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Reasons to be Proud #R2bP: Nelson Mandela University Visual Arts lecturer and the University’s Bird Street Gallery manager and curator Johnathan van der Walt has been selected as the recipient of the William Humphreys Art Gallery’s (WHAG) prestigious Artist-In-Residency programme.


The 2024 WHAG’s Artist-In-Residency national call received a multitude of exceptional applications, but Jonathan’s innovative and compelling approach to sculpture appealed the most to the Gallery’s curatorial strategy.

From left, Jonathan van der Walt: Construct (a part of me apart from you) and A negative space lefts the light in. (Photos by Fanjan Combrink)

Johnathan’s residency includes a public lecture, an exhibition showcasing his work, and interactions with the local community and schools. It started on 12 February and he will be there until 28 March. Two Art Writers-in-Residence recipients, Karabo Tshenyego and Khumo Mcumu, also form part of the progamme.

From left, Johnathan van der Walt, writers-in-residence Khumo Mcumu and Karabo Tshenyego, and Chepape Makgato, chief curator at the Gallery

Johnathan is a visual artist with a passion for sculpture, and merges traditional and new media by combining lost-wax bronze casting with digital modelling and 3D printing. His work is motivated by a love for form, exploring the object in space and the presence and power found in its contours.

His portfolio is both naturalistic and conceptually tongue-in-cheek, with the aesthetic and medium heavily dependent on the theme and concept. The result is an eclectic collection that spans small-scale sculptures and 3D printed miniatures to large-scale public sculptures and boardroom focal pieces.

In addition, Johnathan is linking his residency research project to an introspective and critical exploration of heritage through with the braai as an art medium, muse and meaning-making tool. It adopts a postcolonial lens, to analyse the intersections of decoloniality and postdigital sculptural practice to explore culture and heritage in gaining insight and understanding into his white African identity, he says. He was also born in Kimberley.

“In my proposal I highlighted the special significance of the opportunity as I am returning to my birthplace, having left 24 years ago, to contribute to the local arts community in Kimberley, the work I am creating also fittingly explores my roots, heritage, identity and culture”, Johnathan says. 

The residency provides the opportunity to reflect, conduct research, present one’s work, and create a new body of work removed from one’s typical environment and daily life, Johnathan says. It also fosters cross-cultural dialogue and contribute to the growth of the local arts community.

It also provides focussed space and resources towards creative research and a solo exhibition and contribute to broadening his artistic profile nationally. The interdisciplinary project fuses digital and traditional artmaking methods and process, such as 3D digital sculpting and 3D printing, as well as video, photography, assemblage, drawing and painting, he says. 

As a member of the University’s Faculty of Humanities recently launched Digital Humanities Hub, the project also aligns with the hub's strategies of exploring the impact of the digital on society, culture, research, learning and teaching by encompassing a range of programmes, technologies and tools.

From the woods - video stills 

The visual remnants materialise as an analysis of identity construction through the critical placement of the braai as a point of departure. Johnathan believes that he explores its symbolism in relation to the formation of the self and developing a revised and renewed understanding or interpretation of a contemporary cultural practice. Its seductive forms, textures, compositions, smells and sounds become a subject and means in creating the work. 

“In 2022/2023 I began integrating this conceptual development on the ritualistic allure of the act of braaiing. This stemmed from many years of contemplating my position in relation to Heritage Day celebrations. Heritage Day in South Africa always left me confused and unfulfilled; I felt culturally lacking within a culturally rich country”, he says.

“As a result, I struggled to find pride in symbols supposedly reflective of my heritage. National Heritage Day in South Africa has now become synonymous with National Braai Day, a media-driven campaign encouraging the country to celebrate their common roots around a braai.

Considering our complex past, many find that the focus on braaiing detracts from an authentic celebration of heritage, but he has found himself drawn to wanting to critically interrogate the act of braaiing to unearth a greater personal significance to the practice, likening it to a ceremonial, almost religious, ritual.

The residency is dedicated to the memory of the renowned artist Dumisani Mabasa, who was a permanent resident artist at the Gallery until his untimely passing.

“We are thrilled to welcome Jonathan van der Walt as our Artist-In-Residence. His unique approach to sculpture aligns perfectly with the spirit of Dumisani Mabasa’s legacy, and we look forward to witnessing the impact of his work during his residency at the William Humphreys Art Gallery,” said Nelly Mkhize, director at WHAG.

“At WHAG, we firmly believe in the transformative potential of this residency programme, providing artists with opportunities for growth, inspiring fresh perspectives on our museum, and contributing to a remarkable collection that will captivate WHAG visitors for years to come,” said Chepape Makgato, chief curator at WHAG.

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160