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Willem Boshoff

Willem Boshoff creates primarily language/text-related art prepared over long periods and referring to a social context in the form of large installations, visual poetry, concrete poetry, sculpture. Uses wood, stone, objet trouve, mixed media and various graphic media.

Willem Boshoff was born in Vereeniging in 1951. He is the father of four children (Karen, Martin, Willem and Emma). 

Studies, 1970 – 1974: Johannesburg College of Art (now University of Johannesburg, FADA), National Art Teacher’s Diploma; 1980 Technikon Witwatersrand (now University of Johannesburg, FADA), National Higher Diploma in Fine Art – Printmaking; 1984 Technikon Wit- watersrand, Master’s Diploma in Technology in Fine Art – Sculpture. Study visits to Austria, Germany in 1982, and again in 1993, to England, Wales and Scotland.

In a teaching career spanning 23 years, Boshoff taught various art-related subjects to students at all levels of development: teacher, lecturer and, later, senior lecturer at Technikon Witwatersrand, and Associate Director and Head of Department at the same insti- tution. External examiner for a number of tertiary institutions in South Africa and examiner for many post-graduate students.

Boshoff regularly presents slide shows at numerous institutions in South Africa and abroad. Frequent guest speaker at exhibition openings and events. Since 1981, performances of KYK AFRIKAANS and lectures on language, concrete and visual poetry. A guest lecturer for the Smithsonian Institution at universities and schools in Washington during 2005.

A judge for art competitions and advisor to art institu- tions, the Standard Bank Visual Arts Committee and the Sanlam Collection. Trustee of and advisor to the Ampersand Foundation, an organisation that awards fellowships to artists for cultural enrichment in New York, and member of the Fine Art Advisory Committee, University of Johannesburg.

Collections 

UNISA Art Gallery; BHP Billiton Art Collection, Johan- nesburg; University of Johannesburg; Iziko SA National Gallery, Cape Town; Johannesburg Art Gallery; University of the Witwatersrand; Nelson Mandela Metro- politan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth; Durban Art Gallery; Pretoria Art Museum; Jack Ginsberg Collection of Book Arts, Johannesburg; Pierre Lombart Collection of Con- temporary South African Art; David Krut Collection of Fine Art, Johannesburg; Gordon Schachat Collection, Johannesburg; Sackner Archives of Concrete and Visual THE HELGAARD STEYN AWARDS / 27 Poetry, Miami, Florida, USA; Robert Loder Collection of International Art, London; collection of ARTSENSE, a group that promotes art among the Blind, Birmingham UK; Sammlung der Städtische Galerie, Göppingen, Germany; MTN Art Collection, Johannesburg; Sanlam Corporate Collection, Cape Town; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Dimension Data, Johan- nesburg; Constitutional Court of South Africa; Reserve Bank of South Africa; Ferguson Collection, Boston.

Other Awards/Grants 

1971 Prize-winner, Sculpture, New Signatures

1974 Prize-winner, Graphic Art and Drawing, New Signatures

1974 Best Student Teacher Award in art graduate course

1995 1995 Recipient of a grant from Anglo American Chairman’s Fund to facilitate exhibition costs for Blind Alphabet ABC at Johannesburg Biennale; recipient of a research grant from the Foundation for the Creative Arts to continue work on the Blind Alphabet project; nominated for the Alumnus of the Year Award by Technikon Witwatersrand

1996 South African representative at the São Paulo Biennale 

1997 Winner of the FNB Vita Award for Art

1998 1998 Winner of the Ludwig Giess Preis für Kleinplastik by the LETTER Stiftung, Cologne, Germany

1999 Winner of the Gauteng Arts Culture and Heritage Award for Visual Art 

2000 Winner of the Aardvark prize as top artist at the Aardklop National Arts Festival, Potchefstroom

2001 Recipient of an honorary medal for Visual Arts, Sculpture from the SA Academy for Science and Art 

2005 With Ogilvy SA, winner of the Golden Loerie Award as well as the D&AD Global Award 

2008 Honorary Doctorate, University of Johannesburg. 

Blind Alphabet A forms part of the Blind Alphabet ABC, a project that Boshoff started in 1995 as a continuous undertaking. As the project was incomplete in 2001, only Blind Alphabet A qualified for the award. Other components of this project have already been exhibited in America, the UK, Portugal and Spain. The whole Blind Alphabet C was acquired as a permanent exhibition in the National Library for the Blind in Birmingham, England. Boshoff received a research donation from the Association of Creating Art to continue his work on the Blind Alphabet project.

Boshoff is an acclaimed conceptual artist, known for his thoughtful and innovative work. His work deeply involves relationship and social interaction. Boshoff claims that his work is created generally to start con- versation, especially conversation between groups that are not so often or easily linked to each other. The work acts as an ice-breaker, as it forms a forum of community interest. Boshoff states he works in Braille, for example, to further and develop the rela- tionship between the sighted and the blind, but uses sculptured forms to enhance the process. Otherwise he uses the tradition of oral survival of indigenous groups in South Africa within the structure of a Western writing-idiom with resulting social interaction. (Catalogue: Kring van Kennis, RAU, 2001)

This complex project, possibly the biggest of its kind, has become a social interaction over a long period of time.

During 1991, while Boshoff was busy compiling a profound post-modern dictionary for the blind, he came across an interesting word that describes form, structure and texture. He realised that sculptors and critics of sculpture were unaware of specific and morphological words. Had the blind had a developed language at their disposal for objects and surfaces by the sense of touch, it would have made them credible witnesses of such experiences. Usually it is the sighted that helps the blind to, supposedly, “see” through descriptive language.

The artist holds the opinion that the sense of touch consists of a more intimate sensory experience than the sense of sight. Touch eliminates distance, in comparison to sight that is more of an illusion and is superficial. Boshoff realised over a long period of time that the leading experts on the terrain of touch-aes- thetics are supposed to be the blind, because their survival is dependent on their sense of touch. His work also tries to correct the blinds’ unfortunate situation that is labeled as “incompetence” and “ignorance”. He wants to ennoble the conditions of the blind within the context of speech as a perception of false notion. (Venter 2001)

Boshoff devotes most of his time to research in prepa- ration for art works and talks. This includes drawing up botanical check-lists at major botanical gardens of the world and writing dictionaries.

Main areas of exploration: Dictionaries, botanical gardens and nature, medieval and early music, avant- garde music, ethnic music and philosophy.

Blind Alphabet A (1993 – 1995), wood and metal, 72.5 x 35 x 50cm
Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein

Photo courtesy of Oliewenhuis Art Museum