Masabelaneni: The Book Arts Archive of the Caversham Press and Centre for Artists and Writers


Dr. Marion Arnold, Honorary Fellow, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Loughborough University, UK

In the digital age the publishing industry for specialist books has undergone dramatic changes. Those who claim online publication as a sign of progress tend to consider that printed books have entered the twilight of history. This is untrue – they retain relevance because books serve different purposes. Consider the artworld’s illustrated art books and art exhibition catalogues.

Online exhibitions function as information devoid of sensuality and the thrill of encounter experienced by people visiting real interior or exterior spaces because they value authentic, real-time experiences of art. Here the scale and material presence of exhibits, ranging from the monumental to the intimate, makes one conscious of being human, with senses, emotions and minds stimulated by engagement with visual language and art objects. These visual culture experiences cannot be replicated by computer screens delivering pixelated information in response to a mouse requiring only clicking skill to scroll up and down.

Exhibitions accommodate their viewers moving around artworks and through physical spaces that sustain the interpretive intentions of their curators. Catalogues, like exhibition installations, require spacious, well-designed presentation with page layouts relating images to texts and conveying the aesthetic quality of the artworks being illustrated. Since exhibitions possess duration, when they end printed catalogues remain as records of works and hosts of scholarship. A print catalogue as a codex book is particularly appropriate for an exhibition of artists’ books such as Masabelaneni: Book Arts Archive of The Caversham Press and Centre for Artists and Writers. This archive, like all such repositories, is a toolkit for research. The expressive content and innovative forms of these artists’ books offer abundant evidence of how they were created technically, acquired their aesthetic resonance, contain evidence of collaborative and cross-cultural enterprise, and function as purveyors of personal, communal and political content. As co-curators of this exhibition we aspire to the catalogue being generative. We hope subsequent publications might host more articles by academics, artists and writers consulting the archive or referencing the Caversham artists’ books in educational workshops.

The 2023 exhibition has articles by co-curators David Paton and Marion Arnold, and contributors Bronwyn Law-Viljoen and Vonani Bila. Our research voices are as different as the themes we chose to investigate, but we are united in our enthusiasm for the book arts from Caversham that brought us in touch with the creativity of many artists and the nurturing expertise of Malcolm Christian.

© Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts (JGCBA). All rights reserved.