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THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (article first published : 2004-05-16)

Through the Looking Glass is a groundbreaking travelling art exhibition, which explores representations of self by women artists in South Africa, and is complemented by a book with the same name. Brenda Schmahmann, Professor and Head of Fine Art at Rhodes University, is the curator of the exhibition as well as the author of the book.

The exhibition forms part of the Rhodes University’s Centenary Reunion Weekend celebrations and begins its run at the National Arts Festival on July 1 where it forms part of the main festival programme. A comprehensive show, it will occupy both the Grahamstown and Alumni Galleries on the upstairs level of the Albany History Museum.

Through the Looking Glass will then travel to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth (formerly the King George VI Art Museum) to open at the beginning of October 2004. In early February 2005, the show opens at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg and will reach its final destination, the Durban Art Gallery, in April and remain there until June 2005.

The show comprises a wide range of significant artworks in a diversity of media that have been loaned from public and private collections. Dorothy Kay’s extraordinary Elvery Family (1938), on loan from the South African National Gallery, will be on show, as will her delightful Eye of the Beholder (1953) – a painting in the collection of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum which shows the artist at the hairdresser.

The exhibition also includes Penny Siopis’s much-admired My Lovely Day (1997). An installation that is an imaginative reconstruction of the cinema owned by the artist’s grandfather in Umtata in the 1930s, this work includes a video projected onto a screen in the manner of a silent film. A unique self-portrait by ceramic sculptor, Bonnie Ntshalintshali, will also be on exhibition. Produced in 1991, it is the only work that the curator has ever encountered in which a South African black woman artist represents herself in the context of a studio and surrounded by materials for making art.

These are just a few of the pieces in this significant exhibition, and the viewer will also have the opportunity to see works by Bongi Bengu, Candice Breitz, Jean Brundrit, Christine Dixie, Terry Kurgan, Antoinette Murdoch as well as a host of other well-known South African women artists.

The book, published by David Krut Publishing, which complements the exhibition, will be launched in Johannesburg at the end of May but re-launched in Grahamstown at the opening of the exhibition on July 1. Illustrated in full colour and with a lucid and substantial text, Through the Looking Glass is described by Dr Marion Arnold, author of Women and Art in South Africa (David Philip, 1996), as “an erudite and persuasive book” that “will make a significant contribution to South African art literature”. Dr Arnold observes that “in addition to its academic merits – and these are considerable – this very readable text will help South Africans to understand how contemporary visual culture positions individuals in fluid social contexts”.

Through the Looking Glass is sponsored partially by the National Arts Council of South Africa and David Krut Arts Resource. Funding for research undertaken towards this publication is from the Joint Research Committee at Rhodes University.




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