PROTEST: Some of the paintings dating back to the 1940s were burnt last year. Picture: David Ritchie
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has opened an investigation into the removal of art from UCT.

UCT has denied that it banned the display of 75 pieces of artwork on its campuses, saying some artworks at the university had been temporarily removed for safekeeping.

This follows the destruction of paintings removed from the university’s halls during student protests last year.

The university said the decision coincided with the ongoing transformation process. SAHRC commissioner André Gaum told the Cape Times an investigation had been opened following media reports of the temporary removal.

The removal might be a violation for the right to freedom of expression and the right to artistic creativity, he said.

“The SAHRC is starting its own initiated investigation into the matter. In Section 16 of the constitution, the right to freedom of expression is protected.” This followed reports that a task team had resolved to remove the artworks by South African artists of whom a number are known for their progressive artwork, he said.

“We will formulate an allegations letter and send it to the university. They will have an opportunity to respond to that. We must first establish what the facts are.”

Gaum said the commission was “concerned when limitations are being placed, as far as artworks are concerned”.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said: “Should the South African Human Rights Commission inform UCT formally that such an investigation is proceeding, the institution will co-operate fully with the commission where required.”

A report of an Artworks Task Team contains several short and long-term recommendations with regards to the future of artworks and their displays on campus, he said.

The report found that artworks, statues and plaques at UCT are dominated in particular by white men.

The team found that while there may not be a problem with individual artworks, their cumulative effect creates a negative feeling among students. “We found that currently, UCT does not have a curatorial policy and would need to develop one that is transformation sensitive,” the team noted.

Recommendations included that UCT must keep artworks that were removed from the walls in storage pending a broader consultative process.

“The Works of Art Committee must re-open constructive public debates regarding the artworks that were removed, damaged or destroyed during the Shackville protests, pending broader consultation. This critical engagement must also extend to the entire collection,” the report said. “The newly-constituted Works of Art Committee, a joint committee of council and senate, will take the process further by implementing these recommendations,” Moholola added.