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Conversing the Land

Conversing the Land, the collaboration between UJ Art Gallery and the MTN SA Foundation with works from both institution’s art collections incorporating artworks from the Emerging Artists Development Programme, was shown to great acclaim at the end on 2019. With the launch of UJ Art Gallery’s online platform, The Moving Cube, this exhibition is now showcased in virtual format to wider audiences.

The exhibition curated by Katlego Lefine (MTN) and Annali Cabano-Dempsey (UJ) opened with a gala event at the UJ Art Gallery on 22 October and closed on 27 November 2019. Ms Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi, General Manager of the MTN SA Foundation presented the keynote speech at this event. This exhibition is currently on show at the MTN head office in Fairland, Johannesburg.

The UJ Art Gallery is known for dealing with contentious and often sensitive themes derived from our present social construct. The collaboration between UJ and MTN facilitated a series of conversations utilising artworks from the two institutions’ art collections and enabled them to engage with colonial and post-colonial narratives (Shifting Conversations 2017), concepts of power, identity and body politics as derived from portraiture (Continuing Conversations 2018) and in 2019, Conversing the Land, with 89 works from both institutions’ collections and including the Top 10 artists who participated in the Emerging Artists Development Programme.

South Africa, a continental and global role-player with a unique set of land issues around ownership, identity, belonging and place of connection that is constantly being re-imagined. The landscape, however, can never be separated from its inhabitants and their socio-political, economical or cultural backbone - it is a site of memory, trauma, identity, history, heritage, migrations and roots with a yearning to reconnect with land from which people have been alienated and displaced.

The curators thus developed three themes, Inhabiting the Land, The Land Worked and The Land in Conflict exploring the idyllic depiction of pastoral and rural life; the effect of industrialisation, the devastating influence of mining on the physical landscape as well as the consequence of the lack of social cohesion within migrant families.

Within this dichotomy of have and have-not, the issue of land reform and restitution comes to the fore, but also brings with it the deeper yearning of the urbanite for the rural, the memory of a time and place that is no more and the re-imagining of a mythical landscape.

In order to extend the reach and scope of this exhibition, the two curators furthermore facilitated three programmes aimed at developing participation in the landscape conversation:

- A Mentorship Programme providing three mentees a first-hand experience of curatorial practice:

In collaboration with UJ’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA), the Mentorship Programme facilitated by the curators and the project manager offered three FADA B Tech students in visual arts – Jaylin Richardson, Jordan Hance and French international student, Ingha Mago – master classes in curatorship, on collection management, practical in-house label making and marketing. These courses provided the mentees a first-hand experience in curatorial practice.

- Educational programme

Under the mentorship of the project manager and two curators, the mentees were also expected to design and run an Educational Programme designed for this particular exhibition and accompanied by an exhibition catalogue and learner material. They had the opportunity to decide which age group should be targeted for this particular show (and give reasons why), set up the educational programme and run the programme for the duration of the exhibition. An important part of the educational programme was to include school groups, who regularly visit the UJ Gallery, as well as scholars from the Trevor Noah Foundation.

- Emerging Artists Portrait Development Programme

The Emerging Artists Portrait Development Programme invited artists through public advertising, to submit an artwork in response to contemporary South African land issues. This platform afforded emerging artist to showcase their talents and interpretations with that of established South African artists.

Ten works were selected by an independent panel of judges from the 36 entries received and shown as part of the exhibition. The ten artists were Selwyn Lloyd Steyn, Devlin Tim, Nico Ras, Neil Badenhorst, Tebogo Moche, Siyabonga Mahlaba, Lebogang Magolego, Michelle Monareng, Setlamarogo Mashilo and Shayna Rosendorff

The most promising artist, Siyabonga Mahlaba, was awarded prize money of R30 000 and the other nine received R3 000 each, towards the development of their artistic practice. The winner was announced at the opening of the exhibition. To view the emerging artists' artworks click here

  • MTN SA Executive Committee Board has given MTN SA Foundation the mandate to unlock greater value from MTN SA Foundation Art Collection relationships with non-profit art institutions such as university galleries or public museums. The purpose of the partnership is, amongst others, to increase visibility of the MTN and UJ art collections.
  • View the virtual exhibition Conversing the Land here