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treatments; research and design of exhibition text; and, importantly, the conservation of the objects themselves. It is in the bringing together of different bodies of expertise, using macro- and microscopic examination and photography, as well as non- destructive analytical techniques, that a deeper understanding is gained of the material composition, manufacture and deterioration processes of these artefacts.
As portions of the collection on display form part of the National Estate, decision-making is necessarily influenced by the appropriateness of treatment, which includes considerations of past remedial treatments and means of preventing further deterioration, and extends to appropriate lighting design and the manufacture of displays and mounts.
In conservation projects, the requirements of
each artefact are discussed between curator and conservator before treatment starts. Although conservation takes into consideration the aesthetics and visual aspects of the exhibition and individual artefacts, conservation is in the first instance
guided by the principle of minimal intervention and stabilisation. Most treatments involve the removal
of aged and unstable repairs, as well as previous overzealous over-painting to reveal the original surface of the artefacts. The physical structure of the vessels is then strengthened and consolidated by imbibing friable surfaces with dilute, ‘sympathetic’, and reversible adhesives.
From the viewpoint of a conservator, Isabelle
McGinn writes that the most exhilarating part is the journey of discovery, or rediscovery, as cleaning reveals previously obscured details: a pot is pieced together from hundreds of shards, thus giving clues to its function; or residue analysis reveals its use beyond memory. Exposed under magnification
and augmented examination using a variety of lighting conditions, fingerprints reveal how a potter held a lump of clay to shape a small hand-formed Mapungubwe vessel, colouration on a shard edge hints at firing temperatures, and technique and material composition of the clay pinpoints the locality from which it was extracted.
The University of Pretoria Museums managed by the Department of UP Arts curate 56 diverse art and heritage collections relating thematically to ceramics, sculpture and
art. The permanent exhibitions comprise more than ten public galleries showcasing both ancient and contemporary ceramics, iconic archaeological gold, sculptural pieces and an array of artwork. These museum collections are on public display in the Old Arts building and the Old Merensky building, but many of the curated collections are exhibited across all eight campuses. The most renowned collections, such as the Mapungubwe gold collection, the eastern ceramics collection, and the landmark sculptural collections with over 40 works, are displayed across the UP Hatfield campus.
The Mapungubwe collection was one of the most
iconic museum collections loaned from South Africa for the international exhibition titled, South Africa: the art of a nation held at the British Museum in London from 27 October 2016 until 26 February 2017. This was the first major UK exhibition
on South African art that explored 100 000 years of history through archaeological historical and contemporary artworks and this was the first time in South African history that the Mapungubwe collection left South African borders. The original gold rhino, gold sceptre, gold vessel and two other gold animal figurines from the Mapungubwe Collection, as well as the Pierneef painting, Wild Fig Tree from the UP Art Collection, were highlight exhibits hand-selected by British Museum curators.
The museum staff conduct objects-based and curatorial research, manage permanent and host temporary exhibitions, and perform daily collections management and vital conservation of these rare and unique collections. The museum collections and associated documentation, such as the valuable archival collections, are available for research, teaching, training, exhibition and educational purposes, serving the purpose as both university museums as well as public museums.
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