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


Prof. Lynn Morris, BSc (Hons) (Wits), DPhil (Oxon), FRSSA, FAAS, MASSAf, TWAS
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research & Innovation, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

The Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts (JGCBA) contains a unique and internationally acclaimed collection of artists’ books that was donated in 2019 by the celebrated arts philanthropist Jack Ginsberg. The JGCBA is a beautiful, custom-designed exhibition and storage area within Wits Art Museum. In recognition of his enormous contribution to the South African arts community, Ginsberg was awarded a Gold Medal in 2014 from the University of the Witwatersrand. The JGCBA is designed to raise awareness and promote the little-known, important, contemporary art form of artists’ books; encourage the use of the resource by academics, students, teachers and professionals interested in the fields of fine arts, art history, graphic arts, design, printing, typography, printmaking, book binding and paper-making; and to research and publish on the Collection.

The Jack Ginsberg Collection of Artists’ Books is a valuable addition to the University’s Special Collections that include national treasures such as Nelson Mandela’s handwritten notes from the Rivonia Trial, the first recording of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika in 1923, the Sol Plaatje Siege of Mafeking diary, extensive rock paintings and engravings, Herbert Baker’s blueprints for the Union Buildings and world-renowned fossils such as the Taung skull and Sediba fossils. The diverse collections are valuable research assets that extend Wits’ teaching, research, and public engagement roles, and contribute to the university’s high academic standards and profile as internationally distinguished for research, and its commitment to social justice in Africa and beyond.

Indeed, the Collection has already been the subject of significant scholarship, primarily by David Paton, Senior Researcher at the Centre and Professor in the Department of Visual Art at the University of Johannesburg. Paton shares Ginsberg’s passion for artists’ books and his name has likewise become synonymous with this art form. He has published extensively on the Collection, and curated important exhibitions showcasing artists’ books and developed an extensive website that serves to make the collection accessible worldwide. In addition to comprising artists’ books, books on the field of artists’ books, fine press books, art monographs, reference books, popular culture and ephemera, the Collection also includes four Special Collections: The Walter Battiss Archive, The David Goldblatt Collection of Photobooks, The Johannes Meintjes / Michael Tonkin Letters, and The Cecil & Thelma Skotnes / Stephen Gray Letters.

Recently, 67 publications from The Caversham Press and Centre for Artists and Writers were added to the JG collection. This new and unique material is the focus of this catalogue and accompanying exhibition, Masabelaneni: The Book Arts Archive of The Caversham Press and Centre for Artists and Writers. The archive documents the creative intersection between writing, artistic production and bookmaking in South Africa and showcases the voices of diverse creative role-players, many of whom are seen for the first time in this exhibition.

This catalogue includes texts on particular aspects of the archive, including a contextualising introduction by exhibition curator Prof. David Paton, and articles on selected books from the archive by Dr. Marion Arnold (Honorary Fellow, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Loughborough University, UK) who co-curates the exhibition, Dr. Bronwyn Law Viljoen (Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide, Australia), and Mr. Vonani Bila (founder of the Timbila Poetry Project and editor of the poetry journal Timbila in Elim, Limpopo Province).

As a university, Wits has a critical role in preserving culture for current and future generations. Ginsberg’s generous donation and the creation of the Jack Ginsberg Centre for Book Arts is a great honour and mark of recognition that enriches the university’s status as an important cultural institution. We are proud to be able to showcase this important project and reflect the vital role the Centre is playing in the production and communication of knowledge.

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