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WAM a wealth of heritage

- By Wits University

 The Wits Art Museum (WAM) collection of historical African art was initiated in the early 1950s by Professor Heather Martienssen, Wits’ first female professor. It included South African paintings, drawings, sculptures and printmaking. In the late 1970s Anitra Nettleton (now Professor) began teaching the first courses in African art history at Wits. The lectures began against the background of the apartheid era and the exclusion of black artists from almost all histories of South African art. With the addition of African art into the syllabus, the collecting policy of buying artworks to support teaching was extended into the acquisition of classical African art.

In keeping with the syllabus content, the first works to be acquired were of West and Central African origin, mostly wooden masks and free-standing figures. Shortly after this, in the late 1970s a long-term partnership was established with Standard Bank which provides funds every year for purchases for the Standard Bank African Art Collection. The collection is jointly owned by Standard Bank and Wits Art Museum, and is permanently housed at the Museum. This 33 year partnership has contributed to an extraordinary artistic treasure of over 10 000 artworks. The WAM collection lived in Senate House in the Gertrude Posel Gallery for many years before moving to the new state of the art building in Jorissen Street in 2012.

The museum owns a vast collection of artworks from across the African continent and is a rich resource for learners, students and artists alike.

The current exhibition, Beadwork, Art and the Body: Dilo Tše Dintši/Abundance celebrates the art of South African beadwork, and is just a small selection from WAM’s vast beadwork collection from many parts of the African continent. If the entire WAM beadwork collection were to be displayed – visitors wouldn’t have space to walk around the museum!

The subtitle of the exhibition, Dilo Tše Dintši means “abundance” in Pedi and is a title that celebrates the abundance and richness of beadwork.

“Beadwork has been part of various exhibitions at WAM but this is the first time that the museum has dedicated an exhibition solely to the artistry of South African beadwork – a tradition that should be celebrated and continued ” says curator Professor Anitra Nettleton. The exhibition, curated by Nettleton and Dr Christopher Richards, aims to show the variety of South African beadwork and honour and highlight the artistry involved in creating these exceptional artworks. This exhibition is also a celebration of the rich heritage and creativity that these dazzling artworks represent.

The museum offers an extensive education programme which allows school learners to visit the museum and learn about the current exhibitions. In addition to this there is an active weekend programme with free drawing classes, family events and artist and curatorial TALKABOUTS.

This heritage month, be sure to visit the exhibition which runs until 11 October 2015. Wits Art Museum is open Wednesdays to Sundays, 10h00 – 16h00.

WAM will also be open on Heritage Day, Thursday, 25 September 2015 from 10:00 – 16:00.

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