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Henley Business School Africa continues as passionate patron of the arts with new art installation Article Image

Henley Business School Africa continues as passionate patron of the arts with new art installation

Posted on 1 December 2022

Henley Business School Africa's award winning Henley Resurgence art installation on its Johannesburg campus has undergone a resurgence of its own. The colourful 26-column artwork, painted by 13 different artists, which won the BASA first-time sponsorship award in 2020, has been reimagined into a single collaborative piece that celebrates the same theme - but with a totally different take.

"Anyone who is familiar with Henley will know by now that we don't do things quite the same way as everyone else," says dean and director Jon Foster-Pedley. "Art is in a constant process of renewal as it is essentially connected with the zeitgeist of the time we find ourselves in. With the reimagining of Henley Resurgence, we wanted to provokes fresh discussion about what we do here and what the students are coming here to do. Given that we are emerging from the unprecedented time of COVID-19, this is a particularly poignant time to reflect on these issues."

The installation, which will be formally unveiled on 3rd December, was led by artist and creative entrepreneur Mariapaola McGurk. McGurk, who also led the first project while she was finishing off an MBA at the school in 2019, was joined for the reboot by two other lead artists Molefe Thwala and Thabo Motseki of the Arts Company Soweto (TACS). Emerging artists Sipho Mafoko and Melusi Ntshangase helped execute on the vision.

McGurk explains, "For the first one we really tried to delve into the idea of the importance of acknowledging different perspectives. Artists were invited to infuse their own culture, perceptions and identity into the Henley campus, essentially transforming it into a place inspired by Africa and its people. This time our focus was on the value and power of collaboration - working together a smaller group of artists have painted a single artwork to build a vision for the context and space.

The result is a homogenous and uplifting experience that McGurk says "expresses a 'yin and yang': the opportunity for upliftment and change in the face of adversity as we leave the COVID experience behind us".

Moving from top to bottom of each column is a heaviness and both literal and metaphorical darkness that we all carry in our current context in South Africa. The words, written in a 'creative writing', inspired by Amharic and Hebrew that was developed by Sipho Mafoko, are words of despair and loss. Moving from bottom to top are shapes which stylistically represent the protea flower, chosen because it is adapted to survive wildfires owing to its thick underground stem, which holds dormant buds that will produce the new growth after fire. Here the chosen words reflect hope and optimism.

The design culminates underneath the clock with its well-known caption: "It's Africa's time" symbolising the hope for the whole of Africa, and Motseki says the group was astonished to discover that right under the clock there was a real protea bush growing. "The outstanding results on those pillars were created from the Henley spiritual energy that was part of us during conceptual development process and I called that a miracle," he says.

Working sometimes 13 hour days, the installation took seven days to complete and McGurk says that the respect and collaboration between the five artists was palpable, with each naturally gravitating to their area of expertise, while working towards their shared vision. "In a very real way, how we painted the mural reflected the theme of what we painted. It is through our collective voice and by focussing on the potential and the growth that South Africans can thrive and resurge."

Foster-Pedley says investing in art and artists is a deliberate strategy on the part of the business school, which is relentless in its commitment to reimagining how things are done. "Henley is not a place where you just go to get an MBA or any other business qualification in order to join an elite club of conformist business leaders," he says. "On the contrary, we want it to turn you into a disruptor. And inviting art and artists onto the campus and into the classroom is a key part of that.

This is one of the reasons that Henley has invested majorly in a Creative & Innovation Scholarship programme to enable creatives to do its international MBA. McGurk herself was a recipient of one of these scholarships. But Foster-Pedley points out, "It's not just about developing the creative person's business skills but also about developing the business person's creative acumen."

"Doing an MBA at Henley Africa is definitely life-changing," says McGurk. "It has been fundamental to my understanding of growth and strategy and how I can create a business that is both sustainable and has a positive impact in my community. The MBA has forced me to crack open my mind to consider what tools I need and how to navigate the way forward."

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