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DIT DEPARTMENT CLOSURE (article first published : 2003-12-28)

Durban Institute of Technology staff and students of the fine art department are horrified by the recent announcement of the proposed closure of the sculpture and ceramic departments.

This would leave this nationally significant fine art school with so few choices that it can no longer retain its status as one of the best fine art institutions in the country. If students have only such a limited choice of subjects they will look for and find better options in other provinces and the best creative talent will certainly leave KwaZulu Natal. This will have a ripple effect that will reverberate throughout creative and industrial arenas.

One of the finest examples of work done because of the facilities and training offered by the sculpture department, was the commission from the Durban Metro council for a full length sculpture for the Shembe Church, which has a four-and-a-half million membership. It was commissioned after a much-contested public competition which was won by Andries Botha and Greg Streak.

The sculpture of the prophet Isaiah Shembe is the first commissioned by the city to honour a black South African. Andries Botha heads the sculpture department of DIT and Greg Streak is a graduate of the department. Former students and assistants who worked on the commission were all trained at the DIT. The Shembe sculpture will be cast in bronze in the foundry of Kim Goodwin, also a former Technikon lecturer who opened his own foundry when the Technikon closed that facility four years ago. Isaiah Shembe will stand 2.3 meters high and will be erected publicly on Human Rights Day, March 24, 2004 on the beachfront near North Beach.

If these departments were closed down all these skills will be lost artistically, but also to industry. What the hierarchy also does not seem to be aware of is the enormous contribution that department has made over the last decade by giving extra mural assistance to community based artists.

The Velobala group, financed by the African Art Centre was housed there and even those with no connections to the institution were always given advice and a helping hand. The excellence of the department is acknowledged throughout South Africa and also internationally. Both disciplines - sculpture and ceramics have produced several prize-winning students.

A recent master student Thando Mama won the MTN Young Contemporaries prize. Mama is soon off to New Zealand as he was selected for the Auckland Biennale. Milijana Babic, another recent MA graduate, has just returned from Croatia where she was invited to show her work on City of Women. Langa Magwa, another masters student, was artist in residence at the National Arts Festival and now he has just returned from Scotland where he participated in an international residency with other artists. Greg Streak has just returned from an exhibition in Jakarta and together with Botha, he delivered a paper in Buenos Aires. Streak is also responsible for bringing the internationally recognised Pulse project, which originated at the Rijks Akademie in Amsterdam, to Durban. And so the list can go on and on.

Students from the ceramics department also worked on all the mosaic clusters in West Street. The closure of both departments is extremely short-sighted and will have a far reaching negative impact, and it will also leave industry without these professional life skills.

And what are the authorities actually talking about financially a loss of R710,000, which on a provincial education budget is a mere drop in the ocean. Marianne Meijer




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