09:00 – 11:00 Revisions: Exhibition Histories, Collections & Spaces: Chaired by Londiwe Langa
(Re) Writing Art History: Exploring the Work of ‘Rural’ South African Artists
Art exhibitions have always offered the possibility to challenge the methodological and historical narratives of art history in provocative and organic ways. Equally important in the contemporary texts around these exhibitions are the catalogues, newspapers reviews and journal articles produced alongside these exhibitions. As remnants of the exhibitions themselves, the texts begin to morph a particular construct around certain art forms and artists represented in the exhibitions.
In this study I explore the role played by certain South Africa exhibitions of South African art held from the early 1980s to the early 1990s in generating a particular narrative of South African art history, which I argue affected the artistic production and dissemination of knowledge about certain artists. The artists I discuss in relation to these exhibitions were considered as ‘rural’ artists, based on their geographical and socio political background, all of which I consider as implicit to the way in which art produced by black people was perceived and subsequently written about in art history.
In an article that speaks about a notion of histories as opposed to art history, Thembinkosi Goniwe aptly cites art critic Colin Richards in his declaration that ‘a history of South African art has still yet to be written’1. In reviewing the writings about these artists, I do not only wish to interrogate the process of (re) writing but also illustrate a lack of impartiality in the way certain art forms/expressions were included and subsequently received into the larger South African art historical narrative.
1 Goniwe, T. citing Richards, C.(2009) Blame it on the Art Historians, Art South Africa, 7 (3) Autumn 2009, p 25
Learning from Ruins
In ‘A New Way of Looking at Old Things’, Susan Pearce (1999) argues that a museum is a social construct, purveyor of ideologically charged notions of knowledge and historical truth, which must evolve, and which must be a “reflexive exploratory” (1999:12) of culture. She argues that it must be a space where “existing collections can begin to speak in new voices” (1999:12), and to her this implies a major shift in management practices and attitudes.
Within a South African context, particularly at the advent of democracy, the tension between new and old collections have caused paralysis to how these institutions continue to function – existing now as curious archives of the past, but also without any clear direction for the future. The slow pace of transformation (both from the administration to its collections) is still conditioned by past cultural hegemony and social ordering of former powers, which translate to empty promises for the other side of the story to ever be told. What these institutions are today are monumental ruins, unable to perform their basic duties, and run the risk of closure by a government whose view of art is of extreme disapproval.
In this paper argue I that these issues force us to think about the economic value of decay, and the evolution of the development of museum collections. It considers how these collections as they are today come to shape and inform current discourses within contemporary African art.
Pearce, S. 1992. New Way of Looking at Old Things, in Museum International (Unesco, Paris) No: 202. 51(2): 12-17.
13:30 – 15:30 Video Art and The Fantastical: Chaired by Tiffany Mentoor
Speculative Fiction in Video Art from the Global South
Research done on video art from Africa often manifests in practically based projects, workshops, screenings and exhibition with little focus on theorising the use of the medium. In the paper, “Speculative Fiction in Video Art from the Global South”, I aim to unpack my interests in 1. the curation and consumption (by audience members and art buyers), 2. the use of speculative fiction in video art, and 3. the relationship between countries of the global south, particularly South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, Mexico and Brazil. I use the term global south with caution given its generalising and regionalising tendencies. I will look at the cultural exchanges, through video art, from these countries. The bulk of the paper will centre on the use of speculative fiction (including the fantastical, the mythological, the supernatural, and the (science) fictitious) as a tool to communicate socio political issues.
I will refer to play theory and its construction of alternative realities and imaginary spaces and will unpack video artworks by Kiluanji Kia Henda (Angola), Zina SaroWiwa (Nigeria), Jude Anogwih (Nigeria), John Akomfrah (GhanaEngland), Analu Cunha (Brazil), Andrew Huang (Chinese American), Amirah Tajdin (Kenya), Sofia Carrillo (Mexico), Dineo Seshee Bopape (South Africa) and Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum (Botswana). I will also refer to African science fiction films, Pumzi†by Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu and Cameroonian JeanPierre Bikolo and their use of the speculative in their projections of the future.
Doing Things Differently: Rethinking the Discipline of Art History in African Contexts
There is an increase in unconventional art forms and popular cultural interventions in African urban spaces that not only challenge the traditional tenets of the art history discipline but can also be seen as complex forms of political and social engagement. This paper seeks to provide critical analyses of artistic interventions and ‘popular’ cultural forms such as video film as significant ways of re-thinking the arts within the continent. As Stuart Hall (1981: 227) notes, any study of popular culture has to address the “continuous struggle over the culture of working people, the labouring classes and the poor”. In (South) Africa, this struggle is unavoidably both a question of race, class and (geographical) location. This study approaches interventionism and popular culture as significant discourses that illuminate the paradoxes of social practice in contemporary African cities. The construction of knowledge in the art history discipline mirrors perceptions about political geographies forged by empiricism. The subversion of the traditional tenets of Western art history during the postmodern era in the twentieth century and historical revisionism also highlighted growing global connections, which made classificatory methodological approaches seem suspect.
Globalisation as a form of post-geographic space-time compression seemed to sublimate the hierarchical geographical architecture of the nineteenth century. Artists could be citizens of the world; cosmopolitans with no ties to any particular geographical location or links to a specific collective ‘popular’. The apt critique of nationalism, regionalism/ provincialism made it difficult to analyse art based on assumptions about ‘place of origin’ as though location and creative production were mutually dependent. The contemporary cultural sphere however, seems to have spiralled back to reinforcements of geographical and therefore cultural difference. In light of this, are current methodologies useful?