Stellenbosch thrown into colourful chaos at group exhibition opening

Children run and chase each other while others dive onto bean bags. Some pile their arms with cupcakes, leaving trails of crumbs and icing on the floor. Various sections of the walls have a new, colourful lick of paint and serve as backgrounds to the new artworks.

This uninhibited chaos is not a Kindergarten playground, but rather exactly what the opening of the collaborative printmaking group exhibition at Gallery University of Stellenbosch (GUS) was intended to be: A disruption of the traditionally quiet and stiff interior of the white cube.

Children run and play in GUS at the opening of the group exhibition. PHOTO: Andy Kohrs

Curated by PhD Visual Arts student, Stephané Conradie, the intergenerational exhibition is made up of print artworks by more than 30 artists, some as young as ten and others over 60, and aims to “break down the hierarchies that exist within the art world”. This includes the idea that only established artists may exhibit in galleries.

Valeria Geselev, curator of GUS, says: “Art, especially in a South African context, and more specially in a Stellenbosch context, is elitist. This is our attempt to try to break away from these kind of conventions and also to [let people] understand that we are a public space in Stellenbosch.”

This is also, according to Geselev, the reason why none of the artworks are labelled.

Geselev adds that the gallery is a space “where people of colour don’t feel comfortable”. The colourful walls, Geselev says, “are already small elements […]that try to make the space more welcoming”. 

Children from Nyanga Art Center and the Black Ink. Collective exhibit their artworks alongside works by established artist in GUS. PHOTO: Andy Kohrs

According to Conradie, the concept behind the exhibition came as a result of collaboration between Black Ink. Collective and the Nyanga Art Printmaking workshop. Conradie, along with other printmaking artists, including Vulindlela Nyoni, Jessica Staple and Emily Fitzgerald started Black Ink. Collective and began offering workshops to children from the Stellenbosch feeder area.

“We felt […] we were not seeing that demographic in the Visual Arts department. Printmaking [is] a very collaborative medium and it has a lot of possibilities for the students to engage with,” Conradie explains.

Printmaking has also played a significant role in South African history. “When there was resistance art, most of it was in printmaking,” says Geselev.

Together with the Nyanga Arts Center, under the coordination of artist Velile Soha and lecturer Ledelle Moe, the two workshops joined forces and decided to exhibit together.

Soha says he definitely wants to continue with the workshops. “This is the first time this is happening, you know, for kids. [The exhibition] is very fascinating for the kids and they are excited about this.”

Some of the prints on handmade paper currently on exhibition at GUS. PHOTO: Andy Kohrs

Nomusa Mtshali is another visual artist who teaches at the Nyanga Art Center. For Mtshali, it is more than about the interaction. It is also a chance for the children to “know that there’s life outside township life”.

“At this moment we are not only nurturing them, we are nurturing the talent and the dream itself because a dream is very important and it’s something that we take for granted,” Mtshali adds.

The exhibition will run until 27 October 2017. – Andy Kohrs

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