‘Brilliant’ rural KZN art museum remains closed

2014-02-25 00:00

LAST September, the Gerard Bhengu Gallery and Museum at Centocow Mission near Creighton was officially opened by KZN Premier Senzo Mchunu.

“It’s a brilliant idea,” he said on the day. “Not only is it a gallery and museum but it’s in a rural area and it uses a church building.”

Brilliant idea or not — and despite the official opening — it’s been closed ever since.

A few days after the opening, some of the displays began to detach from their mountings, apparently because they had been put up hastily after the official opening had been brought forward. Shortly afterwards, all the display boards were taken down. They have since been repaired and are back in place.

“The museum is now in pristine condition,” said Dudley Smith, economic development manager at the Ingwe Municipality, and a driving force behind the project, which saw the original mission church at Centocow restored to house Bhengu’s work.

However, the museum and gallery have remained closed because there is no curator. At the opening it was announced that the curator would be Loyiso Gumede, however, she has since taken up another post with the provincial museum services.

Director of KZN Museum Services Dolly Khumalo said she was “concerned” about the matter but that there were circumstances involved beyond her control.

“Though she got another job there were still outstanding conditions,” she said, referring to the state of the displays.

Currently a building on the Centocow mission site is being restored to provide accommodation for the curator. While accommodation is not normally provided with employment, according to Khumalo, this is because the museum is in such a “remote area”.

Khumalo could not give a date when the new curator would take up the post but she said that once the curator is appointed, the museum will be “working normally like any other museum”.

The Centocow Mission is one of 22 mission stations established by the Mariannhill Monastery mother house near Pinetown. It was founded in 1888 by Abbot Francis Pfanner. A Polish princess gave a donation to buy the land, so Pfanner named the station after the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland. Czestochowa became simplified into Centocow.

The gallery is housed in the original mission church, which was restored especially to house the Bhengu collection.

The original church had fallen into a considerable state of disrepair and the tower was near collapse, but instead of demolishing it the upper section was supported with steel pillars while the lower was section dismantled prior to being reassembled after the foundations were rebuilt.

Bhengu was born at Centocow in 1910. Today his work is much sought after and many of his later works were commissioned by Killie Campbell, and the Campbell Collections is the main donor of the works on display.

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