Willem Boshoff (b. 1951, Johannesburg, South Africa) is one of South Africa’s foremost contemporary artists and regularly exhibits nationally and internationally. Boshoff spent his childhood in Vanderbijlpark where his father, Martiens, was a carpenter which allowed him to develop a love for working with wood. This had a significant influence on his current technical expertise. Boshoff is known primarily for his conceptual installations. Boshoff’s academic career stretches beyond a span of twenty years. He trained as a teacher at the Johannesburg College of Art before pursuing a diploma in fine art, with an emphasis on printmaking, in 1980. He received a master’s degree in sculpture from Technikon Witwatersrand in 1984. He made study trips to Austria and Germany in 1982, as well as to England, Wales, and Scotland in 1993. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Johannesburg in 2008. His installations are frequently based on the exploration of language and are created in materials ranging from stone to paper to sand.
Through the ages art has privileged those who can see. In Blind Alphabet Willem Boshoff has given those who cannot see the advantage of understanding, and responding to the work. Boshoff has searched the English dictionary for obscure words that describe form, texture and shape. For each word he has sculpted an object from wood that is a manifestation of that particular word. Boshoff began with the letter ‘A’ and has been working his way through the English dictionary. MTN owns the first 40 units of ‘B’ – from Babery to Bigeminate.
Explanations of the words have been imprinted in Braille on sheets of aluminium and are fixed to the respective top covers of the containers holding the carvings. The sighted are not encouraged to lift the covers and look at, or touch, the forms inside. They must rely on a blind person to feel the shape inside and read the Braille on the outside. Boshoff believes our culture denigrates blind people, dismissing them as inept or ignorant. But, he says, touching is a much more intimate and real experience than seeing, and blind people are advantaged because they are skilled chirosophists, or ‘hand-wise.’
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