News & Media

Using art to express heritage

Colbert Mashile, The last procession, 2003, Acrylic paint & pastel on paper: Unisa Permanent Art Collection

As we look back to September, which is observed as #HeritageMonth, we need to bear in mind that heritage can be observed every day. It is about celebrating the diverse cultural wealth we have in South Africa. As we see the country’s citizens celebrating their heritage in different forms, the Unisa Art Gallery continues to focus on encouraging cultural diversity and stimulating artworks that are rich in a variety of approaches and signal commencement of individualisation.

Initiated around 1961 with no formal budget, today the gallery enjoys the full support of the Unisa Executive Management with a budget it can boast about compared to what other university galleries enjoy. The collection has grown over the years with an estimate of more than 2 000 artworks. It gives access to Unisa art students at 3rd and 4th year levels of their study for their practical exams. Visual experimentations through their private stories, their personal interests and their individual voices are encouraged and amplified in their artworks.

"Other than that, the gallery’s space is also made available to professional local and international artists. Furthermore, we also use the collection to create in-house exhibitions that celebrate national events such as Heritage Month. The gallery’s main mandate is to educate, as we regularly host students through guided tours. Community Engagement (CE) is also encouraged through giving advice to artists and sometimes gallery curators give studio visits," said Jacob Lebeko, an assistant curator at the Unisa Art Gallery.

Different kinds of art can be used to celebrate heritage. For Natalia Molebatsi, Unisa Library Marketing Coordinator, a writer and performing poet, heritage is about the past that makes us who we are today. She sees it as an opportunity to remind ourselves that, among others, we come from people whose spirits, languages, songs, struggles, joys and histories refuse to be erased, even under the hardest circumstances.

Natalia Molebatsi, Unisa Library Marketing Coordinator, writer and performing poet

Having performed in different countries throughout the world, such as Nigeria, Senegal, Zimbabwe, England, Italy, Argentina and Germany, she says: "Heritage is about staying true to our true ourselves. It is not about show and spectacle, but we can still share our cultures, rituals and other acts of community at home with our loved ones. We also have social media to help us bridge the distance, especially now in light of the current Covid-19 pandemic," said Molebatsi. 

Molebatsi writes about women like her late grandmother Mminatlou, who she says helped her to shape her worldview. Through her, Molebatsi expressed that she found a gift of self-identity, love, courage and language. She further added that, through her, she saw the death-dealing machinery of apartheid, but also saw the strength of a black woman. The Pan-African feminist also writes about everyday life such as anti-racism, homophobia, love and freedom. With a burning passion for languages, particularly African ones, she believes through language there is so much heritage to harvest.

* By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2020/10/07