#5WomenArtists: Women’s Month celebrated by the UP Museums

Posted on August 11, 2020

In honour of Women's Month the University of Pretoria (UP) Museum's wish to promote women within museums and more broadly, women also within art, culture and the heritage sector. It is acknowledged that all women have taken great strides whatever their industry or profession as we celebrate #5WomenArtists. This month should also serve as a reminder of the continued efforts to promote gender equality, the fight against gender violence, racial injustice and equity among a host of other issues affecting women.

In the past decade, there has been a significant shift and increase as women enter the museum profession, using their influence as an instrument of change to put forward issues of women’s equality in the work environment. The current pandemic has shown the resilience of working women and the shared responsibility of educating children from home while balancing a working lifestyle between home and work. Like many professions, female artists as example are not acknowledged sufficiently, despite the contributions they bring and share from deep and often their personal experiences to the South African art scene. 

For this month, the UP Museums share five women artists we have been selected from the university art collection. Each has made significant contributions to South African art. The university is proud to have their artworks as permanent inclusions in the museum collection. The five female artists we have chosen to highlight are: Amita Makan; Philiswa Lila; Diane Victor; Henriette Ngako and Noria Mabasa. These artists uniquely weave their understanding as women into the depth of their work, both materially and cognitively.

Amita Makan makes use of a variety of materials such as silk, sequins, crystals, vintage saris and ribbons. These are then embroidered onto shimmering fabric such as organza or other netted fabrics. This materiality and the physical process of creating the artwork forms a significant part in the Makan's signature artworks.

Philiswa Lila also pursues her art through personal exploration using the physical, mental and spiritual spaces held close by her own experiences and uses methods of remembering such as narratives and story. Lila is particularly interested in the vernacular, memory histories and personal identities. She works in different media, such as traditional beadwork and painting. 

Our third artist is a part-time lecturer in the Department of Visual Arts, Diane Victor, is an iconic South African graphic artist specialising in printmaking and drawing. Her work is loaded with satirical and social commentary that is grounded in the country's histories. Within her work, Victor often critique against apartheid, injustice, legacies of colonialism and corruption.

Henriette Ngako is one of South Africa's finest contemporary ceramists who explores working figuratively, making her work more sculptural by medium. Ngako's work creates a narrative where she explores notions of freedom, memory and heritage. Our last chosen artist is Noria Mabasa who’s work and conceptual thinking has given this Tsonga artist who works mainly in wood and ceramic immense national and international recognition. Her art explores the feeling of social rejection and the disapproval that comes with diverging from the notions of accepted and expected behaviour of women among other key themes of apartheid and her origins.

The UP Museums invite our community to try five new online art puzzles from these select women artists to celebrate their extraordinary contributions to art and to the university art collection. Please use this Women’s Month for 2020 to openly support all women in museums, heritage, culture and art and so ultimately to elevate as well as celebrate the status of women and their future in South Africa.


- Author Sian Tiley-Nel

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