Mapungubwe Gallery re-opens: University of Pretoria Museums

Posted on February 08, 2024

The much-anticipated completion of the year-long refurbishment of the slate roof of the historical Old Arts Building has been concluded. This mammoth project began in February 2023 and was completed in early December 2023. The University of Pretoria Museums is pleased to share that the popular Mapungubwe Gallery in the Old Arts Building has re-opened to students, staff, the public, and notably school learners.

The Mapungubwe Gallery is particularly important and a well-known spot of educational interest in the Grade 6 curriculum as nearly 70% of visitors to this welcoming space are from schools across the country. Where physical, and in-person visits are not possible to the gallery, the UP Museums offer a curriculum-based online tour as an alternative, and last year several schools from the Western Cape joined the online offering.

Currently, the Gallery showcases over 100 unique ceramic and clay items from Mapungubwe and aims to educate learners not just about Mapungubwe’s heritage significance, but the role of indigenous ceramic making. A few changes and upgrades have been made in the space such as colour changes, removal of central displays, opening up a larger floor space to receive 500 -1000 learners on a museum tour. This gallery was initially sponsored by Lotto Funding, and has been adapted over the years as part of a major ceramics conservation project and later the introduction of historical and contemporary ceramics for comparison as the ceramic-making industry is one of the oldest forms of art in the world.

This Gallery features ceramics not exhibited elsewhere in South Africa and exhibits the diversity of shapes and forms typical to Mapungubwe in the 13th century. From shallow bowls, beakers, recurved jars, and spouted vessels to even some of the tiniest or miniature ceramics made in southern Africa. Included in the exhibition is a rare selection of animal, human and anthropomorphic clay figures as well as clay and stone spindle whorls from Mapungubwe and a comparative site known as Machema in the Soutpansberg. The entrance of the gallery is dedicated to the making of spindle whorls and highlights the important art of spindles in spinning indigenous fibres for textile production.

The Mapungubwe Gallery is not only a popular gallery among schools and is also used within the UP community research, teaching and training programme, allowing undergraduates and postgraduates to spend learning time with the original Mapungubwe ceramics or even just using the gallery as a social space for interaction.

For more information on Mapungubwe curriculum-based educational tours and a host of other tour offerings to the University of Pretoria’s Mapungubwe Collection please contact Matsobane Steven Motena e-mail: [email protected] Tel: 012 420 2178.

- Author Dr. Sian Tiley-Nel

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