June is Youth Month as Young Artists Tell their Stories and Share their Worlds through Art at the Pretoria Art Museum

Pictures: Mmutle Arthur Kgokong

 

June is Youth Month and DIANE DE BEER discovers the Pretoria Art Museum is celebrating that in style:

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Genesis II’Xhibition 2018 artists from left to right Asma Rahman, Bruce Bowale, Lerato Lodi, Phoka Nyokong, Kutlwano Monyai, Shimane Seemise (Curator), Mbhoni Khosa and Lesedi Ledwaba

 

Arriving at a walkabout of the Pretoria Art Museum’s Genesis II’Xhibition (on until July 1) on a Saturday morning I am intent on discovering a few things. Everyone living in Pretoria and interested in the art scene will know that the museum is not as lively as it once was, but they will also have to concede that there are many events and exhibitions happening that aren’t well attended.

This was exactly what happened at an exciting exhibition walkabout on Saturday morning. It features work by a group of young Educational Assistants at the Pretoria Art Museum. They are responsible for conducting guided tours and occasionally facilitate art-making workshops as part of the museum’s education and development.

This exhibition is the second installment since it was first implemented in 2003, when the first group of volunteers unconventionally proposed to the art museum to have their own exhibition as a benefit for giving of their time to the museum. The name Genesis was picked to signify the endless possibilities for the participating artists at the outset of their careers. And hopefully it will happen more regularly in future.

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Nicola Grobler with her art intervention backpack, challenging the young art students to explore and investigate their world.

But I digress, Mmutle Arthur Kgokong, the cultural officer: education and development who hosted the event had cleverly combined another exhibition currently on at the museum by inviting one of the participants to do a live art intervention. Not only did that make the other participants aware of the exhibition but it also introduced the students to yet another avenue in which to practice their art.

In the Public Domain: shifting boundaries between the private and the public, is an exhibition by lecturers at the University of Pretoria that runs until June 24 with a walkabout at 11am on Saturday June 23.  It’s worth popping in if you’re around in Tshwane.

The exhibition deals with the notion of shifting boundaries as thematic interpretation as a stimulus for debate, as this exhibition accesses individual artists’ interpretations of contemporary society.

And what Nicola Grobler did with the young students is introduce her on-going art intervention by bringing a backpack of discoveries in which she piqued the curiosity, with art also a part of the presentation, but more importantly a way of looking at the animal world without making the usual assumptions. And of course, wider implications.

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A life in art

But then it was back to the young artists and their work. It is impressive to witness the creativity of the TUT art students (and this is just a small section) and their participation in the art world. All of them are aware that this is not the easiest route to follow for a career, but some are doing extra educational studies which will allow them to combine their art with education, while others are already lecturing while finishing their 4th year and yet others are looking at an academic future. All of them are determined to keep at practising their art.

I was again struck by the way that art tells our stories and how we understand and get to know other people when we take the time to experience their storytelling whether on stage or in paintings. How would I have known about this young painter who grew up in a rural area who read himself silly as a youngster and thus started using scripts as part of his paintings? It doesn’t always mean something, but it certainly tells stories as he goes back to his childhood friends and family for inspiration.

Another of the young painters lives in the city centre and sometimes must push himself to attend class because his inspiration is where he lives. He currently uses water gathering as the focus of his work but also incorporates something he calls found scripts/words which he relates to found objects, but these are pamphlets on abortion or Mr Price sales slips, all which start having a conversation with the viewer.

And then there’s an artist who proudly speaks of the techniques he applies to his township etchings. This is provocative work and points to an artist who is someone to watch in the future, but there are quite a few of those in the room. Serious art collectors will know that this is where you catch them – when they’re starting out. Not only is this when you can afford the work but it is also a wonderful way to follow an artist you admire from the start of his career.

Has the Pretoria Art Museum changed these past few decades? Of course, it has. Which public museum or institution is not battling with funding and they can only do as much as their allotted moneys allow. I am also aware that many will be raising their eyebrows that the park has turned into a public space. Cars are being washed on the parking lot in front of the museum and in one corner of the museum grounds, a lively soccer match is being played.

Could it be tidier and more pristine? Perhaps? But I also liked the fact that this very public museum was being surrounded by real life – people earning a living and others taking a break by playing. Now all we have to figure out is how to get those using the public square into the museum. Mmutle Arthur Kgokong was surprised when I mentioned that the perception was that not much was happening. But he had to concede, the real issue was to get art lovers both present and potential to visit the exhibitions and events on offer.

In the meantime, the students and the lecturers are all out there showing their work. Take the time, it will enrich your life.

  • Pretoria Art Museum, Francis Baard and Wessels Streets, Arcadia, Pretoria.

Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm

Artist Margaret Nel shares Stories with Provocative Paintings at Retrospective

The Pretoria Art Museum, in conjunction with the Association of Arts Pretoria, is presenting a major retrospective exhibition by South African artist Margaret Nel at the Pretoria Art Museum until January 28, featuring a selection of over 70 paintings, spanning a career of over four decades.

Due to popular demand, the Pretoria Art Museum will be hosting a final walkabout of the exhibition A Retrospective: 1970 – 2017 on Saturday,  January 20 as the artist Margaret Nel discusses selected key works from the show.

Entry to the museum is free for those attending the walkabout. Light refreshments will be served before the walkabout commences at 11. Book your spot at info@margaretnel.com by Thursday, January 18 .

For those unable to attend the walkabout, but who still wish to view the exhibition, the show closes on Sunday, January 28.

 

DIANE DE BEER spoke to the artist just before the opening:

Artist Margaret Nel’s world reflects her artistic mien, from her art to her home and her personal style.

She lives in Pretoria’s famous round house on Tom Jenkins drive and upon entering the space, the way she has fashioned her interiors – from the paintings on the wall (her own work and others) to the interiors – the way she presents herself, all has a specific artistic ambience. It’s almost as if one is moving with and walking into an evolving artwork.

In the process of finalising her exhibition, we chat about a career that stretches from the 70s and is ongoing. “I am always painting,” says Nel. “There’s not a year that goes by without having produced something.” She is already working on an exhibition to be presented at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein next year.

Apart from a period in the 80s, when she stepped away from her art because of a young family and life in general, it is what occupies her heart and her mind and what she surrounds herself with. And when perusing the information available on the current exhibition, everything she does is done with a fine eye for planning, not leaving anything to chance.

She has even thought about the criticism ahead of this retrospective. But she’s excited and keen to hear what people think, especially the knowledgeable ones. As someone who shows her work, she knows viewers feel and have the right to criticise. While as a young artist, she might have struggled with that, now it is something she embraces.

She wonders how others will view her progress, something she is quite happy with. “I am confident about my work,” she says softly. And that steely demeanour might have something to do with the fact that while studying and starting her career, female artists always found themselves attached to part of a boy’s club. “We had to deal with that, always in the minority.”

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Barren Land: 1998: Waiting for the Renaissance

Now, regarding her work in a retrospective, she is interested to see how it holds up in a solo exhibition. “Usually it is juxtaposed with the work of other artists and then it becomes difficult to judge,” she admits. She realises that certain periods like what she refers to as her Post Modern period could be perceived as out of step but believes the themes are even more relevant. “I touched on subject matter, such as xenophobia and diminishing and compromised natural resources, at a time when these issues were not as relevant as they are currently.”

The original title of the exhibition was Loss as it felt that as a concept, loss was the overarching theme, connecting the five distinct periods that her work falls into, over 40 years.

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The Outsider: 1970 Tea-time

“Loss of identity and control and loss of mental acuity are covered in the early period titled The Outsider as well as in the second titled Barren Land, where loss of culture and heritage as well as the potential loss of a sustainable future are also explored. The third section titled Incident talks about loss of security and a place of safety, specifically in the South African context but also in the global context.

“The fourth section titled Exposed deals with loss of protection from outside elements. And finally, the fifth, deals almost exclusively with universal feminist issues such as loss of identity, and loss of youth, loss of a voice in a male dominated society. I also obliquely speak about domestic abuse in the latest work, a subject very close to my heart and very difficult to comment on in a subtle way. Cuts of meat, enclosed in a fragile skin of plastic which is often shown ripped open is used as a metaphor.”

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Exposed: 2013: Isolate

“I use models, myself included, not to paint portraits but to try to get across an idea. The double portrait of myself where I used a cell phone to capture a ‘selfie’ is titled Isolate and speaks about old age, loss of youth etc etc.” She shows herself as she really is – warts, ageing et all. There’s no fooling about here. Art is a release, therapy, autobiographical if obliquely so and you must face it head-on.

“Ultimately I explore aspects of the human condition that have directly touched me.”

Nel strikes one as someone who makes very specific choices in life. She might seem the introvert when one first meets her, but easily opens up and shares her feelings when she feels comfortable – her choice.

Her reason for showing her work in this large retrospective is also specifically driven. She admits, as artists should, that she wants people to see her work. “And hopefully educate and make people more aware of the issues that I find important.”

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2015: Custard buns

All her paintings have very specific titles, offering the viewer a key to unlock the work and she has detailed descriptions that might further the understanding of the artist’s point of view. But she is as thrilled if other layers or meanings are uncovered and explored by viewers.

“The work can be interpreted on many levels though, even quite superficially, and ultimately it must be left up to the viewer,” she says firmly.

 

Her art is eye-catching, intriguing, draws you in, challenges and encourages you to engage with many different emotions. This might be her chosen landscape, but with individual interpretations and varied life experiences, different people will react and embrace the work individually.

And that’s how it should be and how it is intended.

 

Pretoria Art Museum
Cnr Schoeman and Wessels Str
Arcadia Park
Arcadia

Pretoria

Open: Tuesdays to Sundays 10am to 5pm