On Tuesday, 2 August 2022, Professor Vasu Reddy, the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, opened a remarkable exhibition Attached to the Soil, in the Merensky 2 Library on the Hatfield Campus.
The exhibition is co-hosted by the Department of Library Services and the UP School of the Arts. It features prints of fifty photographs produced by young South African artists during their collaboration with world-renowned photographer Professor Peter Glendinning in 2019 to mark the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as president of South Africa.
To commemorate this event and reflect upon 25 years of democracy, Glendinning, a Professor in the Department of Art, Art History and Design at Michigan State University, spent his 2019 stint as a Fulbright Scholar in South Africa collaborating with South African youths. The aim was to express their hopes for the future by creating image-text metaphors. The inspiration was found in the words of Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech on 10 May 1994, the day he became the President of South Africa:
“To my compatriots. I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the Bushveld. Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal.”
In his presentation at the opening event on Tuesday, Prof Glendinning expressed his excitement at being back in South Africa, this time as a Fulbright Specialist hosted by the UP School of the Arts. From Pretoria, the exhibition will travel to the North West University, the University of the Free State, the Nelson Mandela University, the University of Stellenbosch, and the Durban University of Technology. At each institution, Prof Glendinning will lead walkabouts and workshops to discuss the art produced in 2019 and to continue the image-text metaphor-making with South African youths.
Students engaging with the remarkable exhibition
At the Pretoria launch, Prof Glendinning was reunited with four of the original collaborators on the 2019 project. He honoured them for the way their artistic work told the stories of remarkable ‘ordinary’ South Africans. One of these young artists, Justice Khosa, who was a student at Tshwane University of Technology at the time, produced an enchanting image of Soshanguve-based apparel designer Ntando Ngwenya taking flight on a rooftop in one of his designs. In Khosa’s accompanying narrative, he quotes Ngwenya saying: “What I’m doing now is a reflection on what went wrong and what can look right …” This is but one of the fifty inspiring productions that can be seen in the exhibition and read about the full-colour exhibition catalogue.
Prof Glendinning’s 2022 workshops promise to encourage a new wave of South African youths to express their vision for the future through photography and writing. Participants will be offered an opportunity to improve their skills in smartphone photography and the harvesting of oral histories from people from all walks of life. The project was made possible with funding from the Fulbright Foundation and a UP project on image-text renderings of remainders from the South African past sponsored by the National Institute for the Humanities and the Social Sciences.
Besides encouraging connections between youths from different parts of South Africa, UP’s membership in the African Alliance Partnership along with Michigan State University also holds the promise of more collaboration between young writers and artists from different African countries. This aligns with the aims of the recently-established UP branch of the African Centre for Study of the United States. As the concluding speaker at the opening of Attached to the Soil, ACSUS-UP Director Professor Christopher Isike remarked that Prof Glendinning’s works and the theme of his exhibition speak to the African worldview. It is an example of Africa-US engagement in research that ensures responsiveness to the lived realities and needs of Africa and Africans.
South African youths taking up the opportunity to produce photographs accompanied by oral history narratives can give their work worldwide exposure by submitting them to the Global Youth Alliance Network, a virtual platform hosted by Michigan State University. The Attached to the Soil exhibition can be viewed on the entrance level of the Merensky 2 Library until the end of August 2022. It is freely accessible to all UP staff and students. Walkabouts for the public can be arranged by appointment via the UP Visual Arts desk. Catalogues can also be purchased at the Visual Arts Building on the Hatfield Campus.
From left to Right: Henderson Abrahams and Melissa Barkhuizen (the United States Embassy), Professor Peter Glendinning (Fulbright Specialist visiting from Michigan State University), Professor Vasu Reddy (Dean of the Faculty of Humanities), Dr Johan Thom (Coordinator of the Fine Arts Programme in the UP School of the Arts), Prof Tani Hartman (Head of the Department of Art, Art History and Design at Michigan State University), Ms Viveka Pillai (Faculty Library Manager: Humanities), Prof Lize Kriel (Deputy Head, UP School of the Arts), Ms Fundiswa Buthelezi (Information Specialist)