04 August 2020 | Story Dr Cinde Greyling | Photo Supplied
Prof Willem Boshoff

Prof Willem Boshoff, a Senior Professor in the Department of Fine Arts within the Faculty of the Humanities at the University of the Free State, recently received an A2 rating from the National Research Foundation (NRF). This is a first for the University of the Free State and the country in the field of art. Trailblazing, indeed. NRF ratings are allocated based on research outputs and are a valuable tool to benchmark researchers against the best in the world. “This opens up the playing field in science for art, which is wonderful,” Prof Boshoff says. 

Publication vs exhibition

This renowned sculptor has an imposing presence, even in cyberspace. He is larger than life, as is his art. A conversation with him can never be short. His answers are filled to the brim with his boundless search for knowing. Understanding. Uncovering. He personifies the science of art. Prof Boshoff is mentoring postgraduate students and works on the Bloemfontein Campus during certain months of the year, while he remains based in Gauteng. “They asked me to fill in a form, and then this happened!” he evades the honour of his exceptional accomplishment. But soon follows up with a rather philosophical argument about the parallels between publishing an academic article and exhibiting an artwork. “Both are sharing your findings with the public,” he explains and notes how the acceptance of artwork on display as a publication recognises the contribution of art to society. 

Art that speaks

Globally, Prof Boshoff’s sought-after sculptures offer much more than meets the eye. They are drenched in text, either on the artwork itself, or accompanied by a detailed description of the piece. He writes dictionaries, Prof Boshoff explains, and is fascinated by words. A list comprising his favourite words already has more than fourteen thousand entries … and counting. “I can never pick just one!” he replies to the unfair question of what the most beautiful word is. Although some criticise the ‘over-explanation’ of his work, he feels it is necessary. “Besides knowing what material the work is made of, when, and by whom, it is important to provide context. This helps with a better understanding of the piece, and a deeper experience thereof. Of course, you can still make up your own mind about it, but it is also good to know mine.” 

Creating during COVID-19

“I generally work alone, so my immediate environment has not changed that much. And I still cannot sleep at night!” These sleepless nights may or may not have given rise to a somewhat COVID-related work on his bench. Only time will tell. Prof Boshoff does, however, believe that art captures something of the human spirit, therefore creative work is bound to emerge in trying times. Then he turns the mobile screen to the view from his house – it is pretty, right? And also, just for a quick view of the nursery on his stoep. He knows each plant by its scientific name. Of course. 

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