To commemorate their 50th anniversary, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Irma Stern Museum partnered with the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) to invite Grade 11 learners doing Visual Art and Design to participate in a “Rethinking Irma Stern” project.
The exciting practical assessment task aimed to celebrate the connections between Visual Arts and Design and called for relevant participants throughout the province to re-think, re-imagine and re-interpret iconic works by Irma Stern, who is considered one of South Africa’s most prolific and powerful artists, having played a leading role in introducing avant-garde art to the country.
The submissions were judged by an independent panel, which selected the artwork of 51 learners to be exhibited at the UCT Irma Stern Museum.
A celebration of excellence
An event was held on Saturday, 10 September, where learners, together with their families, gathered to receive certificates of excellence for their efforts, before proceeding to view the exhibition.
In her opening speech, fellow judge and organiser of the event, Nobukho Nqaba, said that the purpose of the Rethinking Irma Stern project was to promote the relevance of visual art and design through the work of Irma Stern.
“All Grade 11 WCED visual art and design learners were invited to visit the museum [and] look at the work of Irma Stern and her collection. In addition, some schools also attended practical workshops in our education room, some of [which] were led by our first artist in residence Athi Patra-Ruga,” Nqaba said. “During the practical sessions, learners gained skills that enabled them to create inspiring, critical and/or fun art and design pieces. All these designs and artworks directly re-imagine the paintings of Irma Stern.”
She added: “The work produced by learners is incredible, and it gives us such a pleasure to celebrate their creativity at the museum. This, of course, would not have been possible without the support from teachers, parents, and learners’ dedication and enthusiasm.”
The museum’s director, Nadja Daehnke, welcomed guests to the museum, which is located in the Rosebank home and garden where Irma Stern lived, and thanked the WCED, adjudicators and funders involved in bringing this project to life. “A special congratulations to those here today whose work was chosen; it is a privilege to enjoy and celebrate the inspiration of a new generation of artists,” she said.
Deputy chief education specialist at the WCED, Neil Simons, emphasised the opportunity that the collaborative project has opened up to nurture young people, and to introduce them to different environments. “Arts subjects are important to us as a department in terms of our focus on Steamac [science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, agriculture and coding] fields, and help our pupils develop the kind of skills they will need to succeed in the current and future economy,” he said. In adding his commendations to the learners for their achievement, he urged them to “continue developing your skills, and expose yourself to the world”.
Impressing the judges
The project’s adjudicators agreed that the high standard of work submitted from learners across the province made narrowing down a selection for the exhibition a difficult task. “There was such an immense amount of talent, which was amazing to see, and very inspiring. I love being surrounded by young artists and their work,” said Sitaara Stodel, a technical officer at the Michaelis School of Fine Art’s photography department, and a contemporary artist in her own right.
Rory Emmett, who is also a practising artist and currently completing his master’s at the Michaelis School of Fine Art said that he was very impressed, not only by the learners’ practical skills, but also how they were thinking conceptually about Irma Stern’s work and how to re-imagine the themes and ideas. “In the brief the use of unconventional materials was encouraged, and some learners really embraced that and handled it very well,” he said. “I was also excited to see the use of oil paints by high school pupils, as it is such a versatile medium.”
Lifa Nogaga attends Sea Point High School and chose to rework an Irma Stern painting by adding some details to a rural countryside scene. “I was inspired by my love of nature and felt that the addition of trees and mountains brought a new element to the original work,” he said. Nogaga plans on pursuing a career in art but added that “I will have to do some other work on the side initially to make some money.”
Lia Marais takes design as a subject at her school, Hoërskool DF Malan, and interpreted the brief by designing a set of dungarees. “I looked at what art means to me, and I perceive it as being about honesty and humanity. The dungarees are made of beige bull denim and I drew out the correlation between working history and art.” Marais also painted one of Irma Stern’s paintings on to the pocket of her design.
Another learner who studies art at the Peter Clarke Art Centre was inspired by the late artist’s painting style, the visible loose brush strokes and colours in particular. Her painting was based on self-reflection, showing an image of herself as seen in the mirror alongside an objective outsider’s perspective. She finds that much of her own art represents her journey of self-growth.
The exhibition is open to the public from 14 to 30 September and teachers and learners enter for free during this time.
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