In a time of challenges – unforeseen as in the case of the limitations and restrictions due to the corona virus pandemic but also envisioned in the transformative potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Art Gallery and the MTN SA Foundation present an online documentary project as a fresh approach to Willem Boshoff’s The Blind Alphabet (1993/4), made of wood, steel and aluminium, and more specifically the forty wooden forms representing the letter B in The Blind Alphabet. This particular work is part of the extensive MTN Art Collection.
This digital experience, The Blind Alphabet – Letter B: Babery to Bigeminate, is curated by Annali Cabano-Dempsey, Curator of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Art Collection, and Niel Nortje, Manager of the MTN Art Collection.
The Blind Alphabet was the work that introduced Boshoff in the early 1990s to a wider public, locally and internationally. It was a work drawing on earlier manifestations of “dictionaries” or “books of readable wood” – “not to educate,” as Ivan Vladislavić (2005, TAXI-011 Willem Boshoff) observed, “but to outwit”. With his use of Braille descriptions of the wooden forms inside the mesh boxes Boshoff as advocate for the disadvantaged and culturally excluded rendered the seeing person illiterate and privileged the visually challenged.
After noting comments by visually impaired individuals on the outdated nature of the Braille type format, the forty works of the letter B within The Blind Alphabet now enter the digital age in this online documentary project to be hosted on Moving Cube, the newly developed UJ Art Gallery website offering content such as 3D virtual exhibitions, educational programmes, virtual walkabouts, video interviews with artists and curators, media, archival material and much more.
Although the conceptual and tactile nature of The Blind Alphabet does not lend itself to a viable 3D virtual gallery experience, The Blind Alphabet – Letter B: Babery to Bigeminate provides extensive documentation and augmenting explorations of this particular work. The project includes comprehensive video footage of the installation of The Blind Alphabet; photography and descriptions of the individual artworks in pop-up format; cutbacks to existing film documentation of previous exhibitions; interviews with Boshoff in his studio in Kensington, Johannesburg; and music accompanying each of the forty sculptures, composed by Jaco Meyer. The research component of Meyer’s MMus degree at the North-West University dealt with the principles of orchestration through the lens of musical forces. This research was conducted in more depth when he completed his PhD in Musicology and Music Analysis as he expanded the theory of musical forces by using analyses of the music by the Belgian composer Wim Henderickx.
In this latest digital experience the visually impaired can access the text and music through a strategically placed QR code. All the sound files will be hosted in URL link format on both the UJ Art Gallery and MTN websites.
Development programmes have always been an important part of collaborations between UJ Art Gallery and MTN SA Foundation and this online project includes a Mentorship Programme, an Emerging Artist Development Programme, and an Educational Programme.
In the Mentorship Programme three mentees – Mpho Mazibuko, Angelique Bougaard and Ndaya Kim Ilunga – were appointed to observe the whole process of curating an online documentary, assist with the two other programmes, attend three master classes on museum/gallery management, marketing and label making, have interaction with the artist, and attend a webinar with the curators.
From the more than forty entries received for the Emerging Artist Development Programme the judges selected ten finalists to compete for the first prize of R30 000. The nine other finalists will receive a stipend of R3 500 each.
The ten finalists in alphabetical order are Lana Combrinck, Neo Diseko, Xanthé Jackson, Miné Kleynhans, Tré Mkhabela, Oratile “Papi” Konopi, Franz Phooko, Alexa Pienaar, Tristin Roland and Selwyn Steyn.
The winner of the 2020 Emerging Artists Development Programme will be announced at the opening of the online exhibition and the launch of the UJ Art Gallery’s online platform, the Moving Cube, on 4 November.
The artworks by the ten finalists will be exhibited in 2021 alongside the Willem Boshoff artworks as part of an envisaged actual space and time exhibition in the UJ Art Gallery.
The Educational Programme, designed and managed by the mentees in collaboration with curators and designer, will take the form of an exciting competition. From 5 to 27 November the public is invited on a journey to explore various aspects and themes relating to The Blind Alphabet – Letter B: Babery to Bigeminate. The programme will offer participants the opportunity to engage with various activities that will broaden understanding of the experience of being blind, and emphasize the dynamics between being able to see and being sight impaired.
The programme is designed to be intellectually and creatively rewarding, but also includes the opportunity to WIN one of four Samsung Galaxy Tablets as well as spot prizes for the most unique entries.
This project in its online form and the exhibition, to be hosted by the UJ Art Gallery in real space and time during 2021, was made possible by a generous sponsorship by the MTN SA Foundation and a supporting grant from Business Art South Africa (BASA).
Keep an eye out for more details each week on how you can enter. You can also follow us on Facebook (@UJArtGallery) and Instagram (@ujartsculture) to keep up with the competition. Visit the UJ Gallery Website/Willem Boshoff’s website for more on “The Blind Alphabet – Letter B Exhibition”.
For more information, contact Annali Cabano-Dempsey at email@example.com or Mia van Schalkwyk at firstname.lastname@example.org. High-resolution images of some of the artworks are available on request.
NOTES TO THE EDITOR
ABOUT WILLEM BOSHOFF
Willem Boshoff is a respected South African artist known for his ability to push the boundaries of conceptual art. He has exhibited at the UJ Art Gallery on numerous occasions and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Johannesburg in 2008.
Fascinated by words, taxonomies and coding, he is painstakingly creating new dictionaries, continuously adding to his collection. He considers language as the vehicle of knowledge and information, but also, ambivalently, as an instrument in the service of power agencies, as the symbol of the transient nature of knowledge and the loss of shared myths.
ABOUT JACO MEYER
Jaco Meyer is a Johannesburg based composer and academic. He obtained a PhD in Musicology from the North-West University and a Licentiate of Trinity College London in Composition. As composer he received many commissions and his music has been performed by international musicians, ensembles and orchestras. His research on music analysis, music theory and perception in music has been presented at various international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals.
ABOUT UJ ARTS & CULTURE
UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA), produces and presents world-class student and professional arts programmes aligned to the UJ vision of an international university of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future. A robust range of arts platforms are offered on all four UJ campuses for students, staff, alumni and the general public to experience and engage with emerging and established Pan-African and international artists drawn from the full spectrum of the arts.
In addition to UJ Arts & Culture, FADA (www.uj.ac.za/fada) offers programmes in eight creative disciplines, in Art, Design and Architecture, as well as playing home to the NRF SARChI Chair in South African Art & Visual Culture, and the Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre. The Faculty has a strong focus on sustainability and relevance, and engages actively with the dynamism, creativity and diversity of Johannesburg in imagining new approaches to art and design education.
ABOUT MTN SA FOUNDATION
MTN SA Foundation is a corporate social investment wing of MTN South Africa, a subsidiary of MTN Group. Launched in 1994, the MTN Group is a leading emerging markets operator with a clear vision to lead the delivery of a bold new digital world to our 240 million customers in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East. We are inspired by our belief that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life. The MTN Group is listed on the JSE Securities Exchange in South Africa under the share code “MTN”. We are pursuing our BRIGHT strategy with a major focus on growth in data, fintech and digital businesses.
Visit us at www.mtn.com or www.mtn.co.za, or follow us on Twitter @MTNza.
ABOUT BUSINESS AND ARTS SOUTH AFRICA (BASA)
Constituted in terms of the Companies Act, BASA is registered as a public benefit organisation (PBO) and is accountable to its stakeholders. The BASA Board of Directors comprises Chair Charmaine Soobramoney, with Deputy Chair Mandie van der Spuy, and Kojo Baffoe, Kathy Berman, Devi Sankaree Govender, Ashraf Johaardien (BASA CEO), Hilton Lawler, Andre Le Roux, Khanyi Mamba, Zingisa Motloba, Carel Nolte, Dr Yacoob Omar, and Mirna Wessels. For more information please visit www.basa.co.za to become a BASA member, click on the ‘JOIN US’ tab at the top of the home page.