Current Exhibitions

Unspoken: Ceramics from the Corobrik Collection
Corobrik Gallery, Old Arts Building
October 2021 to December 2024

The exhibition Unspoken showcases signature South African ceramics from the Corobrik Collection.  In 2021, a four-year loan agreement was signed to commit to a long-term exhibition by the University of Pretoria (UP) Museums held in partnership with Corobrik, Ceramics Southern Africa (SA) and the City of Tshwane’s Pretoria Art Museum (PAM). The exhibition explores the theme of the unspoken. In the past, ceramics were considered only as a medium and have ever since, been considered an iconic art form typical to the African continent.

The contributing artists are well-known South African ceramicists who remain foundational change-makers of both the past and present and the contributions they made and continue to make as South African ceramics are globally recognised and appreciated as an art form. The ceramicists highlighted in the exhibition, examine how, and why their art is influenced by both personal journeys, the artistic profession and the role ceramics play within contemporary art. This often unspoken art medium is complex beyond its materiality of clay that is transformed into diverse shapes, each ceramic on exhibition tells a deep and sometimes not obvious narrative.

Historically, Corobrik was founded in 1902 but has since become a market leader and a major South African manufacturer of clay bricks, masonry, pavers, and concrete earth retaining systems. Today, they produce more than 5 million products each day and have a footprint in every major city throughout South Africa. In 1982, Corobrik assumed sponsorship of Ceramics SA, which began as the Association of Potters of Southern Africa which earnestly began the ceramic collection in 1977. The earliest winning ceramics from National Exhibitions founded this collection and began with only three items which included: a porcelain bowl and a clay sculpture. Since then, Ceramics SA has contributed to the Corobrik Collection from award-winning ceramics from regional and national exhibitions. 

In Unspoken, works in the Corobrik Collection are paired into collectives to deliberately create conversations, and explore shared histories, tensions and their contemporary functions and meaning, allowing for more nuanced perspectives in the world of ceramics. Ceramics are presented as both functional, symbolic, sculptural pieces and merely creative ceramic forms. The Corobrik Collection comprises 276 works by more than 184 South African artists and is on display in a dedicated Corobrik Gallery in the Old Arts Building until the end of December 2024.

 

National Treasures: Mapungubwe Gold Collection
Javett Arts Centre,
24 September 2019 to 24 September 2025

Gold in Africa has been prominent in human history and thought for over 6000 years. Considered by some to be earth’s rarest and most valued metal, it has gained a peculiar, and indeed, an inimitable place in human history. From time immemorial, the colour of gold and its enduring qualities as a precious metal, have appealed to human nature throughout the past as well as the present. There is much more to gold than simply colour and lustre since it remains what it has always been: a substance which is precious because it is rare. Although surprisingly found in large quantities, as a unique metal gold has always been avidly sought, skilfully worked and jealously guarded.

Gold has endured as a soft, malleable and ductile metal that can be easily worked, embossed, engraved and formed into decorative shapes and ornamentation that is almost resistant to tarnish and decay. In the process of manufacture, gold solidifies and becomes cold, yet the smooth liquidity of the surface, and the natural beauty of its buttery-yellow colour and high gloss are further enhanced by light. The innate sensuality of gold lends itself ideally to the sculpturing of gold forms, jewellery and other shapes designed to extract maximum light reflection from the gold surface. Due to the combination of its natural lustre, smoothness of texture and the signature of indigenous craftsmanship, gold is most often always seen as a rare treasure. The history of Africa glistens with gold as it has symbolised the wealth of the continent in which southern Africa

Archaeologically, the lure of gold has been closely linked with the economics of power, beyond jewellery for decoration and adornment, it has strongly symbolised high social status as well as political wealth and power. Between CE 1220 and CE 1290 gold was produced as personal symbols of power and prestige. Jewellery such as gold beads, probably formed into necklaces, bracelets and anklets were fashioned for personal adornment. Ceremonial and ritual objects made from thin gold foil were formed into animal figurines such as the rhino and gold foil shaped into a gold bowl, sceptre and other decorative or ornamental forms.

Mapungubwe gold was sanctioned, reserved and ruled over exclusively by the elite of society whose social and political status was expressed in daily life as it was in death. Gold adorned three royal burials on the summit of Mapungubwe Hill where they lay forgotten for centuries. Eventually, archaeological enquiry in the 1930s brought to light the Mapungubwe Gold Collection, as well as the associated assemblages of artefacts attributed to the Iron Age such as trade glass beads, shells, ceramics, clay figurines, iron and copper implements and many other archaeological finds.

National Treasures exhibits the Mapungubwe Gold Collection comprising 117 gold bracelets and 139 beaded gold necklaces that are made up of over 12 000 gold beads. In addition, the collection includes 133 gold coiled anklets, hundreds of gold bangles and more than forty gold foil forms of which the most recognisable are the animal figurines of a gold rhino, a gold leopard and a gold cattle figurine as well as some decorative gold foil forms and remains of gold foil fragments.

The Mapungubwe gold collection provides a glimpse into the wealth, diversity and beauty of some of the items in the gold collection, a large portion of which is on this exhibition at the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria and some at the Mapungubwe Interpretative Centre, Mapungubwe National Park World Heritage Site in Limpopo. Even more so, it is undeniably a great privilege to curate one of South Africa’s only archaeological gold collections that are regarded as not only a national treasure and a national symbol but also have an ever-expanding global interest. Its very existence in the 21st century serves as a constant reminder of its rarity as a finite heritage record and assurance that the University of Pretoria will continue its stewardship of the Mapungubwe Collection on behalf of the State with great responsibility and international pride.

 

Letsopa: The Mapungubwe Ceramic Collection
Mapungubwe Gallery, Old Arts Building
October 2021 to December 2024

We have this treasure in earthen vessels

Individually the four basic universal elements are: earth, water, air and fire, and inherently have their own distinct and visceral characteristics. However, when they are imaginatively combined, it manifests in an array of physical possibilities resulting in a clay or pottery object of exquisite appeal. Clay can virtually be found anywhere on earth, but it only becomes valuable when it is metamorphosed into an aesthetically pleasing object, created by a skilful artist with a keen eye for form and functionality. Through research, we know that the making of objects from clay is the longest surviving handcraft and art form of which we have continuous knowledge over time. Exploring these ancient fundamentals of creating with clay is both a challenge and a pleasure for the creators to conceptualise, design and shape. 

Letsopa means ‘clay’ in Sepedi. The clay carries history, literally and figuratively. Over tens of thousands of years, rocks in the earth’s crust have weathered, disintegrated, and were transported over long distances to eventually become clay. Clay is a fine-grained sediment, with a particle size of less than two-thousandths of a millimetre. When combined with water, it has a plasticity that allows it to be worked by hand into a multitude of forms, in this case, ceramic vessels, clay figurines and clay spindle whorls. In the hands of an artist, clay is associated with the four elements of nature, i.e. earth, water, fire and air, as well as the passage of time. When fired at relatively low temperatures, clay is transformed into ceramics. Whether raw or refined, clay is a material with its history and narrative.

The Letsopa gallery forms a vital part of our national heritage and provides a unique addition to the permanent display of the Mapungubwe ceramic collection. The exhibition provides insight into archaeological ceramic making revealing the depth and breadth of artistic prowess that has been refined over centuries. It also permits us to be inspired anew by the dedication of the artisans in a relentless pursuit of excellence and the need for spiritual and practical solutions to social orientation. More importantly, it fills the dearth of knowledge about indigenous knowledge and cultural systems and contributes to the art of ceramic making. In the current environment and narrative of Africanisation and decolonisation.

This Mapungubwe gallery dedicated to showcasing over 108 ceramic vessels, clay spindle whorls, clay figurines and other ceramics predominantly from the archaeological ceramic collection dating from 1000 CE -1300 CE will certainly rekindle the prehistorical, historical and contemporary significance of African ceramics in South Africa. Unique, truly one-of-a-kind shallow bowls, beakers, beaker bowls, recurved jars, incurvate forms, miniature pinch pots to large ceramic containers, symbolic, human and anthropomorphic figures and clay spindle whorls are all celebrated in a unique gallery setting. The Mapungubwe Gallery is available for public viewing in the Old Arts Building and the exhibition is up until the end of December 2024.

 

To not forget: 30 years of Democracy 1994-2024
Old Arts Building, Old Arts Building
3 April 2024 to 31 December 2024

This 2024 exhibition of the University of Pretoria Museums observes and honours thirty years of democracy. To not forget, 1994-2024 features more than 30 South African artworks curated around three decades of annual acquisitions by the University Art Committee. The selected works were acquired by purchase, donation or bequest suggesting transformation moments that propelled the University of Pretoria Museums in new directions after 1994. Many of the signature works are by former staff, post-graduate students and alumni and serve as a testament to the ties between the artists and the university. Since 1994, the University has acquired just over 2515 artworks to expand and improve on its art collection in terms of inclusivity, diversity, representatively and balance.

The title of this democracy-themed exhibition is derived from the work of the South African Durban-born artist, Sfiso Ka-Mkame (b.1963), How could I ever forget. This artwork was selected to highlight the exhibition as it was the first acquisition made by the University of Pretoria in 1994 to honour democratic freedom. His work is built up with layers of the resplendent colourful oil pastel and ink on paper with etched symbols, patterns and designs, visually inspired by typical South African identity and reflects the political and distinctive genre of Ka-Mkame’s work. Another highlight of this exhibition is partnering with ten intern students from the Department of Architecture, part of the York Timber Research Chair’s ProtoBuilding Team in a design competition to make and produce a series of small timber commemorative markers installed on the slate staircase, whereby the ‘30 stairs of democracy’ become a key feature of the exhibition.

To Not Forget reflects a journey through 30 years of democracy as the museums played a pivotal role in enhancing art for the institution. Selected works by Sello Malemane, Velapi Mzimba, Nqaba Sipunzi, Dumisani Mabaso, Mashifane Makunyane, Collen Maswanganyi, Thulani Mntungwa, Willem de Sanders Hendrikz, Hezekiel Ntuli, Isaac Seoka, Ramarutha Makoba, and Nic Sithole. Featuring female artists include Diane Victor, Jabu Nene, Viola Greyling, Henriette Ngako, Elizabeth Roos, Sara Noche, Lerato Ntili and Susanna Swart. The upper and lower foyer of the Old Arts Building were deliberately chosen as the exhibition space to reflect the central axis and meeting point of the UP Museums with the student installation offering a path of thought up 30 stairs to democracy. The exhibition runs for 2024 in the upper and lower foyers of the Old Arts Building and is complimentary to the other University of Pretoria Museum galleries open to the public.

 

Homage to Pretoria
Bridge Gallery, Javett-UP
16 May 2024 to 06 December 2024

Homage to Pretoria will present signature works predominantly drawn from the University of Pretoria Museums institutional art collection. The artworks are curated across time and space, drawn from a wide selection of leading South African artists from the 19th to 20th century such as JH Pierneef, Frans Oerder, H. Pennington, Anderson, Pieter Wenning and more contemporary artists such as Michael Mmutle, Lucky Sibiya, Elizabeth Rampa, Peter Sibeko, Lefifi Tladi and Paul Ramagaga to name a few. The selected artworks are unique, educational and research-based, emanating from the UP Museum Collection and a heritage art campus context.

“Homage”, meaning ‘an expression of high regard, honour and respect’ is a well-balanced exhibition that pays creative homage to the city, a landscape, and its people. The exhibition seeks to surface the complex and nuanced histories of the City which are woven into the fabric of the entire country. The narratives in the artworks on exhibition pose pertinent questions about the possibilities and difficulties in paying homage to this city of power that has been a symbol of state control and repression for many people in the country.

The exhibition also aims to be a visual and artistic commentary on the thirty years of democracy, exploring how the city has changed over history and each artwork reflects the City (and South Africa) as an eclectic and complex social, cultural and heritage landscape. Other works reflect the de facto Capital of South Africa, as both the administrative and diplomatic heart of the country and how artists have interrogated and resisted their relationship with the State. Many of the works are historically significant and depict an iconic ‘Pretoriana’ landscape and how the people, events and moments have shaped the City (and South Africa) in ways that we are still trying to make sense of in the present.

The works in the exhibition were selected based on either choice of subject matter, social or political commentary, landscape, identity or reflect architecture that broadly pays homage to Pretoria as a city and a symbol of the South African state and condition. A central theme in the exhibition is the making and creation of the City, to highlight Pretoria as the capital city showcased with some of the earliest artworks of the Union Buildings since 1910. The work on displays is therefore an examination of the establishment and construction of the City (and by extension South Africa). The exhibition is therefore an opportunity to reflect on how the Country has been shaped by the City how the City has shaped the Country, and how artists have responded to this question.

- Author University of Pretoria Museums

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