Do objects have lives? If objects could speak, what stories would they tell? Only a very few find their way into museums; some we know much about, others - nothing." These were some of the questions and issues addressed in Lifelines, which explored the biographies of selected objects in the Standard Bank African Art Collection housed at Wits Art Museum (WAM).
Lifelines, the exhibition and publication of the same name, grew out of a Wits History of Art postgraduate project, Object Biographies, pioneered by Dr. Justine Wintjes in 2013. This research project was developed in response to the intriguing collection housed at WAM and the abundant research opportunities it offers to students of African Art. The opportunity to spend time with a particular object is a privilege for researchers; to explore an objects history and its past experiences is an exhilarating challenge. Lifelines - the exhibition and the book which accompanies it - is based directly on the individual students' research, but produced and written by staff of Wits History of Art and Wits Art Museum: Joni Brenner, Laura De Becker, Stacey Vorster and Justine Wintjes.
The exhibition was presented in two spaces: one entitled Life-, and the other, -Lines.
Life- presents aspects of the biographies of seven objects researched by the 2013 student cohort: a photograph by David Goldblatt, a Zulu waistcoat, a Robert Mugabe shirt, a West African barber sign, a sculpture by Nelson Mukhuba, a painting by Penny Siopis and a Great Serpent Mask made by the Bwa of Burkino Faso. The display of the selected objects was complemented by installations that aim to represent the students' research findings visually.
Lines, the second exhibition space, comprised a selection of objects to be researched by the 2014 student cohort. These include clay pots, woven fabric, paintings and carved wooden artefacts. These objects are juxtaposed with a series of provocative quotations intended to prompt possible entry points and to indicate ways to begin thinking about the process of writing about objects in museums.
This exhibition was bound to alter the way in which viewers see and respond to museum objects and to encourage them to consider the journeys that these objects have taken from their point of origin to the institution in which they are displayed.
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