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21 Years of Curating the Cube at UJ

It is a beautifully warm autumn afternoon when we meet Annali Cabano-Dempsey, curator of the UJ Art Gallery. As always, the University of Johannesburg’s Art Centre is busy with students, but Cabano-Dempsey exudes calm in the hustle and bustle. With just over two decades of curatorship, this is her space and to celebrate this milestone, the UJ Art Gallery is hosting the upcoming exhibition 21 Years of Curating the Cube. Over coffee, Creative Feel found out more.

UJ Art Gallery 21 years curating cube
Annali Cabano-Dempsey, curator of UJ Art Gallery

‘We have hosted over 2 500 artists who have completed more than 6 800 outstanding artworks in about 140 exhibitions,’ says Cabano-Dempsey, a little in disbelief.
     Comparing artists to ‘latter-day prophets who reflect subliminally on societal fluctuations’, Cabano-Dempsey works across the visual art landscape when curating the space. She has commissioned both established artists and mid-career artists, and has facilitated collaborations with academic departments within the university, corporate partners, embassies and cultural organisations. The gallery has also become home to numerous national art competitions.
     ‘The promotion of visual art as a vehicle for reflection on social, cultural and political constructs and debates is important to me. It has been the joy of my life to constantly meet with fascinating artists, pushing the boundaries with thought-provoking proposals and inspiring works. It is really rewarding to be surrounded by the beautiful and sometimes perplexing outcomes produced by such creative souls,’ she says.
     21 Years of Curating the Cube is an introspective exhibition that will give the visitors a focused view of Cabano-Dempsey’s own personal experiences of the space while taking them on a walk down the gallery’s memory lane.
     Given the personal nature of 21 Years of Curating the Cube, Cabano-Dempsey has stepped away from curating this milestone event and handed the reins over to respected arts writer and established author Johan Myburg as guest curator.
     Myburg has been a long-term visitor to the gallery and has had first-hand experience of Cabano-Dempsey’s curatorship. In partnership, they have chosen artworks from the gallery’s archive, sourced pieces from the many artists who have been a part of the exhibitions programme over the past 21 years and commissioned new work for the exhibition.

UJ Art Gallery 21 years curating cube
The Keiskamma Guernica by members of the Keiskamma Art Project |Tapestry, feldt, embroidery, fabric, metal | 93 x 109 cm | UJ Art Collection

There will be 38 pieces on display and to avoid the pitfalls of chronological selection, Myburg has chosen to form groups of works, ‘works that speak to one another, forming little conversations with a rather more poetic rhythm.
‘While looking for common ground in the vast exhibitions list, I found a narrative running through the annual programmes of this period; that of messaging with codes, signals, symbols or conduits. Once this had been established, the artworks started inviting others in to join in the conversations – and all I had to do was carefully nudge each one in the right direction,’ Myburg explains.
     21 Years of Curating the Cube, which opens from 5 to 26 June 2019 promises to be a fascinating witness to Annali Cabano-Dempsey’s 21 years spent at the UJ Art Gallery. Creative Feel looks forward to seeing it.

You can read more about 21 Years of Curating the Cube at UJ Gallery in the May 2019 issue of Creative Feel.

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