ViNCO and the North-West University Art Gallery are proud to present an exhibition of works by art students from the former University of Bophuthatswana (UNIBO). In 2019, more than 50 artworks were found in a storeroom on the Mahikeng campus, where the paintings and sculptures had been relegated for nearly three decades. The works date from the mid-1980s to the 1990s, when the UNIBO (later renamed University of the North-West), offered a Fine Art degree.
There is currently very little published information and no scholarship on art education at UNIBO and UNW during these turbulent years of struggle and transition from apartheid to democracy. While Bophuthatswana and UNIBO’s history are no doubt burdened, this archive of art works testifies to the former university’s educational ideals at a time when Black students had scant opportunities for studying art in South Africa. This exhibition, curated by Amohelang Mohajane and assisted by the 2021 History of Art Honours class, is an attempt at opening critical discussion and research on the archive.
UNIBO was founded in 1980 in the erstwhile Tswana ‘homeland’ of Bophuthatswana, one of ten Black ‘homelands’ or Bantustans. Under various laws promulgated from the early 1950s, the apartheid government assigned a ‘homeland’ to Black persons according to their presumed ethnic origin. The apartheid government granted a spurious autonomy to ‘homelands’ such as Bophuthatswana, but it further denied Blacks civil and political rights in what was designated ‘white’ South Africa. In 1994, the Bantustans ceased to exist and were again incorporated into South Africa.
For president of Bophuthatswana, Lucas Mangope, supporting the arts was vital to both cultural heritage and skills development, and he requested that a department of art be established at UNIBO. The department was established in 1984 and from 1985 to approximately 1994, the art department offered a degree in Fine Art that included painting, drawing, sculpture, Art History, printmaking, educational and maths-based courses focused on visual art.
The exhibition provides an overview of both the arts curriculum of the former department and the personal voices and burgeoning styles of individual students. The subject matter includes still life, figure and perspective studies, portraits, and genre scenes in paint on board, plaster busts, wood carving and lino cuts. There are also striking self-portraits, exploratory and expressive paintings and sculptures that make strong social-political statements and others that experiment with Cubist and Surrealist influences. While most of the works are unsigned and undated, artists such as Daniel Mosako, George Bhunu, Tommy Motswai, Felicious Dichaba, Frank Ledimo and Gemma Tabane are represented in the archive and exhibition.
This is clearly a neglected chapter in South Africa’s historical and art historical record. This exhibition and an accompanying panel discussion by alumni and art historians at the 2021 SAVAH conference, are held in the hope of stimulating discussion, research, and scholarship on this rich archive, the students, artists and lecturers, and the socio-historical context of the former art department.
A recording of the opening is available on the SAVAH and NWU Gallery Facebook pages and you can visit the virtual gallery hereThis exhibition was made possible by support from the National Research Foundation and Faculty of Humanities, North-West University.
Panel Discussion: Untold Stories Exhibition, 2 October 2021