Wits Standard Bank African Art Collection
Closed for a couple of months, the Wits Art Museum is now open for viewing of the exhibition Seen, Heard and Valued: WAM Celebrates 40 years of the Standard Bank African Art Collection. The history of the Standard Bank collection dates back to 1979, when the bank started to support Wits University in their goal of building the Gallery’s African art collection which now holds over 5000 artworks. When I was teaching at Wits in the long distant past, it was a treat to have this resource to draw on in teaching Art History.
Large scale works
Ideally suited to an exhibition like this, the light open spaces of WAM can accommodate large-scale works such as those by Noria Mabasa and Jackson Hlungwani ,whose Women’s Altar of God is not often available as a complete installation for public viewing.
In addition to the large scale works in the main gallery level at ground level, some of the works are positioned to accord with suitable spaces: the verticality for the tall staffs below; the uninterrupted horizontal space for the Democracy Tapestry from the Keiskamma Art Project; and the small intimate enclosed room separate from the main gallery for Colbert Mashile‘s Initiation images.
Everyday household and trade objects
At the upper level, along with a number of sculptures made for tourist and gallery sale, (Nelson Makhubu, Johannes Segogela, Phutuma Seoka, etc) there are several groupings of often finely crafted everyday functional objects in various materials: sticks, headrests, milk-pails, baskets, pots, pipes, snuff containers gold-weights, passport pendants, mat-racks, etc;
There are also items of clothing like aprons and minceka, and body adornment such as Zulu earplugs; Zulu and Ndebele necklaces; and various gorgeous beaded items.
And of course many of the objects, like the 3 works at the entrance of the exhibition were originally used in a rituals, ceremonies and divinations.
And don’t miss the glass case with the enigmatic and charming illustrated envelopes from 1966 to 1975 by Tito Zungu. Zungu, who died in 2000, embellished envelopes and gave them to his family and friends so they would write to him. Below: a very poor photo through glass.
This is the first time in many years that so much of the WAM’s African Art Collection has been on display for public access so a visit is highly recommended.