Archive: Issue No. 63, November 2002

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Maishe Maponya Responds to Kendell Geers, October 25

Response to Kendell Geers:

The open letter written by Kendell Geers, concerning the vandalism of his work, has raised several highly relevant (critical, even) concerns: the Johannesburg Art Gallery believes these matters should be brought to the full, public attention of the South African art community. The lack of resources at the Gallery, in terms of both financial capacity and manpower, is an ongoing concern facing many public institutions... one that many people are possibly unaware of.

While one is grateful to Mr Geers for bringing this issue into the public forum, it is unfortunate that he chose to direct his letter at one particular individual... In reality, the problems he raises are part of a larger concern. The Gallery does, however, hope this public airing will raise people's consciousness with regards to its (the Gallery's) difficult circumstances.

A few points need to be clarified:

1. We are not oblivious to security needs of the Gallery and other Council facilities and we are actively addressing these needs. Unfortunately it has taken extreme consequences for action to be speeded up. Since the theft of the (Studio of) El Greco painting and the vandalism of Mr. Geers' work, the Gallery has acquired several additional new security staff.

2. Mr Geers' letter implies the Gallery does not take the vandalism of his work seriously. This is an unfortunate misconception. In response to the incident:
-The Gallery has opened a criminal case with the Hillbrow Police. All Gallery staff concerned have given formal statements to the police.
- Gallery staff is conducting interviews with members of the public, and have identified three possible suspects in the case. Once further information has been gathered, it will be handed over to the police.

3. The Gallery regrets the temporary loss of this work as much as Mr Geers does. The work is one of our most popular permanent displays, and, as such, we are also perturbed by its temporary removal from display.

4. Mr Geers is absolutely correct when he notes that the collection in the Gallery does not belong to any individual, and is in fact public property. To this end, the question must be asked as to whether the needs of the public would be met at ALL if the Gallery were to close its doors indefinitely (this closure is Mr Geers' suggestion.) We believe that by keeping our doors open, despite all the difficulties, we are able to offer something to the very citizens to which Mr Geers refers. We firmly believe that the public would rather have a facility to utilize, albeit a facility with certain limitations, than no facility at all. This sense of commitment to public, to showing and sharing our cultural heritage, is the underlying goal of the Council. It is this very commitment to the public's cultural needs that has encouraged the Gallery to keep its doors open over the last several years.

We hope this public exchange highlights not only the difficulties of the Gallery at present, but also the determination and commitment that the Gallery staff has towards keeping the Gallery open to the public, many of whom utilize the space as their primary resource and research facility.

Mr. Maishe Maponya
Director: Arts, Culture and Heritage Services
City of Johannesburg