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Opening AOI, by Stephanus Muller


Speech delivered by the Director of AOI, Prof. Stephanus Muller, on 9 October 2018 at the inauguration of the institute and the naming of the AOI premises at 7 Joubert Street as Pieter Okkers-huis.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, Prof. de Villiers, members of the Rector’s Management team, Dean and Vice Deans of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Senior Director of the Library and Information Service, Chair of the Music Department, members of the Africa Open Governing Board, Mr. and Mrs. Hilton and Colleen Biscombe and family, Mr. Pieter and Mrs. Sarah Okkers and family, AOI associates, staff and fellows, ladies and gentlemen: Goeienaand en welkom; Molweni nonke ngale mini. Ndiyanamkela; Good evening and welcome!

U het geluister na die Fanfare wat deur Prof. Michael Blake, ereprofessor in musiek aan Africa Open, vir hierdie geleentheid gekomponeer is. Ek wil die musici, ‘n gekombineerde ensemble van Africa Open en die Departement Musiek, bedank vir hierdie eerste uitvoering van die werk, en ook vir Prof. Blake wat vanaand hier teenwoordig is uit Frankryk, waar hy woonagtig is.


Two weeks ago, my colleague, Dr. Paula Fourie, sent me notes on an installation she had viewed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Entitled ‘The Long Run’, the installation focused on showing the work of artists late in their careers. I quote from the curators’ notes:

‘Innovation in art is often characterized as a singular event – a bolt of lightning that strikes once and forever changes the course of what follows. This installation provides another view: by chronicling the continual experimentation of artists long after their breakthrough moments, it suggests that invention results from sustained critical thinking, persistent observation, and countless hours in the studio.’[1]

‘The Long Run’ was intended as ‘a celebration of all that a career entails: investigation, reflection, commitment, reconsideration, even the occasional about-face’.[2]As the founder of both the Documentation Centre for Music and Africa Open Institute, but also as an artist and scholar, I read these words in two ways. Institutionally, I felt how important it was that DOMUS, now in its 13thyear of existence, and AOI, now in its 3rd year of existence, take the long view that requires painstaking building of capacity that for years and decades will continue to nurture and support scholarly, artistic and human desire. Important, in other words, that the metaphorical careers of these two intertwined institutional structures will bear testimony to the kind of inspiration born from the commitment to the long run, the innovation not of the lightning bolt, but of the enduring play and creation and struggle and thought of the immersed human enabled by its institutionality. Africa Open Institute is about pragmatically creating this kind of institutionality.


But I also read the text literally, reflecting on the phrase, ‘a celebration of all that a career entails’. And in this sense I think, as the author of notes did, not of institutions, but of individuals. Individuals of the long run, relationally engaged with other individuals. Relationships of the long run. The creation of this institute in 2016 was, in its small way, a remarkable institutional and disciplinary event. And the setting of its course over the past two and a half years, has started to develop a vision of music and creative work as a university concern that presents a radical departure from the way this has been viewed for the last century, a vision that I expect will grow in importance and influence as time passes.

Baninzi abantu abenze igalelo, banesibindi, basebenza nzima besincedisa. Siyababulela bonke.[3]

And so I would like to use the rest of my time to recognize those individuals who have played a role in this process. Our previous Dean, Prof. Johan Hattingh, managed a turbulent formative period at considerable personal cost and provided crucial faculty support at pivotal moments; our current Vice-Dean of Arts and Chair of the AOI Governing Board, Prof. Lize van Robbroeck, courageously took up the case for the institute when it needed academic champions; the Senior Director of the Library and Information Service, Ms. Ellen Tise, at various stages helped to shape the vision of a uniquely academically embedded music archive that sets new standards of cooperation and integration; our current Dean and Vice-Chair of our Board, Prof. Anthony Leysens, has been a staunch advocate for the institute during a very trying time for our faculty when it has been difficult to think of launching and supporting new initiatives; the Chair of the Music Department, Dr. Pieter Grobler, has been brave in moving forward towards cooperation, and in helping me be brave in doing so; the Vice-Rector of Research and Innovation, Prof. Eugene Cloete, has worked with all parties since the inception of the institute and lent financial support to overcome difficulties; Prof. Stan du Plessis, the Chief Operating Officer, has allowed us to keep faith with the long run of due process, and the breakthroughs that happen as a result of this; and Prof. Wim de Villiers himself has at times managed the unmanageable – I say no more –in his inimitable and common-sense way.


These individuals, you will have noticed, are the institutional leaders, who in exercising their various functions, have played indispensable roles in the creation and founding of AOI and who I wish to recognize for their important roles. But, ladies and gentlemen, lower down the hierarchy where I find myself and where the actual work of the institute gets done, are those individuals who have effectively been giving substance to what AOI is becoming. Dr Hilde Roos, our General Manager, who is the engine room of our activities and who has cracked the code of how to do the impossible, and to do it (mostly) on time. I also wish to recognize Ms. Pakama Ncume, Dr. Marietjie Pauw, Ms. Julia Raynham, Mr. Adrian van Wyk, Dr. Stephanie Vos, Dr. Lizabé Lambrechts, Dr. Paula Fourie, Prof. Willemien Froneman, Dr. Marc Röntsch, Prof. Christine Lucia, Mr. Aryan Kaganof, Prof. Chris Walton, Prof. Jürgen May, Prof. Michael Blake, Dr. Mareli Stolp, Mr. Henk Dekker, Dr. Clare Loveday, Ms. Beulah Gericke, and Ms. Santie de Jongh. I also put before you the supervisors, Master’s and doctoral fellows, assistants and interns – too many to mention individually – who work daily on our academic and archival projects. Our many friends in various spheres of university administration, not least Hugo Steyn, Jill Sloan and Cornelia Jacobs, provide continuous and patient support. I have to give recognition to Dr. Johan van der Merwe, Mr. Steyn Strauss and Prof. Shaun Vorster, without whom this institute would probably never have seen the light of day. And lastly, my many colleagues in the Music Department, as well as students, who have supported us in our endeavours. In this regard Dr. Carina Venter has made an inestimable contribution, to me personally and to AOI, since her appointment in the Music Department less than a year ago. As individuals, all these people I have mentioned are making something, as opposed to talking about making it. They are engaged in the investigation, reflection, commitment, reconsideration, and yes, even the occasional about-face, of the long-run, and for that I wish to honour and thank them.

Ladies and gentlemen, Africa Open Institute for Music, Research and Innovation now has an address, which tonight we will name and through naming connect to an important past, but it really exists in the work and through the engagements of these individuals whose names we have heard. AOI is open for dreams and desires. And we are setting up to dream and to work for the long run.

[1]Paulina Pobocha, Associate Curator, and Cara Manes, Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculture, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018.


[3]‘Many people have made contributions, have been brave, and have worked hard to help us. We are grateful to them’. isiXhosa translation from the English by Pakama Ncume.


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