‘TWENTY’ at the Turchin
Need a reason to visit the Turchin Center?
A new exhibit has arrived at Appalachian State University’s Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, by way of South Africa.
“TWENTY: Contemporary Art from South Africa” opened July 11 and runs through Feb. 7, 2015, in the center’s Main Gallery.
“As South Africa celebrates its 20th year of democracy, having made a peaceful transition from apartheid state to a new and more equitable dispensation, this show seeks to show a slice of South African existence through contemporary art,” the official synopsis reads.
The unofficial synopsis?
“It is a really engaging, fun exhibit,” said Hank Foreman, ASU’s associate vice chancellor for community and cultural affairs.
Each year, Foreman explained, the Turchin Center chooses a country with which the university intends to strengthen or expand a partnership. This year, it was South Africa.
“We considered a number of reasons why it would be a perfect year for that,” Foreman said, the most prominent being the fledgling democracy’s 20th anniversary.
As such, he noted, the exhibit offers viewers an in-depth view of artists’ lives in post-apartheid South Africa.
“We’re not nailing out one particular theme, like social issues, this or that, but rather showing the breadth of what artists are doing in this new democracy,” he said, “and how the works prior to that — traditional works, protest art — come from just a very different art world.”
That’s not to say other themes don’t play a part, however. The exhibit showcases a generous swath of material, much of which Foreman and colleagues Sandra Black, the TCVA’s director of administration, and Pegge Laine, director of education and outreach, initially saw during a trip to South Africa in September 2013.
The trio visited two South African universities—the University of Johannesburg and the University of Zululand. The former is located in a major metropolitan area, and the latter in a more rural setting.
“We wanted to experience both of those places and see how we could work with them,” Foreman said. “Part of our duties, when we go to work with these universities, is to support the universities’ larger mission of … collaboration.”
That entails developing educational opportunities for students and community members alike, both of which are served by the Turchin Center. Students could benefit through enhanced educational materials, Foreman said, while community members could enjoy learning opportunities through the center’s various workshops.
“We were quite familiar with some of the more famous South African artists, like (photographer) David Goldblatt … but a lot of the other work was very protest-oriented,” Foreman said. “So, this research opportunity really let us get to see the amazing breadth they have there.”
Like the art it represents, the exhibit will continue to evolve throughout its course, with new pieces arriving through early 2015. As such, visitors will likely see new additions with each subsequent visit, he said.
“We want to keep the exhibit alive and thriving, so we’ll be doing some additional works on paper, some video components,” Foreman said. “The breadth of work, the content, the technique all really represent what’s going on across the larger art world, internationally, and artists are engaging with these methods of performance and installation and video, as well as the more traditional painting, sculpture and photography.”
For instance, some of the pieces deal with vision and optics. One piece is a miniature version of the Nelson Mandela memorial in Howick, South Africa. The memorial is composed of shaped spires that, when viewed at a distance from a certain angle, presents a portrait of the late South African leader.
Another piece demonstrates the powerful effect of light, bringing color to an otherwise monochromatic palette.
Selecting the works was difficult, Foreman said, in that there were so many spectacular options. Fortunately, they had help from University of Johannesburg curator Gordon Froud, who will be visiting Appalachian State in September. Additionally, ASU’s Hayes School of Music will host a music faculty member from the University of Zululand for an entire semester.
“When we met with Gordon, it was obvious he was the person we were going to work with,” Foreman said. “We discussed with him some of the artists we’d researched, and he took that list, fleshed it out with artists he knew were living there — more emerging artists. It’s a really intense process, but it was very collaborative.”
And the selections, Foreman feels, are nothing short of compelling.
“As you would probably expect, there are some relationships to Nelson Mandela, his presidency and his life,” he said, “but there are other themes. A number of pieces deal with human figure as the subject matter, and those themes vary from the human condition, political issues and the social issues related to that, the issues of interfacing this new democracy and kind of recognizing it, the populations and different connections there.
“There are pieces linked and tied to more traditional crafts … those have influenced contemporary art and have been brought into it.”
A companion exhibit, located in the Turchin Center’s East Wing, will offer visitors some background on the subject. Titled “South African History Under Apartheid: A Tribute to Nelson Mandela,” the exhibit is derived of vintage press and art photographs, memorabilia and poster art from the collection of John and Jessica Stephenson.
John Stephenson is a faculty member in Appalachian’s art department, and his wife, Jessica, is from South Africa. Through their collection, viewers can learn about Mandela’s life, South African history and those who fought apartheid.
“There’s also a section about what was going on in race relations in North Carolina at the same time,” Foreman said. “We have a tendency to view these large international issues from our own pedestal, without thinking about how they might relate to what’s going on at home. That’s really amazing, and it’s right in front of us.”
The Turchin Center for the Visual Arts is located at 423 W. King St. in downtown Boone. For more information, including hours, visit http://www.turchincenter.org, or call (828) 262-3017.