Interactive art exhibition a hit

29 May 2012 | Story by Newsroom

student Buhle Zuma
It's a hit: Aneesah Firfirey, a grade-10 learner from Livingstone High, puts her punching bag to the test. Interactive art: Johann van der Schijff in front of his own punching bag at the opening of the exhibition.

Community Punching Bags, an exhibition by UCT senior lecturer Johann van der Schijff run in collaboration with a number of high schools in Cape Town, intrigued viewers on its opening night at the Iziko South African National Gallery Annexe on 23 May.

The multi-coloured punching bags - all adorned with faces - that learners and art teachers from Camps Bay High, Fish Hoek High, Heideveld Senior Secondary, Isilimela High School and Livingstone High had designed with van der Schijff were, read the press release, to "show that issues often not spoken about openly, such as those that deal with violence, 'the other', stereotyping, discrimination, racism, xenophobia and human rights can be addressed in a collaborative and creative way through the making of art".

"I'm interested in interactive art, where the viewer actually becomes part of the artwork," explains van der Schijff. "[This exhibition] speaks about violence, and a punching bag is something you can hit."

With his punching bag, Ncoko Mabanga, a learner from Isilimela High School, told the story of when he and a friend were robbed. "Every time when I think about that day I still feel broken inside," says Mabanga, adding that his choice of red and black for the bag represented what he remembered about the appearance of his assailant.

Van der Schijff was pleased that so many learners seemed to pour their hearts into the bag designs. "I think it shows you the transformative power of art and what art can do in people's lives," he said.

Deputy-vice chancellor Professor Crain Soudien, a contributor to the project, added that despite appearing on the surface to embody violence and the "ugliness of the human spirit", the exhibition aimed to show that there is more to what we see than meets the eye.

"When we see each other, we see faces to which we put instant codes, labels, meanings, attributes," said Soudien. "What we're trying to do here this evening is to try to show you that a face is not a face; that we need to be seeing beyond the face."

The exhibition is on at the Iziko South African National Gallery Annexe until 16 June. It is open every Monday to Friday from 09h00 until 16h00, and Saturdays from 09h00 until 13h00.

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