Category Archives: Africa

Art history in the South–it’s time to step out of the quotation marks

A moment of solidarity between Helena Chávez Mac Gregor (Mexico), José Llano Loyola and Paulina Varas Alarcón (Chile) and Mwape J. Mumbe (Zambia)

A moment of solidarity between Helena Chávez Mac Gregor (Mexico), José Llano Loyola and Paulina Varas Alarcón (Chile) and Mwape J. Mumbe (Zambia)

The symposium Mobility, Circulation, Transnationalism: Art History and the Global South concerned the question of art history as it is practiced in the Global South. It was organised by SAVAH (South African Visual Arts Historians) under the aegis of CIHA (Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art) as an opportunity for the Western-oriented discipline to embrace the experience of those in the South. It sought particularly to acknowledge the discrepancy of resources and in doing so fulfil the key aim ‘to bring to the centre that which, throughout history and across nations, has been traditionally ignored, marginalised, displaced and appropriated.’

It was a bold and ambitious move from SAVAH, which attracted academics from across the world, particularly the Americas, Australasia, Europe and other countries of Africa.

The conference began with the CIHA board giving papers about the importance of South in the discipline of art history. This was followed by papers that reflected various corners of the South. Through an analysis of Rorke’s Drift, Elizabeth Rankin identified social critique as a key element in South African modernism. Robyn Sloggett spoke about the Leonard Adam collection in Melbourne and argued that his category of ‘primitive art’ was liberating at the time. Jonathan Mane Wheoki constructed at Whakapapa (genealogy) of Maori modernism which offered an alternative methodology for art history (hopefully one day applied to art outside New Zealand as well).

After this initial positive statement of southness, the panel sessions that followed were dominated by a critique of northern dominance. The main argument was that the major centres of collecting and criticism in the North take a superficial view of the South, which reflects more their own interests than the real experience of artists and audiences from the periphery. This resentment never really had the opportunity to engage with the CIHA position, which served to only confirm its perceived marginality.

While cathartic, this resentment distracted attention away from the key question: How might the methodologies of art history in the South might evolve parallel to those in the North? In South Africa and other countries of the South, the subjects of non-Western influence are not tribes or villages in distant lands, but peoples who co-exist with academics inside robust democratic cultures. From this perspective, the Northern practice of art history can seem rather forensic. It scrutinises the object for signs of lost meaning – precise, but sterile. By contrast, in the South there is the opportunity to engage with artists in a broader conversation that shares the origins of their work.

The contributions to the panel that I organised, ‘Where to put the baskets in an art gallery?’ demonstrated this broader engagement. The panel was prompted by the experience of visiting to the Johannesburg Art Gallery and finding a sharp division between the craft of black rural women in the shop and the works from urban, mostly white, artists in the gallery. How is this still possible in the ‘new’ South Africa?

Though publications like the Journal of Modern Craft are building up a substantial body of scholarship, craft is still perceived as a quite minor element in art history. Yet as an ‘excluded’ art form practiced by communities across the South, it offered the opportunity to make a critical contribution.

Rather than focussing on the objects as such, the papers reflected on the process of craft production. John Steel presented a story of the Eastern Cape potter Alice Gqa Nongebeza, who wood-fires her pots adapting traditional methods to her own distinct personal style. ‘Mastooana Sekokotoana from Lesotho spoke about the Marija museum and associated arts and crafts festival, concluding the need for a ‘living treasure’ program to recognise masters of traditional skills. Though not specifically about craft, Pam Zeplin’s analysis of the South Project pointed to the engaging way its southern events brought together artists and craftspersons through workshops and performances.[1] This was art not as the history of dead objects, but as a living entity with whom one must engage.

In present circumstances, it seems that the southern perspective on art history offers something quite important to the global discipline of art history. There is a sense of declining interest in art history in universities. For good or for ill, the specialist appreciation of art is at odds with the kinds of democratic energies which seek to open up closed fields of knowledge. We see this most dramatically with the breaching of the diplomatic core by Wikileaks. But parallel challenges have appeared in a wide variety of media, including bloggers who challenge the profession of journalism and YouTube performers becoming celebrities. How can art history respond to this energy without losing the invaluable legacy of specialist knowledge, techniques and taste that it has developed over centuries?

One possibility is to engage in a process of consultation with the broader field of art practice. This would involve conversations with the subjects of art history about their own interest in what the field produces. Boaventura de Sousa Santos talks about an ‘ecology of knowledge’ as constitutive of a southern epistemology. There are developments in anthropology such as the Fijian Vanua Framework for Research discussed by Unaisi Nabobo-Baba that identifies protocols for gaining traditional knowledge. Such knowledge is seen as more than a mirror to the world, but a practice with real world implications. The importance of this locally is reflected in the criticism by black South African curator Khwezi Gule of the work by Bitterkomix for the way it confirms the racial fears of white Afrikaners. (Despite the best intentions of organisers, the symposium lacked voices of local black academics. Why would they decline the invitation?) In the colloquium, this spirit was reflected in the inspiring presentation by Zambian Mwape J. Mumbi, which ended with a call to ‘humanise museums’.

No doubt there would be resistance to the idea of protocols for art history. For academics suffering audit-fatigue, it may represent yet another hurdle after ethics committees. For those who have a territorial attachment to their subject, the consultation process may represent an external threat.

But for the discipline as a whole, the development of protocols offers an alternative to both the forensic style of methodology and the impotent sense of resentment from those in the margins. Particularly, in giving a voice to the subject of art history, it offers the chance for the democratic powers that are gathering around us to be a strength growing within the discipline rather than a threat from without.

The day after the colloquium, in Desmond Tutu’s Soweto church, a young woman orator delivered the sermon of the day. She talked about the need to leave behind the ‘comfort zone’ of historical pain and face a new future. To great applause, she urged the congregation to ‘Stop being “black”!’ “Black” was gestured in large quotation marks. Voices like hers are necessary to find a way out of those quotation marks.

Note: Kevin Murray’s travel to the colloquium was supported by the Australian High Commission


[1] Ursula Helg from Vienna was the exception. Due to the tyranny of distance, she was forced to read into objects for meaning, rather than engage with her subject directly. Still, her comparison of beaded works from South African and European contexts offered a promising new formal method of analysis.

Remapping Environmental Histories

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Date: Thursday 25th March, 2010
Venue: Royal Society of Victoria
9 Victoria Street Corner of Victoria St. and Exhibition St.  Melbourne 3000

Monash University Faculty of Arts and School of Geography and Environmental Science invite you to public lectures by two leading scholars of Africa’s social and environmental history

Professor Edwin Wilmsen Centre for African Studies University of Edinburgh

  • Globalization before the globe was known: Asian-African interactions in the 1st century CE
  • Professor Wilmsen will discuss the extension of biological and cultural exchanges between south-central Africa and the Indian Ocean region from ca. BCE 100 – CE 1000.

Professor Judith Carney Department of Geography University of California, Los Angeles

  • Seeds of Memory: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World
  • Professor Carney will examine the inter-continental plant exchanges that took place as a consequence of the transatlantic slave trade and the presence of enslaved Africans in the Americas

RSVP is required by Monday 21st March at: [email protected], or Sharon Harvey on  (03) 9902 0398

CIHA Colloquium Second Call For Papers

South African Visual Arts Historians (SAVAH)

Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA)

Colloquium, organised by SAVAH under the aegis of CIHA, to take place at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 12 – 15 January 2011.

Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South

CIHA has recently been addressing concerns about the unequal distribution of resources around the globe and challenges from post-colonial societies to the older methods and concepts of western art history. At the CIHA congress in Melbourne in January 2008, one of the key issues for discussion was the extent to which we need to re-think the discipline of the history of art “in order to establish cross-cultural dimensions as fundamental to its scope, method and vision”. SAVAH proposes continuing these discussions in the colloquium ‘Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South’ to be held at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in January, 2011.

A principal focus of the discussions, with particular reference to South Africa, will be how the study of art from the African continent is often impeded by a totalising notion of an undifferentiated ‘Africa’. This belies the histories, political trajectories and regional differences of its many communities, nations and states. The focus offers opportunities to pose questions such as: What is the counter point to the homogeneous ‘African art’ label? How can art history in an African context challenge traditional western art history with regard to notions of authenticity, individuality, artistic processes, methods and theories? What are the discourses of indigenous people’s art practices, and what is the importance of early indigenous art for a history of art in South Africa and elsewhere? In what ways, and under what circumstances, can objects previously defined as ‘craft’ or ‘utilitarian’ be incorporated into the domain of ‘art’? How is ‘heritage’ understood, collected and displayed? What are the ideologies behind collecting, patronage and restitution, and the use of objects, buildings and spaces? How do we negotiate questions of identity and culture in an increasingly ‘global’ world? What do we choose to study and why? How do we teach that which we choose to study?

These questions have relevance in South Africa, Africa and the Global South. The Global South in this context is a cultural construct rather than a geographic term. It refers to communities and artistic production, throughout history and across nations, which, within the dominant narratives of western art, have been ignored, marginalised, displaced and appropriated. The Global South may include eastern bloc artists largely unknown to the west during the Cold War, items traditionally regarded as women’s work, First Nation peoples in Canada and indigenous people in South Africa, communities whose cultural artefacts were appropriated for the universal museum of the west, and people who have neither the power nor money to write their own art histories. We do not envision covering all aspects and areas of Africa and the Global South, but we shall use the Global South construct as a framework to focus on Africa and in particular South Africa. The aim is to complicate the history of art and the relationship between histories in the Global South and the ‘north’ or ‘west’.

We plan six plenary sessions over three days, with provision for graduate students to participate, possibly in parallel workshop and poster sessions. We invite proposals for papers that address any of the general rubrics outlined above. We will be accepting proposals for panels until the end of December 2009, and abstracts for individual papers until March 2010. Individual abstracts sent to the Organising Committee will be forwarded to the relevant panel convenor(s) to be considered for inclusion. Potential presenters will be informed of the outcome of their proposals by the beginning of June 2010.

Abstracts, up to 250 words in length, must be submitted in English, and must include the author’s institutional affiliation and relevant contact details. The final length of individual papers must not exceed 3,000 words, in order to fit into the strict 20 minute time limit per presentation.

Proposals should be sent to the Chairperson of SAVAH, Dr Federico Freschi at [email protected]

SAVAH/CIHA Committee comprising Dr Federico Freschi (SAVAH Chairperson); Karen von Veh (SAVAH Past Chairperson ex officio); Dr Jillian Carman (SAVAH Vice-Chairperson)
Johannesburg
July 2009

African Journal of History and Culture

The African Journal of History and Culture (AJHC) publishes high-quality solicited and unsolicited articles, in all areas of the subject. All articles published in (AJHC) will be peer-reviewed. The following types of papers are considered for publication:

  • Original articles in basic and applied research.
  • Critical reviews, surveys, opinions, commentaries and essays.

Our objective is to inform authors of the decision on their manuscript(s) within four weeks of submission. Following acceptance, a paper will normally be published in the next issue.

Instruction for authors and other details are available on our website www.academicjournals.org/AJHC. Prospective authors should send their manuscript(s) to African Journal of History and Culture (AJHC)

Open Access

One key request of researchers across the world is unrestricted access to research publications. AJHC is fully committed Open Access Initiative by providing free access to all articles (both abstract and full PDF text) as soon as they are published. We ask you to support this initiative by publishing your papers in this journal.

Invitation to Review

AJHC is seeking for qualified reviewers as members of the review board team. AJHC serves as a great resource for researchers and students across the globe. We ask you to support this initiative by joining our reviewer’s team. If you are interested in serving as a reviewer, kindly send us your resume to [email protected]

Maghrebi Intellectual: Thinking Jacques Derrida as African Philosopher

The Transforming Cultures Research Centre is hosting a Public Lecture with Prof. Grant Farred (Cornell University)

Maghrebi Intellectual: Thinking Jacques Derrida as African Philosopher
Thursday, 23rd July, 6:00-8:00, UTS Building 2, Lecture room 4.11

Lecture Abstract

It was not "the Nazis, but Vichy France," Jacques Derrida insists in "Monolingualism and the Other," that disenfranchised him. This is the voice of the "young" Jacques Derrida, articulating his relationship, from north Africa, to Europe (and European fascism). Derrida’s relationship, or, more properly speaking, his thinking himself back into the Maghreb, that region from which his family came and where he grew up, to Africa can only, it seems, be thought philosophically. In relation to thought, to the thought of other philosophers, to his own too long delayed understanding of himself as something other than a French philosopher. This is the work that Derrida undertakes in "Monolingualism:" it is his engagement with Khatebi, another Maghrebian philosopher. Here is Derrida, trying to think the Other, but in the process locating himself, for the first time at length, in the place of violent origin: war time Algeria: that place where fascism, Jewish disenfranchisement, the question of language (why is it that Derrida does not, he asks, know Arabic, why is it the language denied him? This, the language of Khatebi.) and the act of writing the Self back into something that is not only forgotten but, it would appear, hardly known.

Biography

Professor Grant Farred is from Cornell University and before that from the Literature Program at Duke University, where he taught courses in literature and cultural studies. Prof. Farred earned his PhD. from Princeton University in 1997, and an MA from Columbia University in 1990 after a BA Honours from University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, South Africa in 1988. He also taught at Williams College and Michigan University. He has served as General Editor of the prestigious journal of critical cultural studies, South Atlantic Quarterly (SAQ) since 2002.

He has published in a range of areas, including postcolonial theory, race, formation of intellectuals, sport’s theory, and cultural studies and literary studies.  His books include Midfielder’s Moment: Coloured Literature and Culture in Contemporary South Africa (Westview Press, 1999), What’s My Name? Black Vernacular Intellectuals (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), Phantom Calls: Race and the Globalization of the NBA (2006), and his most recent Long Distance Love: A Passion for Football, (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, published 2008). He is completing a fourth book manuscript entitled, Bodies in Motion, Bodies at Rest (forthcoming in from University of Minnesota Press, dedicated to thinking of the philosophy of athletic movement.) Prof. Farred also edited a volume entitled Rethinking CLR James (London: Blackwell Publishers, 1996) a collection of essays on the Caribbean intellectual written by major scholars in the field of history, literary criticism and cultural studies. He edited a special issue of SAQ (2004) entitled After the Thrill Is Gone: A Decade of Post-Apartheid South Africa, a serious appraisal of South African democracy, its failure and its successes, in the post-apartheid era. Prof. Farred joined the Africana Center in fall 2007.

Please RSVP to [email protected]

Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South – Call for papers

South African Visual Arts Historians (SAVAH)
Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA)

Colloquium

Organised by SAVAH under the aegis of CIHA, to take place at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 12 – 15 January 2011

FIRST CALL FOR PAPERS

Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South

CIHA has recently been addressing concerns about the unequal distribution of resources around the globe and challenges from post-colonial societies to the older methods and concepts of western art history. At the CIHA congress in Melbourne in January 2008, one of the key issues for discussion was the extent to which we need to re-think the discipline of the history of art “in order to establish cross-cultural dimensions as fundamental to its scope, method and vision”. SAVAH proposes continuing these discussions in the colloquium ‘Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South’ to be held at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in January, 2011.

A principal focus of the discussions, with particular reference to South Africa, will be how the study of art from the African continent is often impeded by a totalising notion of an undifferentiated ‘Africa’. This belies the histories, political trajectories and regional differences of its many communities, nations and states. The focus offers opportunities to pose questions such as: What is the counter point to the homogeneous ‘African art’ label? How can art history in an African context challenge traditional western art history with regard to notions of authenticity, individuality, artistic processes, methods and theories? What are the discourses of indigenous people’s art practices, and what is the importance of early indigenous art for a history of art in South Africa and elsewhere? In what ways, and under what circumstances, can objects previously defined as ‘craft’ or ‘utilitarian’ be incorporated into the domain of ‘art’? How is ‘heritage’ understood, collected and displayed? What are the ideologies behind collecting, patronage and restitution, and the use of objects, buildings and spaces? How do we negotiate questions of identity and culture in an increasingly ‘global’ world? What do we choose to study and why? How do we teach that which we choose to study?

These questions have relevance in South Africa, Africa and the Global South. The Global South in this context is a cultural construct rather than a geographic term. It refers to communities and artistic production, throughout history and across nations, which, within the dominant narratives of western art, have been ignored, marginalised, displaced and appropriated. The Global South may include eastern bloc artists largely unknown to the west during the Cold War, items traditionally regarded as women’s work, First Nation peoples in Canada and indigenous people in South Africa, communities whose cultural artefacts were appropriated for the universal museum of the west, and people who have neither the power nor money to write their own art histories. We do not envision covering all aspects and areas of Africa and the Global South, but we shall use the Global South construct as a framework to focus on Africa and in particular South Africa. The aim is to complicate the history of art and the relationship between histories in the Global South and the ‘north’ or ‘west’.

We plan six plenary sessions over three days, with provision for graduate students to participate, possibly in parallel workshop and poster sessions. We invite proposals for papers that address any of the general rubrics outlined above. Proposals should be sent to the Chairperson of SAVAH, Dr Federico Freschi at [email protected].

SAVAH/CIHA Committee comprising Dr Federico Freschi (SAVAH Chairperson); Karen von Veh (SAVAH Past Chairperson ex officio); Dr Jillian Carman (SAVAH Vice-Chairperson); Judy Ramgolam (SAVAH Secretary)Johannesburg

January 2009