40 Years of Collecting: A Celebration of the Standard Bank African Art Collection

Following on the success of A Black Aesthetic: A View of South African Artists 1970-1990 at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg, Dr Same Mdluli is curating her second show for this gallery, running from 13 May to 6 July.

For the exhibition 40 Years of Collecting: A Celebration of the Standard Bank African Art Collection, Standard Bank Gallery curator and manager Dr Same Mdluli will be drawing on the vast collection of the Standard Bank African Art collection housed at the Wits Arts Museum.   Labelled as one of the largest classical African art collections in the Southern Hemisphere the collection consists of more than 5 000 objects from across the continent, which include southern African art objects, such as wood figurines, drums, masks, clothing and ritual objects, as well as specialist areas such as beadwork, textiles and valuable ceramic pieces. A substantial amount of the objects come from West and Central Africa and more recently works from East Africa have been acquired.

Mmwo (maiden spirit) mask, Igbo, Nigeria. Undated. Standard Bank
African Art Collection (Wits Art Museum) Photo: Wayne Oosthuizen


In 1979 an agreement between the Standard Bank Foundation of African Art and the University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries (as the two institutions were known) was signed, affirming that a certain sum of money would be made available on an annual basis for the purchase of African Art and this growing collection would be jointly owned by both the Standard Bank and Wits University.

Forty years ago the collection started out of a genuine concern for the preservation of a fast disappearing cultural heritage of enormous diversity and creativity; disappearing not only because of the urbanization of the Black population and the resultant relinquishing of traditional skills, but also because of the accelerating interest of foreign dealers and collectors who have been removing the works from their country of origin.  The collection has grown substantially over the years with the assistance of an acquisition committee who advice on the acquisition of pieces.

Orikogbofo (beaded crown), Yoruba, Nigeria. Undated.
Standard Bank African Art Collection (Wits Art Museum)


The collection is managed by the curators at the Wits Art Museum, Julia Charlton and Fiona Rankin-Smith, with input by academics such as the late professor Alan Crump and professor Anitra Nettleton, as well as academics like Rayda Becker and Karel Nel.

With the help of the WAM curators Mdluli has selected pieces that give a good sense and range of what is in the collection. “Works were selected according to regions, specific cultural groups as well as what is available in the collection. With the assistance of the curators at WAM, I tried to select pieces that are the best examples of objects in the collection, demonstrating craftsmanship, technical skill as well as aesthetic appeal.”

“The Standard Bank African Art Collection is of historical significance for the insight it offers into development in Africa’s culture and in influencing aspects of present-day culture and art,  adds Mdluli: “There are many arts practitioners that have engaged with the collection in various ways including top fashion designers such as Laduma Ngxokolo (Maxhosa by Laduma) who have drawn from the collection for inspiration. Contemporary African artists such as Nolan Oswald Dennis have also used the collection as reference to produce works that are critical and engaging.

Irari (Beaded Blanket) Ndebele, South Africa / Zimbabwe, Undated.
Standard Bank African Art Collection (Wits Art Museum)


All exhibitions held at the Standard Bank Gallery have an educational component in the form of school tours, and for this exhibition, the Standard Bank Gallery has partnered with Wits School of Arts postgraduate students to produce a digital catalogue that illustrates how they have engaged the collection in their courses.

The Standard Bank Gallery – located on the corner of Simmonds and Frederick Streets in central Johannesburg – offers free, safe undercover parking on the corner of Harrison and Frederick Streets. Gallery hours: Mondays to Fridays from 08:00 to 16:20 and Saturdays from 09:00 to 13:00. Entrance to the exhibition is free.

Walkabout dates: 18 May, 8, 22 and 29 June 2019.   All walkabouts start at 10:00.

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About Dr Same Mdluli

Same Mdluli is an artist, art historian and writer living in Johannesburg. She holds a PhD in History of Art, MA in Arts and Culture Management from Wits University and a B-Tech degree in Fine Arts (cum laude) from the University of Johannesburg.

Mdluli has worked as an administrator at the Goodman Gallery on projects in both Cape Town and Johannesburg and taught art at various school levels. She has participated in various exhibitions and conferences, locally and internationally, and has won several art awards. She has also participated in several international conferences and residencies. Her research interests are contemporary African art, Black expressive modes and aesthetics as well as the conversations between jazz and the visual arts. Before she was appointed curator at the Standard Bank Gallery she was a sessional lecturer in art history.

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