to bring a cellphone, or other device with data available, as each work of art has a QR code (barcode) next to it that can be scanned to give a fascinating insight into the artist’s creative rationale.

“The premise of the land/lines cross-gallery exhibition is to emphasise the depth of the Eastern Cape by placing its landscape as the backdrop for contemporary reflexive engagement,” said Van der Walt in explaining the exhibition.

“The Eastern Cape is a uniquely rich socio-historical site of indescribable cultural conflict, migration, dispossession and resistance. It is a living land that has breathed life into rituals and bled for beliefs.”

He said the idea had germinated several years ago to host a decolonial exhibition in the graceful Bird Steet building: “I've always been aware that it was a colonial residence, and wanted to bring to light alternate narratives in that space that also heighten the work itself.”

“I wanted to conceptualise a landline, or point of communication, between Bird Street and another colonial building.”

When he started to collaborate with Baduza, and discovered they shared similar feelings about the power of art to challenge colonial histories, they decided to use the 1820 Settlers Monument in Makhanda as the second colonial building.

In addition to various military and historical anniversaries, 2024 also marks the 120th anniversary of Rhodes  University, the 50th anniversary of the National Arts Festival, and 30 years of a democratic South Africa.

Van der Walt and Baduza invited artists to draw from, draw on, and re-draw the physical and metaphorical landlines between the two cities.

“The curation was more on curating artists and their voices as opposed to specific artworks,” said Van der Walt of the brief.

“It's been an exciting challenge. Some artists have made a series, with half in Bird Street Gallery and half at the Monument. Others have made a sculptural piece for Bird Street, and a video for the Monument, so there is a variety of different approaches.

“Cedric Nunn's work is photographing sites that were previous battlegrounds and significant burial sites during the frontier wars, but photographing them in a contemporary setting.”

Visitors to the opening of ‘land/lines’ exhibition on show at Nelson Mandela University’s Bird Street Gallery next to the sculptural work of Lungiswa Gqunta, an acclaimed multimedia artist who studied at Nelson Mandela University. Picture: Gillian McAinsh

Another submission came from a collective of five: Nomalanga Mkhize, Nii Botchway, Raquel Adriaan,´╗┐ Melathisi Ncityana and Palesa Moss.

The exhibition is also an inter-university project, with one or two Rhodes University lecturers invited to contribute.

“Christine Dixie, for example, has done a lot of work looking back at colonial heritage, and there is Sikhumbuzo Makandula who works in video and performance,” said Van der Walt.

Visitors can enjoy provocative installations by Andrieta Wentzel and Philiswa Lila, photography by Tim Hopwood, Karl Schoemaker and Andrew MacKenzie, fine art by Bretten-Anne Moolman and Grettel Osorio Hernández

Other contributors incude Lungiswa Gqunta, Abongile Sidzumo, Bentley van Wyk, Brunn Kramer, Garth Erasmus, Isabel Mertz,  Jessica Staple, Kader Abdulla, Ludwe Mgolombane, and Professor Pieter Binsbergen.

Baduza and Van der Walt hope that land/lines will have a longer life than the 10 days of the National Arts Festival.

“ ‘land/lines’ doesn't necessarily have to just stay within Eastern Cape, it could be contextualised to other spaces in South Africa that have that connection. I'm hoping it could build or develop into something so that is not only showing at the festival,” he said.

The exhibition is open until Sunday, 30 June, at the University’s Bird Street Gallery, 20 Bird Street, Central and at the Atherstone Gallery in the 1820 Settlers Monument, from 9am to 5pm, including weekends.

Baduza and Van der Walt will host curator walkabouts at 10am on 29 June in Gqeberha, and at 2pm on 29 June in Makhanda.

 

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160
elma.dekoker@mandela.ac.za