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It is with great sorrow that the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (Javett-UP) announces that philanthropist, Michael Javett, has passed away at the age of 86 on Thursday 17 November 2022 at his home in Johannesburg.

In his distinctly unobtrusive and eminently influential manner, Michael was the driving force behind the creation of the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (Javett-UP), an extraordinary Centre that first opened its doors in September 2019.  Built on the belief in the emancipatory potential of the arts in society through multidisciplinary curatorial and pedagogic initiatives, the Javett-UP was created through a partnership between the Javett Foundation and the University of Pretoria. While Michael has passed from us, his intense curiosity about what makes us human, from many different perspectives and why we create, is reflected in his and his family’s unique collection of key 20th century South African artists, and the Bongi Dhlomo Collection of the Javett Foundation, both housed at Javett-UP.

Michael was fascinated by these varied perspectives and he felt that if the artworks were housed in a public-facing space attached to an academic institution, the collection could inspire people’s curiosity and enhance education in the arts. Most importantly, he wanted to ensure access to the works for all members of the public and especially for younger people to whom he passed on the baton of life, with his characteristic phrase “over to you”. Most importantly, he wanted to ensure that artists, curators, collectors, the wider public and especially the youth of South Africa would get to write the next chapters for themselves.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, Professor Tawana Kupe said: “Michael, we mourn the loss of you and we treasure that we were fortunate to call you our friend and to experience your magnanimous support in the creation of the Javett Foundation and the University of Pretoria’s establishment of Javett-UP.

Michael Javett passed away just a few days before the birth of the last art project in which Michael was directly involved, Mihloti ya Ntsako – Journeys with the Bongi Dhlomo Collection, a book currently being printed. It chronicles the coming into being of the Bongi Dhlomo Collection, a unique compendium of 138 artworks produced in the 20th century by both well-known and lesser-known black South African artists. Mihloti ya Ntsako is due to be launched at the Javett-UP on 25 November, in what is now destined to be a poignant and fitting celebration of music and art within Yakhal Inkomo, the inaugural exhibition of the Bongi Dhlomo Collection.

This book bears a tribute to Michael at the start of the book that reads: To Michael Javett. Without your generosity and vision, these journeys would never have been possible. Thank you. Bongi Dhlomo, the artist, curator and cultural worker who put together the eponymous collection of 20th century black art for the Javett Foundation, said that during a conversation she had with Michael in 2018 he said to her: “I want to ‘see’ your ‘eye’ in telling the story of how black artists saw and interpreted their world through their art production. But I also want to ‘see’ how black artists ‘saw’ their immediate community. How they felt about their existence. How they ‘saw’ South Africa.”

Throughout the book about this unusual collection process, Michael is “deliberately rendered invisible”, consistent with his character and his desire to centre Bongi as the prime driver of the project. And that is how he was, always there, minding from the wings and never wanting to take centre stage.

On his passing, Bongi said: “Michael – a pillar of strength. Without your support and enthusiasm we would not have this amazing collection and book. It is dedicated to your insistence that the collection should be accompanied by a narrative that indicates what artists were thinking as they created the artworks. We thank you Michael, we say farewell to you and how we wish you could have seen the book. We shall miss you.”

Gabi Ngcobo, Curatorial Director of the Javett-UP had this to say about Mr Javett’s passing, “I met Michael Javett for the first time in 2019. After a series of conversations about the Javett Family Collection, about the future of Javett-UP and about education, which he was most passionate about, he entrusted me with curating the collection for the opening of Javett-UP. I feared that my critical approach to the collection might dissuade him and the Javett Foundation, but I received immense support as he saw my concept as important for unpacking aspects of works of art that are not always spoken about in art history. The exhibition ‘All in a Day’s Eye: The Politics of Innocence’ in the Javett Art Collection became a landmark curatorial undertaking that created a lot of debate and invited students and young people to engage with its questions.”

Javett-UP CEO, Lekgetho Makola, notes that our staff and partners will continue to build on the critical contribution that Michael Javett has made towards the democratisation and access to artistic education for our youth and diverse societies, to the betterment of our country and the region.

For more information, please visit Javett-UP.

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