Norval Museum summer exhibitions

David Goldblatt imported 800 ASA film so that he could photograph deep in the mines.

Almost one year ago, Norval Museum opened its doors to the public.

Since then, it has hosted some prime exhibitions but surely none are more spectacular than the four summer 2019 exhibitions that grace the walls and grounds of this contemporary art museum in Steenberg.

Last week, Norval’s marketing manager, Luke de Kock, took the Bulletin on a whirlwind tour of three of the exhibitions starting with On the Mines: David Goldblatt, a permanent acquisition for the foundation.

On The Mines celebrates the last exhibition personally conceptualised and planned by the world-famous photographer David Goldblatt. His work was recently exhibited at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and in October it will be exhibited in Sydney.

He did not see On The Mines to the end as he died in June last year. The photographs, mostly in black and white, were taken between 1960 and 1971.

The exhibition is in two parts, the first shows hauntingly beautiful abandoned mines on the west and east Highveld and illustrates the residue of early mining. The second is of human activity.

There is a famous sequence of shaft-sinking photographs shown next to each other.

Taken in 1969, Goldblatt imported 800 ASA film so he could photograph at the rock face deep in the dark mines.

Senior advising curator, Karel Nel, said Goldblatt asked Nadine Gordimer to write text to go with the photographs.

“I decided to get someone to record it. Brenda Goldblatt, his daughter’s voice comes through the ceilings in every gallery. As she reads the text and the images come together,” said Mr Nel.

The second exhibition, Labour of Many, by Ghanaian Ibrahim Mahama, is in the triple-storey gallery.

Mr De Kock said it was linked to the Goldblatt exhibition as both explored labour, the connection of trade and the commodities of the two countries as they relate to colonial and economic power.

It must have been difficult to install as every surface is covered in sacks that once held cocoa, Ghana’s major export, the basis for the world’s chocolate industry.

Made in Baghdad, the sacks moved cocoa from one location to another and then remained in Ghana to be used to carry charcoal, vegetables, or to wrap engines and machinery.

“You feel like you have stepped on to the docks. There’s a forensic quality as the sacks have been in Ghana and have been used and show the power of class, the meaning of class,” said Mr Nel.

The third exhibition, Trade Winds by Yinka Shonibare, carries on the fabric theme. Born in London in 1962 he moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of 3.

He now lives and works in London. In 2019 Shonibare was awarded the decoration of Officer of the “Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” or CBE.

In two parts, Wind Sculpture (SG) III, floats like a colourful blanket in the sculpture garden. It was transported by flat-bed truck, shipped in a container and installed at Norval Museum by crane.

The second part is in the smaller upstairs gallery and includes The Library, an installation using wax print cloth initially from South East Asia traded past the Cape to Holland where the Dutch print it.

“Shonibare uses the cloth as a metaphor for African identity to accompany the sculpture,” said Mr Nel. The books are works and writing by first- and second-generation immigrants, covered in cloth. Most of the spines are inscribed with the names of well-known and not-so-well-known names.

There is free entry to the museum every first Wednesday of the month. The museum is open Monday to Sundays from 10am to 6pm, closed on Tuesdays. Free daily tours are held at 2pm.

On the Mines, Labour of Many and Trade Winds are on display until Sunday August 11; Wind Sculpture (SG III), in the Sculpture Garden, until Monday August 26; and Collector’s Focus: Nudes in the Sanlam Art collection until Monday May 13.