Skip to content
Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology

About us

Karin Skawran established the Department of History of Art and Fine Arts at Unisa in 1961. Originally housed on the first floor of Unisa's building in the former Skinner Street, the entire Department consisted of one office, a desk, a chair and a typewriter.

When she was appointed, Skawran had to type all lectures on the typewriter, from where they were copied and distributed to students all over the world. Skawran also began to collect art works for a permanent Unisa art collection.

Frieda Harmsen joined the Department in January 1964, and Walter Battiss arrived in November of the same year. At the time there were no formal courses for the practical subjects, but students were allowed to register and work with any South African artist who had a Fine Arts degree or diploma. Stephan Welz, son of the well-known artist, Jean Welz, was an administrative staff member at Unisa. He was responsible for the handling of practical examinations. He was later assisted by Walter Battiss.

Walter Battiss was appointed as professor and head of the department in 1964.

In 1965, Battiss launched the departmental journal de Arte, but a year later handed it over to Karin Skawran and Frieda Harmsen who became the editors for many years. de Arte, now edited by Prof Bernadette Van Haute, is still one of the few accredited journals for the visual arts.

Karin Skawran became a full professor and Head of department after Battiss' retirement in 1971 and  In 1973 the Department moved to Muckleneuk Hill to the Theo van Wyk Building and in 1993 to Sunnyside campus where it is still situated.

When Prof Skawran retired in 1996, Dr Keith Dietrich was appointed as head of the department. When he resigned in 1996, Dr Elfriede Dreyer took over the position. In 2000 she initiated and developed the Multimedia degree.

In June 2002 the Department of History of Art and Visual Arts amalgamated with the Department of Musicology and the name changed to the Department of Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology. The first chair of department was George King, who remained in this position until December 2008 when Prof Frikkie Potgieter took over.

Lecturers such as Wendy Ross, Koos van der Watt, Clinton Harrop-Allin, Gwen Miller, Marion Arnold, Estelle Maré, Frikkie Eksteen, Nina Romm, Ania Krajewska, Keith Dietrich, Johan Moolman, Ivor Powell, Steven Sack, John Clarke, Lize van Robbroeck, Brenda Schmahmann, Karin Preller, Antoinette du Plessis, Valerie Bester, Eunice Basson, Bernadette van Haute, Celia de Villiers, Nic Coetzee and Frikkie Potgieter have through the years built the Department up to its standard of excellence.

Dr Nombe Mpako is the chair of Department since 2012.

Prof Skawran contributed to the recollections of the beginnings of the Department of Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology.


Photos by Justin Ford