A Just Society - a visual exploration of the TRCOrigins Centre
Wits University is to unveil a rich collection of artworks inspired by the TRC hearings, produced by a SA-American artist, Madeleine Georgette.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s goal to motivate healing through understanding was the spur for this provocative and moving series of 48 paintings, recently donated to Wits University by the artist herself.
The collection, titled A Just Society, will be exhibited to the public between 22 August and 29 September 2012 at the Origins Centre on the grounds of the university, before being absorbed into the university’s prestigious art collection on both West and East campus.
Natalie Knight, curator of the exhibition, states: “The aim of the exhibition is to engage with students and the public. We hope to educate, to stimulate discussion and to provide an insight into a topic that by now should be seared into the conscience and consciousness of every thinking South African.”
The collection, completed over a five-year period, covers four separate series. Phase I - titled Apartheid, portrays the structures and physical divisions of the political system, as well as infringements on human rights. Here, collage techniques are used to convey the concepts of land division and fragmentation.
Phase II - Impact on Women and Children - illustrates the particular burden placed on more vulnerable sectors of society during the years of oppression. The artworks are representational and individual figures are imaginary.
The third phase, Institutional Arrangements, examines the establishments that influenced every aspect of life under apartheid, such the courts and church. Thick lines intersecting these images refer to the enforced societal barriers.
The last phase - Truth, Justice, Reconciliation - explores the processes of seeking truth and striving for justice and reconciliation. By their very nature, these images are abstract and portray a personal symbolic language developed by the artist to signify the essence of an on-going activity. The human cell, for example, as an essential determinant of behaviour, indicates our interconnectedness, while also resembling the chains of a restricted society.
Georgette lived in South Africa for 27 years before settling in the United States.
“I was deeply moved by the relatively peaceful transition from apartheid to majority rule under President Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk,” she comments. Most of her father’s family were eliminated in the Holocaust and thus the history of oppression touched her life.
“I realised that human beings around the globe have not learned the lessons of war. Instead one group succeeds another and former victims become the new perpetrators as savage cycles of endless violence are carried out in the name of revenge. South Africa consciously chose a different path - a unique courageous road to peace, to create light from their darkness.”
The materials used in the artworks are a metaphor for some of the work’s content. Mixed media and the process of collage reflect the mélange of cultures and races, the complexity, layers and diversity of South African society.
A recurring feature is the use of shards of clay on which names, events, dates and locations appear. The shards are misshapen and unique like people’s lives; they are fragile and of the land. Georgette’s white writing on black ground is further symbolic of white domination. Text is deliberately difficult to read, just as speaking the truth was so hard and painful to do.
Prof Katherine Munro, who accepted the donation last year on behalf of the Faculty of Commerce Law and Management, when serving in the office of the Dean, said: “Georgette selected Wits as the recipient of the donation as she is a Wits Alumna, having studied towards a BA degree for a year in 1966. She recognised that the University of the Witwatersrand had played a major role as a site of fierce protest against apartheid. Lecturers and students had sacrificed in the fight against racism, often at a personal cost. They spoke, wrote, and researched with passion, courage and honesty through decades of resistance.”
A companion handbook edited by Natalie Knight, documenting the entire collection, will be launched to coincide with the exhibition.
Georgette holds a Bachelor of Fine Art in painting/drawing, a BA in Political Science (Summa Cum Laude) and a MA in Political Economy. While managing an economic and public policy consulting business, she gradually shifted her energies into developing her artistic interests and since 1997 has devoted herself entirely to a professional art career. She has had 13 one-person exhibitions and participated in 10 international exhibitions as well as numerous group exhibitions in USA. Her work on this TRC project was supported, in part, by four grants from both public and private institutions in the USA and has been exhibited throughout the greater Seattle area and Portland.
The exhibition is open from Mondays-Fridays from 09h00-17h00 and on Saturdays from 09h00-13h00. On Tuesday, 28 August at 18h30 Georgette will deliver a lecture on her work, and on Saturday, 1 September at 10h30 she will conduct a walkabout of the exhibition. Booking for these two events must be made through Origins Centre: email@example.com
011 717 4700
082 379 1941
Origins Centre, Corner of Yale Road and Enoch Sontonga Avenue Braamfontein Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa