Share this article

Memory and history’s role in the way an artist’s work is presented is the focus of a walkabout of and discussion on the exhibition, A Fragile Archive.
A PUBLIC discussion on the roles of memory and history in shaping the way an artist’s work is represented will be hosted at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) on 18 February as part of the gallery’s A Fragile Archive exhibition.

A Fragile Archive features Gladys Mgudlandlu's artworkA Fragile Archive features Gladys Mgudlandlu's artworkThere will be a walkabout with the exhibition’s curator, Nontobeko Ntombela, before the discussion to familiarise guests with A Fragile Archive. “The exhibition examines the role of history, memory and archive in the public positioning of a pioneering woman artist, Gladys Mgudlandlu,” said the public programmes manager at JAG, Tiny Malefane.

“It is centred around an installation that restages Mgudlandlu’s first public exhibition in 1961, along with works of other women artists selected from public collections.”

Valerie Desmore is one of the other artists whose work is displayed in the exhibition.

The panellists chairing the discussion will be Pumla Dineo Gqola and Khwezi Gule. Gqola is an associate professor of literary, media and gender studies at the University of the Witwatersrand and Gule is the curator of the Hector Pieterson Museum and the Kliptown Open Air Museum.

Discussions will focus on the context in which these artists’ works have been represented, as well as how the political past played a role in the way the work was shown. “This historical context has influenced the way these artists have been construed,” Malefane said.

“One of the consequences of this legacy of aesthetic, technical and conceptual discrepancies is a differentiation between the work of self-taught and academically trained artists, often privileging the latter and dismissing the former.”

Mgudlandlu was recognised as South Africa’s first black women artist in the early 1960s, and even though this claim has been refuted by recent research, it has had a massive impact on the way that her art is positioned.

Even though Desmore’s work precedes Mgudlandlu’s, it only made a reappearance in the country in the late 1990s. “The neglect of Desmore’s contribution – from the early 1940s – speaks to the manner in which the authority and control of valuing systems of that time influenced the writing of art history.”

The public discussion and walkabout start at 11am on 18 February at JAG. The exhibition runs until 8 April.

JAG is located in Joubert Park, and the entrance is in King George Street. For more information, contact Tiny Malefane by phoning 011 725 3130, faxing 011 720 6000 or emailing or

Related stories:

Exhibition examines SA's past
JAG ‘back on its feet’
JAG turns one hundred
Art galleries
Related links:

Joburg: art, culture and heritage