From the 5 to 26 June 2019, UJ Arts & Culture celebrates Annali Cabano-Dempsey’s long term curatorship of the UJ Art Gallery in the introspective exhibition 21 Years of Curating the Cube that spans her 21 years of exhibitions.
During her two decades of curatorship Cabano-Dempsey has welcomed art across the board, from the fine art of drawing and painting, sculpture and ceramics to the more fleeting performance art, installation art and visual poetry.
As the UJ Art Gallery’s 6th curator Cabano-Dempsey has seen the gallery emerge as one of Johannesburg’s foremost art centres. The UJ Art Gallery (formerly Rand Afrikaans University) opened in the 1960s and has since hosted numerous temporary exhibitions and acted as custodian of a large collection of artwork.
The move to the new UJ Art Centre in 2005 opened a wider scope of possibility and the opportunity to reimagine the space in contemporary South Africa. Designed by the late Jeremy Rose the UJ Art Centre boasts both gallery and outdoor exhibition space that gently moulds itself to the shape of each temporary exhibition. An accommodating space and busy coffee shop ensures the Art Centre is always a hub of activity and the sometimes casual, sometimes intentional interactions between the university’s student population and the gallery has imbued the space with a young, lively energy. Something that continually comes through in the exhibitions.
Under Cabano-Dempsey and with the unwavering support of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) the gallery has featured a broad range of exhibitions ranging from established artists and mid-term artists on their way to successful careers, to student exhibitions, various collaborations with corporate partners and cultural organisations as well as national art competitions.
“The remarkable backing of artists and audiences alike is so heartening – they sustained this gallery with their constant involvement, creativity and curiosity. After all these years, it is still gratifying to find challenges and excitement in each exhibition; to reflect on the ways a mere cube could accommodate the fluctuations of a rapidly changing world. And to experience the blessing of being surrounded by fascinating minds,” comments Cabano-Dempsey.
Although she has been closely involved with a wide spectrum of artists forming part of the annual exhibition’s programmes for more than two decades, she chose to hand over the curatorship of 21 Years of Curating the Cube to arts writer and author Johan Myburg. They have worked closely together in choosing the 38 works that will be on display, but the final decisions have rested with him. He has looked both to the collection and to the various artists who have exhibited in the space. In a telling statement to Cabano-Dempsey’s tenure, artists have welcomed the opportunity to participate in the exhibition or to produce new pieces for the exhibition.
“The exhibition really centres around Annali, and takes the audience on a walk down memory lane. She has worked with so many artists and often helped burgeon their careers by giving them the opportunity to exhibit. This is a celebration of her role in the visual art landscape,” says Myburg.
With the UJ’s vast collection of work and two jam-packed decades of exhibitions to call upon choosing work may seem a daunting task, but Myburg has ensured that the choice of work not only reflects the highlights of Cabano-Dempsey’s career at the gallery, but also adds its own voice to the gallery’s legacy.
Over the years Cabano-Dempsey has taken the audience on a journey rich in themes from human rights, democracy and gender politics to the relationship between art and music, personal narratives and the fragility of life.
Myburg describes the process of selecting the works in terms of the narrative that slowly emerged.
“A common thread of messaging with codes, signals, symbols or conduits began to emerge. Art does take on a life of its own and once we started choosing the work for the exhibition a fascinating conversation developed between the different works,” he explained.
In acknowledging the role Cabano-Dempsey has played in the gallery, 21 Years of Curating the Cube celebrates UJ’s continued role in supporting and embracing the diversity of art in South Africa.