This post comes a bit late as the CCA bid a sad farewell to Dr Siona O’Connell at the end of 2016. Perhaps a reason for its delay is that no one at the centre quite wanted to believe that Dr O’Connell was actually leaving. In many ways the centre has relied on O’Connell, not least of all, for her efficiency and remarkable ability to take on so much, no amount of work was ever too much, and, for this reason (selfishly as collating everything she has done into one article would be near impossible) I am glad I can supply a link here to take you to some of her projects and curations while at the CCA.
Dr O’Connell was the director of the centre as well as an art history lecturer and a renowned curator. Just in the last year O’Connell curated Promises and Lies: The ANC in Exile, A Stygian Darkness: Destruction and Detritus in the South African Mining Industry and took her exhibition Martyrs, Saints and Sellouts: Apartheid Through the Lenses of Zubeida Vallie, Adil Bradlow and Benny Gool to the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg. O’Connell also supervised many students and took on interns from the Honours in Curatorship programme. In 2013 I was one of these interns and worked alongside Dr O’Connell on the first showing of Martyrs, Saints and Sellouts. Back then, working from the beginning stages of such a significant exhibition to its completion, I was overwhelmed at how well every thing came together in such perfectly curated harmony under O’Connell’s watchful eye and direction. Now, just over three years later, and working for the centre, I look back on how fundamental O’Connell’s mentorship was as that practical experience plays out, daily, in the curatoral aspects of my working life. I have never put much stock in the saying “those that can’t do, teach” and after being taught by Dr O’Connell and seeing her in action I especially don’t, in contrast, what I do believe is that Pretoria has not only gained a great teacher but an even greater doer.
This, of course, means that the CCA has lost this but while Dr O’Connell now works at the University of Pretoria she remains a research affiliate and is in contact with the Centre for Curating the Archive which we all hope will lead to further collaborations in the future.
Below: Dr Siona O’Connell and, current director of the CCA, Professor Pippa Skotnes at the opening of A Stygian Darkness. Photo by Ticha Muvhuti.