UJ brings first Boiart Exhibition to the African continent

​The University of Johannesburg is currently hosting an exhibition on campus that is the first of its kind for the country and the African continent.

The Creative Microbiology Research Colab (CMRC) and the SIM|BIO|ART exhibition was launched at the Faculty of Art, Design, and Architecture Gallery (FADA) 20 July 2023. 

Biotechnological art or bioart is when artists use living materials to make artwork. Instead of paint or clay, the artist works with raw materials and subjects for artistic production using scientific practices and protocols.

UJ Vice-Chancellor Professor Lekhokwa Mpedi says it’s not just an exhibition but rather a journey through time and culture, with microbes serving as compelling tour guides and challenging the status quo at every tier. 

“And in this realm, (where) the smallest of things hold the greatest possibilities, this exhibition emerges as a message of triumph and hope.”Dr Ndivhuwo Luruli, UJ’s Director of Research and Innovation, echoes Prof Mpedi’s sentiments. 

“This biolab is the first of its kind in Africa, and indeed puts us at the forefront of creative microbiology bioresearch on the continent. I can assure you that this is one of those projects that we will be talking about into the future, especially as and when we engage with colleagues from other institutions, both locally and internationally.”Prof Leora Farber, the Director of the Visual Identities in Art and Design (VIAD) Research Centre, FADA UJ, says bioart is a relatively unknown, underdeveloped field in South Africa and other African countries.

 There are few artists and designers in South Africa, or on the continent, working with bacteria (or with biotechnological processes in general). Given that bioart practice is unrecognised and unestablished in South Africa, it offers enormous potential as a field of creative, and theoretical research in the country.

“In short, the works in the exhibition address critical environmental and social challenges, such as climate change and biodiversity loss; they point to the need to promote sustainability and the necessity of critical dialogues within communities – and the artists do so in exciting, creative, and imaginative ways. “As is evident from the work in the exhibition, African bioart practitioners can engage the public through multidisciplinary research, which, ultimately, has the potential to unlock immense potential for the continent to shape the future of art, science, and culture on both regional and global stages,” says Prof Farber.

The exhibition will showcase bioart created by various members of the CMRC, including VIAD and Water and Health Research Centre Directors Prof Farber and Prof Tobias Barnard, bioart laboratory manager Xylan de Jager, VIAD Artist-in-Residence Brenton Maart, as well as VIAD Research Associates Nelisiwe Xaba, Nadine Botha, Miliswa Ndziba, Nathaniel Stern, and Nolan Oswald Dennis.

The exhibition runs from 21 July to 19 August 2023. Entry to the exhibition at FADA Gallery is free and open to the public. Gallery hours: Tuesday to Friday between 9:00 and16:00; Saturday between 9:00 and 13:00. 

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