History and Context of the Department of Visual Art
The Department of Visual Art is one of South Africa’s oldest Art Schools. It opened its doors as the School of Arts and Crafts in 1926 and since then, many respected teachers, artists and scholars have been associated with it, and many prestigious students have graduated with Diplomas and Degrees and gone on to make their mark on the national and international stage. Between its establishment and 1933 the School operated from the affectionately known the ‘Tin Temple’, situated on Plein St. just east of the Eloff Street Building.
The School of Arts and Crafts was initially part of the Witwatersrand Technical Institute (WTI) – and from 1930, the Witwatersrand Technical College (WTC) – between its opening in 1926 and 1962. From 1938 the School of Arts and Crafts was situated in Eloff Street, next to the Johannesburg Railway Station. We would leave this building later to go to Bok Street, but other departments remained until the 2005 move to our present home on Bunting Road, Auckland Park.
Between 1963 and 1968, the Department was known as The School of Art, Johannesburg and enjoyed a degree of independence from the WTC while also struggling with the bureaucratic State structures which tried to make it accountable to them. This independence did not last long, and in the late 1960s the Department once again became part of the WTC as The College of Art, Johannesburg (CAJ), finding its home in Bok Street, Joubert Park. Within this structure the Department’s name underwent more changes: Firstly, to the School of Art and Design (SA&D) and secondly, the Department of Art and Design (DA&D).
In 1976 the WTC was formally restructured and Technikon Witwatersrand (TWR) came into existence. It was during this time that the Department moved once again, this time to Musmary Court – a converted block of flats on the Doornfontein Campus of TWR. In the early 1990s the Fine Art Department was structured under the new Faculty of Art and Design (FA&D).
With the Departments of Architecture and Jewellery Design joining in 1997, the newly shaped Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) was created, within which the Department of Fine Art existed until 2004.
With the TWR about to merge with Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) and the Soweto and Daveyton Campuses of Vista University, the Department changed its name to the Department of Visual Art as it was felt that the name ‘Fine Art’ no longer reflected the dynamic contemporaneity of the visual arts world.
When the University of Johannesburg came into being in 2005, the Department of Visual Art was preparing to move again, this time to our state-of-the-art building on the Bunting Road Campus, Auckland Park. We opened our new doors in 2006 and continue to provide some of the best Visual Arts training in the country: our prestigious alumni attest to this fact!
In 2017, the Department’s name was correlated with our new 3-year degree, the Bachelor of Arts in Visual Art (BAVA). This degree is an agile, 3-year Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual / Fine Art and leads to stand-alone Honours and Masters degrees and two Ph.D degrees. In 2020 the BTech and MTech degrees were replaced with new BA(Hons)VA and MAVA degrees, a very exciting development in our long and colourful history.