AboutI joined the University of Johannesburg as a Professor with a Research Specialisation in March 2013, and was awarded a South African Research Chair (a position managed by the National Research Foundation of South Africa) at the beginning of 2016. Holding this chair involves managing a research facility which includes postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students as well as an administrator.
I have more than three decades of academic experience. Professor of Art History & Visual Culture at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape between 2002 until my move to UJ, a period that included a seven-year stint as Head of Fine Art, I was formerly a staff member in the History of Art Department at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Much of my scholarship is focused on gender, and on exploring and analysing the works of women artists in mainstream contexts as well as practitioners working in the context of community projects in South Africa. I also have a specialist interest in the politics of public art and thorny questions it raises about transformation.
My publications include four books that I have authored and another three that I have edited or co-edited. I have also served as guest editor for special issues in African Arts, Textile: Cloth and Culture and De Arte.
Education1997 Ph.D. in History of Art (University of the Witwatersrand).
1987 MA in History of Art, passed with distinction (Wits)
1983 BA Honours in History of Art, passed with first class (Wits)
1982 BA Fine Arts, distinctions for History of Art (Wits)
Kim Miller and Brenda Schmahmann, (Eds.) Public Art in South Africa: Bronze Warriors and Plastic Presidents. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.
Brenda Schmahmann, The Keiskamma Art Project: Restoring Hope and Livelihoods. Cape Town: Print Matters Heritage, 2016.
Brenda Schmahmann. Picturing Change: Curating Visual Culture at Post-Apartheid Universities. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2013.
Brenda Schmahmann. Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld. Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing, 2006.
Marion Arnold and Brenda Schmahmann (Eds.) Between Union and Liberation: Women Artists in South Africa 1910-1994. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing.
Brenda Schmahmann, Through the Looking Glass: Representations of Self by South African Women Artists. Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing. 2004.
Brenda Schmahmann, (Ed.) Material Matters: Appliqués by the Weya Women of Zimbabwe and Needlework by South African Collectives. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2003.
Forthcoming: “Monumental Mediations: “Performative Interventions to Public Art in South Africa” for special issue of “Troubling Histories: Public Art and Prejudice” in De Arte, 2018.
Forthcoming: “An Arresting Portrayal: Marco Cianfanelli’s Release at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site”. African Arts 51 (4): 56-69, 2018.
“Intertextual Textiles: Parodies and Quotations in Cloth.” Textile: Cloth and Culture 15 (4): 336-343, 2017.
“The Cache-Sexe and the Tablier: Two Feminist Works from Apartheid South Africa”, Textile: Cloth and Culture 15 (4): 412-427, 2017.
“Venus and the Fish Wife: Gender Politics in Carol Hayward Fell’s Early Ceramics”, De Arte 52:(1): 8-30, 2017.
“The Fall of Rhodes: The Removal of a Sculpture from the University of Cape Town.” Public Art Dialogue 6 (1): 90-115, Spring. Special issue on “the permanence of public art”, 2016.
“Shades of Discrimination: The Emergence of Feminist Art in Apartheid South Africa”. Woman’s Art Journal 36 (1): 27-36, Spring-Summer, 2015.
(with Biggie Samwanda), ‘Adam Madebe’s Ploughman and the politics of the land struggle in Zimbabwe’. De Arte 49 (2), Issue 90: 60-76, 2014.
‘Materializing HIV/AIDS in the Keiskamma Altarpiece’, Image & Text no. 23: 45-71. Special issue on the concept of Pointure. 2014.
‘A Material Paradise: Reworking the Ghent Altarpiece in the Keiskamma Art Project’s Creation Altarpiece’. De Arte 48 (2) Issue 88: 21-45, 2013.
‘Developing Images of Self: Childhood, Youth and Family Photographs in Works by Three South African Women Artists.’ African Arts 45 (4): 8-21, Winter 2012, in a special issue on ‘Gender and South African Art’, which I co-edited with Kim Miller (Wheaton College).
‘Bringing Cecil out of the Closet: Negotiating Portraits of Rhodes at Two South African Universities’, De Arte Issue 84: 7-30, 2011.
‘After Bayeux: the Keiskamma Tapestry and the Making of South African History’. Textile: The Journal of Cloth & Culture 9 (2): 158-192, July, 2011
‘More than a “publish or perish” dilemma: Research funding and the creative arts at South African universities’, Focus 61: 29-36, June, 2011.
‘A Framework for Recuperation: HIV/AIDS and the Keiskamma Altarpiece’, African Arts 43 (3): 34-51, Autumn, 2010.
‘Mapula Embroidery: Empowering women in the Winterveld’, Surface Design 34 (4): 44-47, Summer, 2010.
“‘Face to Face Negotiations: Portraits of leaders at three South African universities”, De Arte Issue 80: 14-36, 2009.
(with John Walters), ‘Against the Picturesque: Christine Dixie’s Bloodspoor’, De Arte Issue 77: 36-51, April, 2008.
‘Needled women: Representations of male conduct in Mapula embroideries’. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture 5 (1): 10-33, Spring, 2007.
“Figuring Maternity: Christine Dixie’s Parturient Prospects”. De Arte Issue 75: 25-41, 2007.
“Ceramic Sculptures by Wilma Cruise: Fragments and Feminist Transgressions” Interpreting Ceramics 8, October, 2006.
‘Stitches as Sutures: Trauma and Recovery in Works by Women in the Mapula Embroidery Project’, African Arts 38 (3): 52-65, 94-96, Autumn, 2005.
‘Bodies in Agitation: Wilma Cruise’s Recent Works’, De Arte Issue 66: 4-19, 2002.
‘Developing Art Projects via a Public Commission: Needlework made for the Legislature in Mpumalanga’, De Arte Issue 64: 43-62, September, 2001.
‘Cast in a Different Light: Women and the ‘Artist’s Studio’ theme in George Segal’s Sculpture’, Woman’s Art Journal 20 (2): 29, 32-33, 36-37, 40-41, Fall-Winter, 1999-2000.
‘Casting a Glance, Diverting the Gaze: George Segal’s Representation of the Female Body’, American Art 12 (3): 10-29, Fall, 1998.
‘Casting a Look Over Miles of Imagery: A Relief-Collage by George Segal’, De Arte Issue 58: 25-35, September, 1998.
‘A Playmate of a Different Cast(e): George Segal’s Pregnant Woman’, De Arte Issue 56: 3-6, September, 1997.
‘Roy Lichtenstein’s Critique of Modernist Theories: The Comic Book Paintings’, Acta Varia 2: 88-100, 1992.
‘Loplop as Pop: Bird Imagery in Roy Lichtenstein’s “Surreal” and ‘Amerind/Surreal” Works’, The South African Journal of Art and Architectural History 1 (3): 98-105, September, 1990.
‘Tom Wesselmann’s Post-Collage Works: “Acting in the Gap Between Art and Life”’, The South African Journal of Cultural and Art History 3 (3): 269-273, July, 1989.
‘Dialogues, Debates and Disputes: Early Responses to American Pop Art’, De Arte Issue 39: 24-31, April 1989.
‘Roy Lichtenstein’s Critique of Modernism’, De Arte Issue 37: 50-57, April 1988.
‘“Parody” and “Satire” in the Works of Roy Lichtenstein’, The South African Journal of Cultural and Art History 2 (2): 129-134, April 1988.
Chapters in Books
(with Kim Miller). “Introduction: Engaging with Public Art in South Africa, 1999-2015”. In Public Art in South Africa: Bronze Warriors and Plastic Presidents. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017, pp. vii-xxxvii.
‘A Thinking Stone and Some Pink Presidents: Negotiating Afrikaner Nationalist monuments at the University of the Free State’. In Public Art in South Africa: Bronze Warriors and Plastic Presidents. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 29-52, 2017.
‘Embroidering Controversy: The Politics of Visual Imaging’ in Living Together, Living Apart? The Making of a Future South Africa edited by Chris Ballantyne, Michael Chapman, Kira Erwin and Gerhard Mare, Durban: UKZN Press, 2017, pp. 122-133.
“Postscript: Bedroom Painting No. 18 and the politics of the gaze” (plus French translation) in Tom Wesselmann: A Different Kind of Woman. Paris: Almine Rech Gallery, 2017, pp. 118-125.
“Tom Wesselmann’s Post-Collage Works: ‘Acting in the Gap Between Art and Life’” (plus French translation) in Tom Wesselmann: A Different Kind of Woman. Paris: Almine Rech Gallery, 2017, pp. 88-99.
Short essays on Walter Oltmann, Keiskamma Art Project and the Mapula Embroidery Project for the Benezit Dictionary of South African Artists, Oxford University Press, 2016.
Foreword to The Eloquent Bead: Zulu Women Communicate by Stan Schoeman and Alka Larkan, Montrose: Otterley Press, 2015.
‘Neither Fish nor Fowl: Walter Oltmann’s Confounding of Categories’ in Walter Oltmann: In the Weave, edited by Neil Dundas and Julia Charlton.Johannesburg: Standard Bank Gallery, 2014, pp. 24-65.
Foreword to Deconstructing Dogma: An exhibition of transgressive Christian iconography in South African art, curated by Karen von Veh ,catalogue accompanying an exhibition at the University of Johannesburg, 6 May to 29 May 2014.
‘A Brush with Expression: Roy Lichtenstein’s Interchanges with Modernism’. In Lichtenstein: Expressionism. Paris: Gagosian Gallery, 2013. pp.11-15.
‘Stitched up Women – Pinned down Men: Gender Politics in Weya and Mapula Needlework’ in African Art and Agency in the Workshop edited by Sidney Kasfir and Till Forster. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013, 2013, pp. 125-153.
‘Needled Women: Representations of Male Conduct in Mapula Embroideries. In Textile: Critical and Primary Sources, edited by Catherine Harper. Volume 4 on “Identity”, London, New Delhi, New York and Sydney: Berg Publishers, 2012, pp. 402-420.
‘Women’s Histories in the Visual Domain: Challenging a Politics of Exclusion’. In Fred Scott (ed.), Celebrating Women Artists. Johannesburg: Investment Solutions, 2011, pp. 8-11.
A History in the Making: The Rhodes University Tapestry. Essay and fold- out description of panels. Grahamstown: Rhodes University, 2011.
‘Staging Masculinities: Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” Video’, in Drewett, Hill, S and Karki, K (eds.), Games without Frontiers: Peter Gabriel from Genesis to Growing Up. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010, pp. 57-69. Reprinted in paperback in 2012.
(with Kim Miller) ‘Women’s Cooperatives and Self-Help Artists’ in Berg Encyclopedia of Dress and Fashion, Volume 1 (on Africa) edited by Joanne Eicher and Doran H. Ross. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2010, pp. 533-539.
‘Cast in a Different Light: Women and the ‘Artist’s Studio’ theme in George Segal’s Sculpture.” In Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner, eds. The Studio Reader: on the space of artists. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010, pp. 220-236.
‘Bodily Issues as Subject Matter: Abjection in the Works of Penny Siopis and Berni Searle’. In Baker, Charlotte (ed.) Expressions of the Body: Representations in African Text and Image. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009, pp. 97-120.
‘Into the Breach: Christine Dixie’s Birthing Tray – Honey’, in Du Preez,,Amanda (ed.), Taking a Hard Look: Gender and Visual Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholar’s Press, 2009, pp. 19-36.
“Relative Recall: Family and Memory in Maureen de Jager’s In Sepia”. Catalogue ccompanying De Jager’s exhibition at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, July 2008, and Gordart, Johannesburg, November, 2008.
Figuring Maternity: Christine Dixie’s Parturient Prospects. Catalogue accompanying Dixie’s exhibition at Art on Paper in Johannesburg, March 2008.
Wilma Cruise. Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing. Catalogue accompanying Cruise’s exhibition at the Johannesburg University Art Gallery, November 2007.
‘A breach in representation: Caesarean section and Christine Dixie’s Birthing Tray – Honey’. Catalogue essay accompanying Dixie’s Corporeal Prospects exhibition at the National Arts Festival and the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg, 2007.
“Representing Regulation – Rendering Resistance: Female Bodies in the Art of Penny Siopis” in Marion Arnold and Brenda Schmahmann (eds.) Between Union and Liberation: Women Artists in South Africa 1910-1994, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate Publishers, 2005, pp. 196-221.
“On Pins and Needles: Gender Politics and Needlework Projects before the First Democratic Election” in Marion Arnold and Brenda Schmahmann (eds.) Between Union and Liberation: Women Artists in South Africa 1910-1994, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate Publishers, 2005, pp. 152-173.
“Never stop being a woman”: Fashioning the female soldier in South Africa’ in Jeanne van Eeden and Amanda du Preez (eds.). South African Visual Culture, Pretoria: Van Schaik, 2005, pp. 69-89.
“Untitled by Selinah Makwana” in Anitra Nettleton, Julia Charlton and Fiona Rankin-Smith (eds.), Voice-Overs: Wits writings exploring African Artworks, Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries, 2004, pp. 110-111.
“Initiating In-between-ness: Wilma Cruise’s ‘Claybody’ Sculptures” in W. Cruise (ed.), Earthworks/Bodyworks, Pretoria: Pretoria Art Museum and Novel Promotions,2003, pp. 14-18.
“Art as Empowerment: Needlework Projects in South Africa” in Pamela Allara, Marilyn Martin and Zola Mtshiza, Coexistence: Contemporary Cultural Production in South Africa, Boston and Cape Town: Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, and South African National Gallery, 2003, pp. 41-45, 90.
“Traversing Borderlines: Walter Oltmann’s Recent Works” in Walter Oltmann: Standard Bank Young Artist 2001, Johannesburg: Standard Bank, 2001, pp. 4-29. Catalogue accompanying Walter Oltmann’s exhibition.
“Woman in Nature – Woman as Nature: George Segal’s Interrogation of a Traditional Theme” in C. von Maltzan and R. Wilson (Eds.), Spaces and Crossings: Essays on Literature and Culture in Africa and Beyond, Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2001, pp. 125-144.
“Making Mediating, Marketing: Three Contemporary Projects” in B.Schmahmann (Ed.), Material Matters: Appliqués by the Weya Women of Zimbabwe and Needlework by South African Collectives, Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2000, pp. 119 – 136.
“Some Thoughts on ‘Side Marketers’” in B. Schmahmann (Ed.), Material Matters: Appliqués by the Weya Women of Zimbabwe and Needlework by South African Collectives, Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2000, pp. 90 – 96.
“Representational Strategies in Weya Appliqués” in B. Schmahmann (Ed.), Material Matters: Appliqués by the Weya Women of Zimbabwe and Needlework by South African Collectives, Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2000, pp. 59-81.
“A History of the Weya Appliqué Project” in B. Schmahmann (Ed.), Material Matters: Appliqués by the Weya Women of Zimbabwe and Needlework by South African Collectives. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2000, pp. 40-58.
“Censorship, Censoriousness and a Colourful Commotion: The Useful Objects Controversy” in B. Atkinson and C. Breitz (Eds.), Grey Areas: Representation, Politics and Identity in South African Art (Johannesburg: Chalkham Hill Press, 1999, pp. 227-237.
Exhibition Research Projects
These were two very large research projects which I led. While each exhibition schedule was a year in duration, it took at least an extra two years of work if one takes into account the extensive research, planning and fundraising that preceded it as well as work thereafter (e.g. producing reports on the project and organising the safe return of works).
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
I conceptualised and organised this exhibition of self-representations by South African women artists which toured the country to four museums between July 2004 and June 2005. The project was undertaken to celebrate the Rhodes University Centenary, and it involved my doing proposals to not only museums to host it but also the university to include it amongst the Centenary events. The works were drawn from a variety of public collections as well as some private collections. I had to handle all fundamentals of the project, from organising insurance, condition reports on works and the preparation of the transport of the show. I had to prepare all documentation of works and arrange for these to be made into labels and signage. I had to redesign the exhibition for each venue, working with technical staff to realise my particular vision for the show, and with directors and educational officers to offer educational programmes related to the exhibition to local universities, high schools and the general public. I need to work to bring the project to the attention of the media, doing interviews and preparing commentaries. I had to fundraise for monies for the book that accompanied the exhibition.
July 2004: Grahamstown and Alumni Galleries in the Albany History
Sept – Dec 2004 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth
Feb – March 2005 Durban Art Gallery
April – June 2005 Standard Bank Art Gallery, Johannesburg
Conceptualised and organised “Material Matters”, a retrospective exhibition of Weya appliqués and including works by four South African needlework collectives which toured to five art museums between the end of June 2000 and the end of May 2001. The works were drawn from some public collections and a number of private collections, including ones in Zimbabwe. I had to handle all fundamentals of the project, from organising insurance, condition reports on works and the preparation of the transport of the show. I had to prepare all documentation of works and arrange for these to be made into labels and signage. I had to redesign the exhibition for each venue, working with technical staff to realise my particular vision for the show and finding creative ways of using display to comment on a popular denigration of needlework to the level of ‘craft’ rather than ‘art’. I also worked with museums directors and educational officers to offer educational programmes related to the exhibition, such as a training programme for community art projects which was organised at Wits University. I need to work to bring the project to the attention of the media, doing interviews and preparing commentaries. I also had to fundraise for the project.
July 2000 Standard Bank Gallery in the Albany History Museum, Grahamstown
Aug – Sept 2000 Durban Art Gallery
Oct 2000 – Jan 2001 King George VI Art Gallery (now the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Arts Museum), Port Elizabeth,
Feb – March 2001 South African National Gallery, Cape Town
April –May 2001 Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
ProjectsI am currently co-editing a volume on the visual politics of Afrikaner Nationalism in South Africa.
Upcoming Talks and ConferencesForthcoming:
4-6 July 2018: The South African Visual Arts Historians annual conference in Stellenbosch. My paper is entitled “Knocking Jannie off his Pedestal: Two creative interventions to the sculpture of J H Marais at the University of Stellenbosch”
September 28-30, 2018: The Sixth Feminist Art History Conference, American University, Washington DC. My paper is “Gender and Public Art in South Africa: Usha Seejarim’s Commemorations of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela”.
8-10 November 2018: Mistress-Pieces: Iconic Artworks by Feminists and Gender Activists, offices of the SARChI Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture at the University of Johannesburg. I’m the conference convener.
MembershipsI am nearing the end of my term as President of the South African Association of Visual Arts Historians (SAVAH).
I am on the board of the Art Colleges of the African Studies Association (ACASA).
I am an Open Member of AICA, a titular member of CIHA and a new member of CAA.