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Anatomy meets art at workshop

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In a collaboration where anatomy meets art, a group of five young and upcoming visual artists from Kimberley attended a workshop that focussed on the ethical issues around post-mortem autopsy procedures.

UK artist Anna Suwalowska is seen with the five local artists – Eugene “Junior” Oliphan, Mogomotsi Makukumare, Katlego Squire, Andrea Chaunyare and Sureyyah Moroka – and Dr Halina Suwalowska during the workshop at the McGregor Museum. Picture: Soraya Crowie.

IN A COLLABORATION where anatomy meets art, a group of five young and upcoming visual artists from Kimberley attended a workshop that focussed on the ethical issues around post-mortem autopsy procedures.

The workshop, which was hosted by Oxford University in collaboration with the McGregor Museum, combined art, science and archaeology.

A social scientist from Oxford University, Dr Halina Suwalowska, who was one of the brains behind the workshop, said a previous visit to Kimberley and an exhibition in the city had inspired the concept.

“I am a social scientist, philosopher and ethicist and I look at the ethical and social issues in medicine and health. I have travelled and conducted interviews around conducting post-mortem autopsy procedures at various hospitals in various cities in South Africa. I have gathered information through interviews with pathologists, clinicians and researchers in South Africa and have repeatedly come back to the country,” said Suwalowska.

“Last year we did an exhibition in Kimberley around the autopsies, which was based on my findings and research on the matter. The exhibition was done by an artist from the United Kingdom, Anna, in collaboration with the Sol Plaatje University (SPU). Anna did a series of paintings around key issues like why is culture important in the performance of an autopsy, how people from the same culture and background agree or disagree about the performance of autopsies as well as how people felt about organ donation. The collection was done in partnership with the McGregor Museum as well as SPU.

“We decided to return this year with a slightly different project, which was aimed at empowering young, upcoming visual artists. We received funding from Oxford University and once again collaborated with the local museum and university.”

Suwalowska added that they deliberately focussed on upcoming artists in an attempt to also promote artistic talent in the Northern Cape.

“We had five artists who were all from Kimberley. The artists were selected after they submitted their proposals, curriculum vitae and portfolio of work. What was interesting was that the museum did not know about the artist and the artist did not know how to get their work displayed in the museum. We had to travel all the way to connect them.”

She said the workshop challenged the artists to step out of their comfort zone.

Suwalowska added that all five artists relayed the theme with ease.

“The artists were given different assignments, which included a self-portrait, but they had symbolism. We also studied the project on whether it was ethically correct to display human remains, such as skeletons or even printed 3D pictures of skeletons in museums. The artists all expressed their different views on the subject.

“We also afforded the artists to work with Professor David Morris to study the archaeology side of art. Professor Morris showed them the rock art site. Professor Morris unlocked their artistic side while I challenged them to display their ethical side through their work.

“What was also interesting was that we used to separate nature and science, but through this workshop it was evident that these aspects work in harmony with each other. We are nature, and nature is within us.”

She added that the work of the artists will be on display at the McGregor Museum next year.

“This was the first time the artists had to work with such a concept. It was also a first for us as we were not certain whether any artist would take any interest in the workshop. All the artists however produced amazing work which was in line with the theme.

“The work they produced will also be showcased through an online exhibition on the Oxford University website. That will give them global exposure. Next year they will have an exhibition at the McGregor Museum. This will be the first time some of them will have their work displayed in a museum.”

The artists indicated that the project pushed them out of their comfort zones.

“This attracted me because it is something different from what I usually do. This is different as it has more aspects of anatomy. This was also a wonderful platform to gain exposure as a local and upcoming artist. I usually do portraits and landscapes and this has challenged me to think broader,” said Sureyyah Moroka.

Another local artist, Katlego Squire, said he was elated to have been granted such an opportunity.

“A friend of mine sent me the poster on the project and I at first did not believe it was legit. I then applied and was elated to be selected. Upcoming artists in the Province have not been granted much exposure. It is always the same artists whose work one would see. I gained a lot of personal growth during this project and stretched myself.

“It has also shown me that one does not have to move out of Kimberley to secure work. It has been evident that if one is talented and passionate about your craft, the geographic borders will not be able to block your breakthrough,” said Squire.

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