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Jan van der Merwe

At present I work with artifacts of our time and attempt to transform them into archaeological remnants. “The installation becomes an indoor monument to the universal history of ordinary people, their politics and religion and their treasuring of valuables. Rust refers to the transient nature of everything, a return to original matter.” (Hundt ed. 2005)

Jan van der Merwe was born in Virginia in the Free State in 1958 and grew up in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, where he matriculated in 1975. He lives and works in Pretoria and is a senior lecturer in Fine Arts at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT). He obtained an M.A. Degree (Fine Arts) from this institution in 1999.

Since 1976 he has taken part in approximately 131 national and 18 international group exhibitions and also held several solo shows. “I have been a practising artist since 1977 and, additional and complementary to my role as an art lecturer, my focus has been on the production of a body of art work and a body of written articles generated from the exhi- bitions of my practical work. My art work is also used as source material for secondary and tertiary students.”

His work is represented in a number of museums and corporate collections.


1982 New Signatures, SA Association of Art, Pretoria

1999 Sasol Scifest 99. First Prize: a trip to Paris, sponsored by the French Embassy and the Institute for Research Development, Grahamstown. Competition theme: Art and Technology

2002 Chief Festival Artist, Hadeda Art Festival, Tzaneen

2003 Chief Festival Artist, Aardklop National Arts Festival, Potchefstroom

2003 IOC Olympic Art Competition, National Winner, sculpture category, attended the Senior Delphic Games 2005

2004 Olympic Sport and Art Contest, International Fourth Prize, sculpture category, Diploma of Recognition

2005 Represented South Africa as installation artist during the 2nd International Delphic Games held in the city of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. Received a special International Delphic Award during this event for “outstanding presentation in the discipline of art installation” 

2012 Recipient of the Ampersand Award that is administered by the Ampersand Foundation – two-month residency in New York 

2014 Fiësta 2014. Best achievement visual art (Time and Space – exhibition at Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein)

Van der Merwe frequently refers to his installations as “monuments”, a metaphor for the universal history of ordinary humans: their politics and religion, their protection of valued collections. This is in contrast to monuments that are erected for political governors. It is this personal association that addresses the crowd, as the artist tries to conserve and protect humanity. The material used portrays sincerity, vulnerability and the spiritual quality and integrity of his installations. (Commendatio 2005)

Die Vertoonkas/Showcase installation consists of a display cabinet “aged” by covering the surface with rusted tin-ware. The ornaments and trophy in the cabinet are also “aged”, to make the objects appear as archaeolog- ical artifacts. A television screen in the cabinet shows the image of a silver trophy that is burnished repeatedly – portraying the “cleaning” and reinterpretation of the past, repeated generation after generation. Above the cabinet a video on the Voortrekker Monument is projected. The image appears and disappears rhyth- mically, in the same way as the historical events. The rusted clock on top of the cabinet reflects the vanitas symbolism of corruption, the futile struggle against the “rust of time”.

Showcase/Vertoonkas (2003), (2003), found material, rusted metal and video projections, 151 x 155 x 215cm Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein

Photo courtesy of Oliewenhuis Art Museum