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Battiss at WAM


Bring the kids and make art!

Every third Saturday of the month, the Wits Art Museum has a Family Talkabout linked to a current exhibition. These talkabouts are free, fun experiences for children and adults, lasting about an hour.

Alison Kearney (BA Fine Arts 2003, MA Fine Arts 2005, PGCE 2007, PhD 2016) recently led the Battiss Family Talkabout, linked to WAM’s current Walter Battiss exhibition. Battiss was a prolific artist who used many techniques, including print making. So, after talking a little about the exhibition and the process of print making, Kearney got everyone – about 60 people – to get stuck in and make their own prints using polystyrene vegetable trays as print making plates. “Anybody can make art,” she says. And you don’t have to use expensive materials.

The next Family Talkabout, on 17 September, will explore a different activity – using the “Fook Island alphabet” that Battiss invented.

Kearney, an art education lecturer at the Wits School of Education, says many people feel uneasy talking about art. Old-school art history books reinforced that inaccessibility and mystique. Instead, she wants people to feel comfortable with art – comfortable to think about what they are seeing and to say what they are thinking.

Many of us have seen some or other artwork using an everyday object that makes us wonder: why does that count as art? “The status of objects changes when artists use everyday objects as part of their artworks,” Kearney says. Her own art uses objects that she has collected, and this was the starting point for her theoretical interest, exploring how the object changes when it is transformed into art. She recently completed her PhD on the use of found objects in contemporary South African art. 

The most unlikely object in her art? Poison! Kearney says she bought packets of poison from street hawkers in Johannesburg and put them in a “portable hawkers museum” which travelled internationally on exhibit. Picture the airport security; and the white-gloved gallery staff unpacking these items…

Family Talkabout Photos