The MTN Foundation & UJ Continue Conversations

Words: Johan Myburg

Last year, the University of Johannesburg and MTN Foundation were Shifting Conversations, this October they have brought even more artworks out of both institutions’ collections for an exhibition and development programme titled Continuing Conversations.

MTN Foundation University of Johannesburg UJ conversations
Edoardo Daniele Villa (1915 – 2011), Afrika-Masker, (undated). Steel, 202.5 cm. UJ Art Collection

What is the purpose of a carefully collected and well-looked-after art collection when only a number of people have access to the artworks? More so in the case of an extensive collection owned by an academic institution or a corporate company. Apart from the pieces visible in offices and entrance halls, the bulk of the collection usually sits in storage, out of sight and out of mind.
     It calls for vision and enthusiasm to bring the hidden treasures out into the public domain where the work can be viewed and appreciated, and where the public can pick up on dialogues started by artists in their works and continue their own conversations with the art.
     Last year, Niel Nortje, manager of the MTN Foundation’s art collection, and Annali Dempsey, curator of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) art collection, joined forces, expertise and energy to further their curatorial relationship in commissioning two curators to assemble an exhibition drawn from the two institutions’ collections. Under the title Shifting Conversations, this exhibition was shown last year at the UJ Gallery and in July this year in the Albany Museum in Makhanda as part of the National Arts Festival.
     In curating Continuing Conversations, Dempsey and Nortje’s focus was on concepts of power, the juxtaposition of power and powerlessness, identity and body politics, perceptions of the other and the exotic, memory, and the masks we wear. Works included in this exhibition are by artists such as Gerard Bhengu, Reshada Crouse, Wilma Cruise, Phillemon Hlungwani, Maggie Laubser, Judith Mason, George Pemba, Cecil Skotnes, Irma Stern and Edoardo Villa.

MTN Foundation University of Johannesburg UJ conversations
Lana Combrinck (1989 – ), Masked reflections on the smiley/self(ie), 2017. Oil and sticker vinyl on mirror, 60 cm in diameter. Emerging Artist Portrait Development Programme

     In their aim to extend the reach and scope of this exhibition even further, Dempsey and Nortje ran three programmes specifically aimed at developing participation in the portraiture conversation: a Mentorship Programme, an Emerging Artists Portrait Development Programme and an Educational Programme.
     On so many levels, Continuing Conversations continues to solidify the MTN Foundation/UJ partnership and the mutual aim to make their respective collections visible to a wider public. But more than showing a fine collection of artworks, the curators and project manager have broadened the horizon to include engagement with the works in the exhibition, to enter a conversation, to shift conversations and to continue conversations.
     Continuing Conversations is at the UJ Gallery, Auckland Park, Johannesburg, from 17 October to 21 November 2018.

To read more about this exhibition drawing on portraiture, the Mentorship Programme, Emerging Artists Portrait Development Programme and an Educational Programme, purchase our October 2018 magazine online for only R18, or continue supporting the arts and culture industry by subscribing to our magazine or e-newsletter.