February 24, 2016 | noon
By Monique Kleinhuizen '08
Ten North American and 10 African artists gathered in June 2013 for a two-week studio in South Africa. During their time together, the artists and educators engaged in a rigorous program of learning about South Africa by visiting historical sites, meeting with key groups and individuals, considering the roles that art has played there, and producing art in response to what they encountered. The unique experience—called “R5”—was sponsored by the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity in cooperation with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the Lilly Fellows Program in the Humanities and the Arts. “R5” evokes the South African five-rand coin, mirroring five common issues faced by South African artists: remembrance, resistance, reconciliation, representation, and re-visioning. Following the trip, the artists created independent works, collectively called Between the Shadow & the Light, which are now on display in Bethel University’s Olson Gallery.
The gallery booklet states that the show “presents the artist as both piercing prophet and hopeful seer, and pushes viewers to consider the resonance of South Africa for North America and beyond. The exhibition includes 45 works in painting, sculpture, photography, collage, textile and book arts, installation, assemblage, new media, and video. These works range from narrative to conceptual in a variety of styles and approaches. Together they create a vibrant visual conversation on issues relevant to us all no matter what our nationality or circumstance.”
Michelle Westmark-Wingard, gallery director and associate professor of art at Bethel, is one of the contributing artists. She also had the unique opportunity to bring the show to Bethel and curate it. “Unpacking this work felt like seeing my friends,” says Westmark-Wingard, who explains that the trip and creation of these works were among the toughest and most meaningful experiences of her life. Her contributed piece—created in collaboration with her South African roommate, Magdel van Rooyen—is a collection of Facebook posts shared back and forth during and following their trip. Through 38 photographs, the women shared landscapes, mundane tasks, and observations in a public and immediate media, even from opposite ends of the world.
Kimberly Vrudny, another artist featured in the show, is associate professor of systematic theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “South Africa has had an enormous influence in how I think about God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and what it means to be human,” says Vrudny. “Given our country's own ‘original sins,’ including the conquering of the land of the indigenous peoples and the institutionalization of chattel slavery and its legacy which haunts us to this day, I hope the exhibit will open a space for people to talk about the possibility of ‘reconciliation’…Perhaps we could imagine together a society that is whole, and live into it for the first time. Artists are critical to that process of envisioning a still more excellent way of being human in community.”
“These are all coming out of a shared experience…That trip—for each of us—was a disruption—in a good way,” says Westmark-Wingard. “We’ll all forever live in sort of a tension. There’s never an easy solution.”
While many pieces from the collection are now on show at Bethel, two pieces by South African artist Phumlani Mtabe are on view at the Anderson Student Center on the University of St. Thomas St. Paul campus, where South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Glenda Wildschut will also present March 8. Between the Shadow & the Light is on show in the Olson Gallery through March 20. Find out more about the show and related events.