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A Portrait of a Young Artist Series: The Mixed Bag of the University of Pretoria Fine Arts Exhibition

Text and photographs by Ilka van Schalkwyk posted on November 7, 2014.

Opening an exhibition on Halloween gives critics the opportunity to use numerous puns relating to horror directed to the artworks on display. Be that as it may the exhibition boasted work that appealed to some, whilst others failed to enthrall in their execution. The final year exhibition of the Fine Arts students at the University of Pretoria, entitled The Space in Between was divided into two locations. Students aimed to explore contemporary art discourses using innovative and unconventional material using a wide variety of disciplines and media including traditional painting, found object sculptures & installation, video & photography, performance pieces and conceptual works. The art on display left somewhat to be desired.

On entering the first location of the exhibition in the Rautenbach hall, the audience are met with large pieces of canvas hanging from the roof splattered with a mixture of colours and paint lacked a certain amount of skill and ability expected from final year students. Other works that were executed better were that of Elsabe Viljoen. Her works explore family trees and the similarities between family members. The works are arduously created but are similar in style to works have been created before.

Familie Portret by Elsabe Viljoen.

With a heavy heart, I wandered across campus to South Campus to visit the second location of what I felt sure was going to be a dismal exhibition. But the installations on display met me by surprise. One of the best works of the night is an installation of images of plants and flowers by Courtney McHolm entitled What Remains. The admirable work consists of micro photographs of plants and decaying leaves. A table in front of the photographs presents medical files displaying the ‘medical history of the plants’.

What Remains by Courtney McHolm.

Sharing the space with the ‘flower child’ was an interesting installation of photographic prints by Minien Hattingh entitled Invisible Mother: Infantalised Child. These prints are displayed on tables covered with white linen and what resembled mosquito nets hanging from the ceiling. It gives the impression of death bed visits. Hattingh's works were praised by printmaker and lecturer, Diane Victor whilst Berco Wilsenach, an installation artist and lecturer at the university, only critiqued the way Hattingh chose to display the photographic prints.

Invisible Mother: Infantalised Child by Minien Hattingh

Various social and political issues such as feminism and identity were covered by the students, themes that have been covered before, most possibly due to the influence of the lecturers. Courtney McHolm's work however offered something completely unique. Student exhibitions are a wonderful place to buy artworks by upcoming artists who may become South Africa’s next Diane Victor. The exhibition offers viewers an idea of what the new generation of emerging artists have to offer and what one can expect them to produce in the future.

Ilka van Schalkwyk recently completed her Honours degree in journalism. She has a degree in fine arts from the University of Pretoria and won the ABSA L’Atelier prize in 2010.

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