Spectacular African Art at the Wits Art Museum

by | Sep 8, 2021 | Johannesburg, Johannesburg City Centre, Museums and Buildings | 13 comments

Looking at art was one of the activities I missed most during the strict covid lockdown. It’s not like I visit art galleries every day, but I like knowing I can see art whenever I please. It sucked when I couldn’t do that.

Art galleries are open again in South Africa, which is great because looking at art turns out to be a good pandemic activity. (Galleries and museums tend to be very uncrowded.) I’ve visited a couple of art exhibitions over the past few weeks, and the definite highlight was the African art exhibition currently showing at the Wits Art Museum (a.k.a. WAM) in Braamfontein.

African art on display at the Wits Art Museum in Braamfontein
Costumes and masks made in Nigeria on display at the entrance to the Wits Art Museum. Like many of the pieces in this exhibition, the artists’ names and dates are unrecorded.
Face sculpture on display at WAM
An incredible metal facemask. Please forgive me for forgetting where in Africa this piece comes from — I forgot to photograph the caption.

The exhibition, called “Seen, Heard and Valued: WAM celebrates 40 years of the Standard Bank African Art Collection”, recognizes the longstanding partnership between Standard Bank (one of South Africa’s main banking companies) and Wits University. Standard Bank’s collection includes more than 5,000 pieces of African artwork, many of which are often on display at WAM.

The current WAM exhibition is special, as it includes a particularly comprehensive and beautifully curated collection of pieces from the Standard Bank collection. My friend Gail and I were invited to attend a guided tour of the exhibition by its curator, Fiona Rankin-Smith, which gave us really interesting insights on how the pieces were selected and displayed.

I won’t ramble on about the exhibition. I think the pictures are self-explanatory, although these works look so much more impressive in real life. The exhibition is on until February 2022; please go see it.

Wooden sculpture by Noria Mabasa
A massive wooden sculpture, named Ngoma Lungundu, made by Noria Mabasa in 1995. I was really fortunate to visit Noria at her home studio in northern Limpopo a couple of years ago, so I was particularly excited to see her work at WAM.
Sculptures by Jackson Hlungwani at the Wits Art Museum
Another larger-than-life sculptural display — the entire setup is the size of a small room — by another legendary northern Limpopo artist, Jackson Hlungwani.
Job Kekana sculpture
I was also excited to see this piece by Job Kekana, who was friends with my ex-boyfriend’s dad. I once visited a beautiful church in rural Zimbabwe that was filled with Kekana’s religious sculptures.
Soccer player sculpture from the DRC
A handsome soccer player sculpture made by an artist in the Democratic Republic of Congo (name and date unrecorded).
Beaded dolls at the Wits Art Museum
Various beaded dolls, which I believe were made by Zulu artists.
Carved chest by Alson Zuma
We all loved this carved chest by South African artist Alson Zuma. The pictures carved around the chest create a kind of wooden ‘zine.
Zulu brooches
Beautiful Zulu earplugs.

It’s time to bust out of the covid bubble and see some art. WAM is a wonderful museum and an important resource for our community — I highly recommend it. Also, admission is free.

WAM is at the corner of Bertha and Jorissen Streets in Braamfontein. The museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Booking is essential during covid times: Call 011-717-1358 or email info.wam@wits.ac.za.


  1. dizzylexa

    I too can highly recommend this exhibition and if you can get Fiona Rankin-Smith to walk you around that would be the cherry on top. Thanks for inviting me.

  2. David Bristow

    There’s a safari lodge on top of the Soutpansberg crafted by Noria, Leshiba, more than well worth a visit.

    • 2summers

      Oh yes I’ve heard of it!

  3. Margaret Urban

    Thanks for the great pics to whet the appetite for a visit to WAM. WAM has long been one of my go-to places for solo outings; their exhibitions never disappoint; doing walkabouts with a curator or the artist(s) is always special. They have an emailing list which sends regular updates.

    • 2summers

      It really is a fantastic museum.

  4. Nancy McDaniel

    Looks wonderful. Wondering if there are any contemporary paintings by southern African artists on display. I believe Standard Bank has them in their collection.

    • 2summers

      Yes, there were some really great ones. I just didn’t like my photos of them, haha.

  5. frankieford

    The last picture is not of “broaches” but more interestingly, of earplugs. I am old enough to remember Zulu men with them. Here’s an excerpt from an fascinating article about them I just found. It brought back memories of where I’d see them:

    “Appreciated by viewers simply as elements of style, earplugs were seen in Johannesburg worn by the male staff of apartment blocks in Hillbrow, Orange Grove, Killarney, Yeoville and Rosebank up until the 1990s. One can speculate that the earplugs with the white ground made a sartorial statement when combined with the so called “kitchen boy” white outfit with 2 rows of red or blue trim, used by staff at this time.”


    In the 50’s and 60’s in these areas, at least, the “male staff of apartment blocks”, which were called “flats” before the Americanization of SA English, were all Zulu. In the language of the time were known as “flat boys”.

    I remember hearing a story of a sign in a block of flats that said “No flat boys today” to which someone had written underneath “only round ones”.

    • 2summers

      Oh yes, of course! I can’t believe I got that wrong. I’ll correct it. Thanks.

  6. AutumnAshbough

    The art looks huge. Maybe I need a human for scale!

    • 2summers

      It is seriously huge.

  7. ankemaartenMaarten

    WAM is a great place and amazing art. Also a place worth a visit is Victoria Yards and specifically the artists areas and studios. One of the painters I’ve met last Sunday also has some of his work in The Netherlands at the moment. Dario Manjate is his name and his work is amazing. He and 5 other South African artists are showing their work in The Netherlands.

    • 2summers

      Oh yes, I know Dario! Love his work.


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