On 24 September, Heritage Day, the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (Javett-UP) officially opened its doors to the public. The centre opened with three exhibitions: the Javett Family collection of modern art, a collection of iconic South African art, as well as pieces from the Mapungubwe Gold collection, housed in the gold of Africa wing.

Javett-UP is a partnership between the university and the Javett Foundation, and according to UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Tawana Kupe, the centre aims to support and enhance UP’s academic programmes relating to the arts, which will make use of these collections in teaching and research. “We believe this centre, which will celebrate South African artists, will assist us in our mission of providing quality higher education to our students”, said Prof Kupe. The centre also aims to promote the appreciation of the arts, while also making the arts accessible to the wider South African and African community.

The centre also opened with over a hundred works of significant art pieces on exhibition. These pieces were brought to Javett-UP from public and private collections across South Africa, and the globe, with the opening being the first time they were shown at the same time. These works include Irma’s Stern’s Arab Priest; Gerard Sekoto’s Song of the Pick; Johannes Maswanganye’s Jesus is Walking on Water Zanele Muholi’s Simthembile I, East London and Alexis Preller’s Red Angel, amongst others. Also on show is Alexis Preller’s Discovery, a painting that hasn’t been seen in 30 years. The painting, which was completed in the 1960s, will undergo live conservation in Javett-UP’s conservation studio, as part of the MSocSci in Tangible Heritage Conservation at UP.

According to Javett-UP’s director, Christopher Till, the centre is a place for people where they can learn about how Africa’s artists express complex narratives of the continent, while also opening up conversations about Africa’s past, present and future. “The official opening of Javett-UP is the launch of an extremely valuable and significant resource. It is the culmination of a vision to personalise the art of Africa and to make it more accessible,” said Till. Till also spoke about wanting to have Javett-UP be the default institution, in Africa, where anybody interested in “researching, or exhibiting the art of Africa” will turn to Javett-UP as “the place and the space where you can see that in action”. Till also encourages public participation, saying, “We want to demystify museums and art galleries. We want to attempt to demystify art, and make it accessible to people who normally wouldn’t come anywhere near an art museum”.

The opening kept in spirit of Heritage Day, with live music, vendors selling traditional African garments and accessories, as well as cocktail vendors and a gin bar. Admission to the Javett-UP is free for students with a UP student card.


 Photos: Sam Mukwamu

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