17 Mar BIARTORY TOUR TO PRETORIA AND JOHANNESBURG
35 Biology, Art and History students, accompanied by Mr McArthur, Ms Schaum and Mrs Magagule, were excited at the prospect of visiting some South African artworks and digging up our past in a short academic tour to Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Our first stop was the renowned Javett Art Centre – a partnership between the University of Pretoria and the Javett Foundation. We were excited to see iconic pieces from our art history syllabus such as Norman Catherine’s Dog of War and Gererad Sekoto’s Song of the Pick and were instantly greeted by Alexis Preller’s massive painting titled Discovery.
The exhibition All in a Day’s Eye: The Politics of Innocence in the Javett Art Collection was a powerful and poignant curation. This exhibition forced us to grapple with the way we look, think and write about our artworks from the modernists of the 20th century till today. Walking round the Javett Art Collection, we saw that it was as much a collection of works of art as it is a collection of histories recorded by artists in South Africa over a period of time.
A highlight was seeing Africa’s gold in The AngloGold Ashanti Barbier-Mueller Gold of Africa Collection and the Mapungubwe Gold collection. The magnificent gold jewellery worn by West African Queens reminded us of our rich heritage, but also the colonial exploitation of Africa’s wealth. One of the most impressive exhibits of all is the Mapungubwe Collection, with its centrepiece a tiny but perfectly-fashioned gold rhino. The Mapungubwe Collection dates from AD1000 to AD1300 and was discovered by archaeologists in what is now the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site. This little rhino has become a symbol of Africa’s wealth, as well as evidence of extensive international trade and kingship found at this sacred site.
We finally arrived at our lovely accommodation, Hominid House, at Maropeng – The Cradle of Humankind. It was wonderful to have some freedom to explore, stargaze, sing songs, roast marshmallows and unwind a little around the campfire with black-backed jackals calling nearby.
With our day starting a little later than anticipated, the Grade 12s were given the luxury of a late lie-in until just after 7am – something that the boarders only experience on the weekends. Our gracious hosts had certainly laid out a fantastic breakfast spread for us, which was grateful fuel for the hectic day we had planned.
Our first stop for the morning was the Sterkfontein Caves. This was an integral section of the tour for the Life Sciences pupils, as it fits in with their human evolution syllabus. Before entering the cold, dark underbelly of the earth, the pupils first wandered around the Scientific Exhibition Centre which provided information about fossilisation, palaeobotany and landscapes. They were also introduced to the key discoveries of this area, namely “Mrs Ples”, the “Taung Child” and “Little Foot”.
Our guided tour of the caves exposed the pupils to the different geological formations and wonders of the underground; from the formation of stalactites and stalagmites to the reason why a complete Australopithecus skeleton was discovered in that area. A highlight would be the wondrous underground lake that flows for over a hundred kilometres under the earth’s surface. Unfortunately, for COVID reasons, the tour had to be cut short, as other areas of the cave would become a little too crowded.
At the Maropeng Centre, we met our brilliant guides who were extremely knowledgeable about the fossil sites and digs in the area. Most asked about was the recent Homo naledi find and the Rising Star Cave site. Sadly, all of the original fossils have been moved back to Wits University and were not on display. We enjoyed the concept of travelling back in time and then forward again through many evolutionary processes towards present time via the exciting water ride. The displays kept our pupils engaged with small quizzes, games and challenges around human and animal evolution and taxonomy. These words, displayed in huge letters, curve around the tunnel and need to be remembered:
“Human populations appear to be different in terms of colour, body size, limb proportions, hair texture and other physical attributes. Beneath the surface we are virtually identical. There is no genetic boundary for race. We are one species.”
Constitution Hill and Court
A new stop on the excursion this year was Constitution Hill and the Number Four prison. It was during our guided tour that the pupils learned of the unsanitary and inhumane conditions that the prisoners were exposed to. From overcrowded cells, insufficient nutritional meals, the threat of prison gangs and the humiliation of full body inspections in front of other prisoners by the warders, pupils began to understand the severity of conditions in this area of incarceration.
The Constitutional Court houses an incredible collection of resistance and contemporary artworks. This collection was largely initiated by Justice Albie Sachs and today boasts the most prominent names in South African art. One of the most powerful works of art is The Man Who Sang and the Woman Who Kept Silent by Judith Mason, a work that is based on proceedings at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and one that is now perhaps the court’s most famous piece.