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Visit the William Humphreys Art Gallery this festive season

Nestled in the Oppenheimer Gardens in Kimberley, the William Humphreys Art Gallery is considered one of the finest national art museums in South Africa. Endearingly known as the WHAG and conveniently situated in central South Africa, it remains one of the cultural gems for locals; and a must-see for holidaymakers passing through the diamond city.

With fifteen carefully curated venues that encapsulate a variety of artforms, WHAG treasures one of the largest collections of contemporary art from South Africa. But be forewarned and come forearmed with comfortable shoes, because the museum is big, and the programming is bold.

William Humphreys Art Gallery
William Humphreys Art Gallery
William Humphreys Art Gallery

Stepping into the foyer, visitors are greeted by Khoi and Sanrock paintings, some of the oldest surviving artworks from the Northern Cape.

Flanking the foyer to the left are Dutch master relics. To the right, equally revered pre-modern British and Flemish masterworks await viewers, while marble casts of iconic Greco-Roman sculptures and fine furniture are placed throughout. These works are known as the Founders Collection and they are on permanent display to visitors, many who keep on returning to marvel at these curiosities from a different time and place.

A curved staircase and a short decent lands viewers among a wealth of southern African heritage gems, ranging from meticulously beaded Ndebele and amaXhosa ceremonial aprons and intricate amaZulu grass mats. Extending onto the floorspace, this exhibition titled Past Participle, places a valiant array of local ceramic artefacts to be delighted at. As one encounters work after work elsewhere in the museum, one cannot help but notice how the codes from these heritage artefacts have imprinted onto the imaginations of artists from the generations yet to come.

William Humphreys Art Gallery Jaco van Schalkwyk
William Humphreys Art Gallery Jaco van Schalkwyk
William Humphreys Art Gallery Jaco van Schalkwyk

Contemporary works by local modernist and post-modern artists demonstrate how cultural practices and utilitarian ware have crafted the aesthetic language that present-day homegrown makers have used in innumerable ways. Folklore from the heart of the Zulu kingdom is reworked into energetic totems by important art centres like Ardmore in the Bonnie Ntshalintshali Wing, and the heavyweights from the resistance art era like Penny Siopis, Willie Bester and Manfred Zyla adds political dimensions to their craft-like repetition of visual elements.

Festive season exhibitions

William Humphreys Art Gallery Sethembiso Zulu

This festive season the WHAG is the temporary home to three thought provoking artists whose monographic reflections on the human condition have become markers of our time. 2021 Thami Mnyele Award winning artist, Sethembiso Zulu’s photographs and installation work from his critically acclaimed exhibition, Ikhaya Lika Moya, gives an intimate view into the rituals of the Zionist church. Whilst Jaco van Schalkwyk‘s midcareer Survey will entice you with decadently painted illusions that grapple with the politics and licentiousness of representation.

Collecting and preserving the visual record of our nation and positioning it in a world-class African art museum is what drives this museum from strength to strength. Among the newer additions to the museum are works by the gender activist, Robert Hamblin. These works are on display in a venue of the museum aptly named The Wrestlers. Here, in Behind the Yellow Line, Hamblin unashamedly stares into the abyss of social and structural exclusion for those whose lives dissipate through the cracks at the intersections of morally sanctioned expressions of gender and enterprise.

William Humphreys Art Gallery Robert Hamblin

Leaving the museum, awe-inspired, the songs of the clergy and the faces of the invisible emblazoned on your memory, one cannot help but wonder that if what is on the walls is only the tip of an iceberg, what delectable artworks are patiently waiting in the belly of this mammoth museum for visitors to enjoy in the new year.

The William Humphreys Art Gallery is open during the festive season from 8:00 – to 16:30, Monday through to Friday. The museum operates on Saturdays and public holidays from 9:00 to 14:00 and will be closed to the public from 25 December 2021 until the 3 January 2022. For more information, phone 053 831 1724 or visit reception at 1 Cullinan Crescent, Civic Centre, Kimberley.

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