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About the WAM Collection

Wits Art Museum (WAM) is home to the largest and most significant holdings of African arts in southern Africa. The collection is made up of different sub-collections which were added at various times in the Museum’s history.

Although they are isolated examples, the earliest works included probably date to the 4th century C.E. Most works date from the 20th and 21st centuries. Currently numbering over 12 000 items, the three major collecting areas of classical, historical and contemporary artworks are unique in their breadth, geographical range and local specialisation.

The Classical African Collection

The classical African collection boasts extensive holdings from southern, West and Central Africa, and smaller numbers from East Africa. There is significant depth to the collections of beadwork, drums, headrests, wooden sculpture, ceremonial and fighting sticks, masks, basketry, wirework and textiles. The objects have been assembled primarily in recognition of their aesthetic value. Paintings by Irma Stern, Walter Battiss and Maggie Laubser and Gladys Mgudlandlu, pencil drawings by J.H. Pierneef and Gerard Sekoto, watercolours by Durant Sihlali, linocuts by Azaria Mbatha and John Muafangejo, and bronze sculptures by Sydney Kumalo and Edoardo Villa are just a few items in the large and important collections of historical South African art.

Access to the collections by appointment and materials are available for on-site reference.

For academic purposes, please contact us on 011 717 1365 or email 

Contemporary South African Art

Contemporary South African art holdings include collections of paintings, drawings, watercolours, printmaking, sculpture, photography and new media. Willem Boshoff, Alan Crump, Kendell Geers, Jackson Hlungwane, Robert Hodgins, William Kentridge, David Koloane, Santu Mofokeng, Nelson Mukhuba, Sam Nhlengethwa, Karel Nel, Claudette Schreuders, Phutuma Seoka, Penny Siopis, Paul Stopforth are some of the many artists represented. A younger generation is represented by artists such as Zander Blom, Gabrielle Goliath, Gerhard Marx, Nandipha Mntambo, Anthea Moys and Sandile Zulu. Named in honour of a major donor to the new building, the C.J. Petrow Library is a rich source of information on African and southern African art and artists, and artworks in WAM's collection.

The Neil Goedhals Archive comprises a substantial archive of a large number of artworks, works in progress, found objects from the artist's collection, biographical material and ephemera. Neil Goedhals, was a graduate of the Wits Fine Arts Department. After the artist's untimely death in 1990, the research collection was donated to WAM by the Neil Goedhals estate. 

The Standard Bank African Art Collection

Artist Unknown, Shona, Zimbabwe, Mutsago (Headrest), Patinated wood, Acquired 1981, Standard Bank African Art Collection (Wits Art Museum)In 1978 Wits and the Standard Bank established the Standard Bank African Art Collection, located at Wits and funded by an annual purchasing grant from the Standard Bank. The collection contains over 5 000 objects from across the continent - unrivaled southern African holdings and substantial and important West and Central African collections. More recently, works from East Africa have been added.

This internationally significant classical African art collection was initiated against the background of the exclusion of black artists from most histories of South African art and the initiation of research into this field by academics in different humanities departments at Wits in 1977. The Art History Department at Wits was the first of its kind in South Africa to introduce courses in African Art into the curriculum.

Wits Museum of Ethnology Collection

Artist Unknown, South Sotho, South Africa, Nguana Modula, Wood, beads textile, hide , Acquired 1994, Wits Arts Museum CollectionAn extensive archive of over 400 historical African photographs by Burton as well as anthropologists such as Eileen Jensen Krige and Jacob Daniel Krige, Edmund Hugh Ashton, Percival Kirby, Hilda Kuper and Audrey Richards also forms part of this collection.

The Wits Museum of Ethnology Collection was established by Winifred Hoernle, lecturer in Ethnology and developed further by Audrey Richards, senior lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology. Since 2001, these collections have been housed at and administered by WAM.

Objects collected as specimens of African material culture by famous South African anthropologists such as Isaac Schapera, and Monica Wilson (Hunter) were added before World War II.

A collection of beadwork assembled by H. S. Schoeman in the 1960’s corresponds to beadwork worn by Zulu speakers in KwaZulu Natal in the late 1950’s, and documented by acclaimed photographer Alice Mertens. The collection also includes a substantial number of Ovambo (Kwanyama) objects which were obtained from C. Hahn, which was purchased in 1935 in Windhoek.

The Barnard Collection of objects from the Pedi in Sekhukuneland is notable for its size and for the fact that it provided some of the earliest examples of southern African figurative sculpture in the collection.

Other famous contributors were anthropologist Max Gluckman (material from Zulu-speakers), Percival Kirby, first Professor of Music at Wits and John Blacking one-time Wits Professor of Anthropology. Both Kirby and Blacking were interested in indigenous African music and their collections reflect this.

The Sekoto Collection

Gerard Sekoto, South Africa, Black Hair, Charcoal on paper, 1949, The Sekoto CollectionGerard Sekoto, considered to be one of the pioneers of modern South African art, left South Africa in the 1947. He spent the rest of his life in self-imposed exile, mostly in Paris, where he died in 1993. This major collection of over 300 drawings and sketches was produced by the artist between the 1940s and 1980s. The collection includes drawings from South Africa, Senegal and Paris, and encompasses preparatory studies for artworks, portraiture, genre and figure studies and street scenes.

It was purchased and repatriated from France by the Sowetan Newspaper and has been housed at Wits University since 1989. In 2010 the collection was formally donated to WAM.

Robert Hodgins Print Archive

Robert Hodgins, South Africa, My C.E.O., Lithograph on paper, 2007, Robert Hodgins Print ArchivePrior to his death in 2010, acclaimed South African artist Robert Hodgins gave his entire personal collection of over 400 original prints to WAM.

The collection offers an extensive record of the artist’s print-making oeuvre with examples from many editions produced during his lengthy artistic career. Additional print states offer insights into his creative process. Etchings, lithographs and screen-prints form part of this exceptional resource.

Hodgins was a long-time lecturer in the Department of Fine Arts at Wits and mentor to generations of artists, many of whom have achieved international recognition. The artist was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Wits University in 2006.