09:00 – 11:00 Public Art/Memory/Post Colonial: Chaired by Same Mdluli
Thinking Outside of the Colonial Frames: Rethinking Historical and Public Monuments in South Africa.
Historical monuments are found throughout South Africa, a number of these still reflect a painful history filled with memories of oppression, conflict and trauma for the majority of South Africans. In a country that has had such an antagonistic political past, to make the transition from an apartheid framework to a democratic state, aspects of the South African landscape such as public monuments need to reflect a particular significance. Our public monuments should reflect more on the transformation that will ensure the participation of all its citizens, including those that still feel marginalized or disenfranchised. My paper will interrogate new ways of thinking and of creating South African memorials and public art beyond the colonial canon by probing some of the challenges faced by cultural producers when a country undergoes substantial political changes that involve a shift of power from one political and cultural group to another. The paper will focus on initiating a conversation towards rethinking and reframing public monuments and public art, within the South African context.
Towards a Praxis-Driven Memorial Culture.
Having worked at different historical museums I have come to appreciate how important it has become in an unequal country such as South Africa that memorial culture, and indeed culture in general, needs to become more responsive to praxis and people’s lived experience. In this paper I will argue that memorial culture since the advent of democracy in South Africa has not departed significantly from those forms that had been favoured by the colonial and apartheid state. Private enterprise also entered the fray with commissions of public art, museums and memorials. Although more varied in subject-matter and aesthetics, corporate public art was no less influenced by ideology. This paper seeks to deal with the difficult question of whether the post-1994 forms of public speech do answer some of the vexing questions of our current political and cultural climate, i.e. do South Africans have equal ownership over public spaces? Do South Africans experience an equal sense of belonging in the spaces they occupy. To what extent if any have these forms of public speech enabled civic pride and a sense that we share common values and a shared destiny?
Through a reflection of the three contiguous forms of public speech I will explore whether these kinds of speech have found resonance in the public. These three are: state-sponsored public art, art interventions (by artists and curators) and finally corporate commissions. Finally I will suggest different ways of engaging with collective memory that might offer different and more salient ways of representing collective memory. The paper further considers whether the many belief systems and rituals as well as rhythms of everyday life and struggles have sufficiently been factored into current modes of memorialisation and commemoration.
11:15 – 12: 15 Live Performance
Interjection noun used to call for silence at a gathering or meeting, in this instance through gestures of bell ringing, handing of white beads and invoking audience to “Bring back Mbuyisa Makhubu”. Mbuyisa was just 18 during the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa when he was photographed carrying the dying Hector Pieterson, a 13-year-old shot by police on June 16 that year. Invocation of statement, ‘Buyisani uMbuyisa’ was a call and response to the session themed: Public Art/Memory/Post Colonial. Insistent repetition of Buyisani uMbuyisa was an intervention intended to cause rupture of communication barriers and the manifestation of latent contents or social tensions previously unnoticed related to memory and history in post-apartheid South Africa.
13:30 – 15:30 Representation(s): Chaired by Khwezi Gule
Touching and fondling the black body: the significance of the black face sign in contemporary South African visual arts
Since the early 90s, the blackface sign has resurged in South Africa particularly in the works of young White visual artists and in 2010, the blackface stereotypes in the parodic work of Anton Kannemeyer elicited public criticism. This paper questions assumptions of blackface’s satiric parody as inherently critical and transgressive. Engaging W.T. Lhamon Jr’s theory that early U.S. blackface minstrelsy was used by white youth and the underclasses in the 19th century to mock middle-class authorities, this premise is extended to contemporary South Africa. My own critical analysis of Kannemeyer’s parody and joke-work, however, understands blackface as permitting visualisations prohibited by post-apartheid’s climate of political correctness, thereby producing pleasure via racial stereotypes under the guise of social criticism. I examine the strategies used to safe-guard such joke-pleasure work by refuting discordant readings of the work, foregrounding authorial intent and even invoking a spirit of White victimhood which embodies Melissa Steyn’s ideas of ‘White Talk’ and resistant Whiteness in South Africa. Drawing on the discourse of the visual fetishism of the Black body by curator Okwui Enwezor, I posit that the mask of blackface conceals continued White economic and cultural dominance. The paper calls for questions of ethics, responsibility and accountability to be asked of artists and the circulation of visual imagery in hegemonic discourses in a country steeped in its history of colonisation and apartheid, and amid a climate of racial-political tension.
The Politics of Representation in the Comics of Mighty Man, the Superman of Soweto
This paper, on a general level, seeks to consider the politics of representation in comic book culture, the politics of representation as they apply to creation of black superheroes. On a more specific level, this paper will look at the example of the South African comic book superhero of the mid-70’s, ambitiously named Mighty Man, the Superman of Soweto. In this regard, the issues that mark out this figure for critical analysis may be briefly laid out as follows: Firstly, what are we to make of this superhero and the reasons behind his creation? What are we to make of a black superhero in the backdrop of an apartheid society where the lives of black people were marked by powerlessness? Mighty Man fought against crime but only crime that occurred within Soweto, perpetrated by black people. It may therefore be said, even if only preliminarily, that the character of Mighty Man is indicative of a representation acutely marked by othering, the ‘othered’ in this instance, being the black subject in both the positive light of being heroic and the negative light of being limited/powerless despite this heroism.
In essence, this paper marks the initial stages of investigating some of the more unconventional ways in which representation has historically been a ready tool for constructing and perpetuating specific ideological positions. The comic book, as such, is one of these unconventional ways and its playful yet often exaggerated aesthetic has and has had the potential of deflecting attention from the problematic issues that make up its visual message and more importantly the vision of its creators.