Tag Archives: South Africa

DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION: REFLECTIONS ON THE CURRENT SOUTH AFRICAN MOMENT by Achille Mbembe

Commenting on the South African predicament in a recent opinion piece in The Mail and Guardian, Mbembe wrote: “A planetary recoding of situations of misery, debt and enforced idleness is underway. Today, black people are still paying the price of yesterday’s racial discounts, without which white privilege would have been but a mirage. The next decade will see increasing conflict between market forces and democracy, between the rule of property and the rule of the poor. The capacity of the South African State to mediate between the rights of the propertyless and the requirements of capital accumulation will be severely tested”. In this lecture, Mbembe will reflect on the current South African political moment. He will also assess the crisis of culture which afflicts South Africa’s democracy and the extent to which contemporary struggles for emancipation truly transcend the law of repetition which Frantz Fanon foresaw as the biggest threat to difference and newness.

Achille MBEMBE is a Research Professor in History and Politics at WiSER and a Visiting Professor in the Romance Studies Department and The Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University. He is a co-Convenor of The Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism (JWTC) and the Editor of the digital cultural magazine The Johannesburg Salon. He is the author of numerous books in French and is mostly known in the English-speaking world for his classic, On the Postcolony (Bil, Venter/Altron Award, 2005). His latest book, Sortir de la grande nuit (Editions La Decouverte, Paris, 2010) has sold more than 10,000 copies and will be published by Columbia University Press in 2013.

Thursday, 14th March 2013
6:00-7:30pm
WISER Seminar Room, 6th Floor, Richard Ward Building,
East Campus, Wits University

Refreshments will be served

Please RSVP to Najibha.Deshmukh@wits.ac.za

Warning: Questions Ahead! Southern dialogues at the beginning of 2013

Southern dialogues are developing strongly at this moment in time, though only to highlight the significant challenges ahead.

The colloquium Diálogo Trans-Pacífico y Sur-Sur: Perspectivas Alternativas a la Cultura y Pensamiento Eurocéntrico y Noroccidental took place on 8-9 January, as part of the grand scale Congreso Interdisciplinario at University of Santiago, Chile. Latin America has been the home of particularly active southern thinking, inspired often by its indigenous cultures. The ‘south’ as a rallying call has been significant given the tangible counter-influence of the United States, to the immediate north.

The Santiago colloquium witnessed a change away from this previously combative north-south argument. The principal perspectives were from Chile, México and Argentina. Much discussion was given to the emerging relations with Asia, specifically China. Alongside this was the growing influence of Brazil across Latin America, reflected in the large number present for the parent congress. In the past, these south-south relations would have been flavoured by a solidarity against USA as the common hegemon. But now there is increasing recognition of a diversity of interests across the south, and the need to reflect this in a conversation which is not reduced to catching up with the North.

One tangible contribution of the colloquium was the title. The word ‘noroccidental’ literally means ‘north-western’. This refers more generally to Western culture in the North, rather than the top left corner of the globe. Such a term accepts that there is a Western culture in the South as well, particularly in countries like South Africa, Australia and Chile. But it differentiates itself from other northern countries, such as Russia and China.

Other emerging terms are ‘Euro-American’ and ‘trans-Atlantic’. The problem with these is that it uses the generic term to represent only one half—North America. ‘Euro-American’ does not include Latin America, nor does ‘trans-Atlantic’ feature exchanges with Africa. The challenge is to find an English equivalent of ‘noroccidental’. Would ‘north-Occidental’ do?

The plenary concluded with a call for a more global understanding of South, reflecting such developments as population flows through the North and the relational identity of North and South.

The challenge is to extend this dialogue beyond Latin America to engage with forums elsewhere in the South. There is much activity in South Africa at the moment around the book by Jean & John L. Comaroff, Theory from the South: Or, how Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa, including the recent critical responses in Johannesburg Salon. In Australia, there is continuing reference to Raewyn Connell’s Southern Theory, as well as Indigenous Studies broadly taking on global themes.

The relative lack of connection between these dialogues is, of course, reflective of the condition of the South itself, as a series of spokes connected with each other only via a central hub in the North. Language is an added challenge. The convenor of the Congreso Interdisciplinario Eduardo Devés has developed his own perspective on the Southern condition through ‘periphery theory’, outlined in his publication Pensamiento Periférico, which is freely available in Spanish. The potential reduction of South to the condition of periphery is an important challenge to the broader historical narratives that it carries. To what extent the issues normally identified with South be characterised by the condition of distance from the centre? Such a perspective puts the historical conditions such as settler-colonialism into question.

Though the distances between the southern countries themselves should be identical to those separating northern countries, the ‘hub & spokes’ model works in a very practical way to mitigate against south-south travel. Many academics from outside Chile had to cancel their involvement in the colloquium due to higher than expected air fares. This is obviously compounded by smaller travel budgets for academic staff in southern universities.

The view looking out of University of Santiago, flanked by Allende and Guevara

The view looking out of University of Santiago, flanked by Allende and Guevara

Nevertheless, the University of Santiago is taking a lead in fostering south-south dialogue. In late October 2013, they will initiate an annual forum/workshop to ‘go full circle’ on the Pacific, looking at how a trans-Pacific exchange might be configured to include Latin America. The Asia Pacific is usually conceived as a domain exclusive to Australasia, East Asia and North America. But as with the APEC forum, the south-east arc of Latin America should be an integral part of that. ‘Full circle’ provides a focus on the Pacific as a space for multilateral relations. What would be the intellectual underpinning of this?

The time seems ripe for a major conference on these various strands of southern thinking. Given its position, hosting an international conference would seem one tangible contribution that Australia could make to this emerging paradigm. Alternatively, if it were to be held in a northern university, this paradox of having to go North to talk about South would provide sufficient material for a conference in itself.

One question that tangibly brings the condition of southern thinking home concerns the north-south asymmetry of the academic world. In particular, if someone had the prospect of an academic position in Europe or North America, would there be any value in remaining in a less well-endowed southern university?

Meanwhile, while waiting for such an event to emerge, four Australian academics have generous offered a summary of their work accompanied by a generative question:

As the Zapatistas would say, inspired by Mayan mythology, ‘walking we ask questions’. Thankfully, the path stretches out ahead.

Comaroffs: ‘Theory from the South

A recent journal article from the Comaroffs rallies the cause for a southern perspective. But it leaves much work to be done in developing the critical tools that might achieve this.

‘The Global South’ has become a shorthand for the world of non-European, postcolonial peoples. Synonymous with uncertain development, unorthodox economies, failed states, and nations fraught with corruption, poverty, and strife, it is that half of the world about which the ‘Global North’ spins theories. Rarely is it seen as a source of theory and explanation for world historical events. Yet, as many nation-states of the Northern Hemisphere experience increasing fiscal meltdown, state privatization, corruption, and ethnic conflict, it seems as though they are evolving southward, so to speak, in both positive and problematic ways. Is this so? In what measure? What might this mean for the very dualism on which such global oppositions rest? Drawing on recent research, primarily in Africa, this paper touches on a range of familiar themes—law, labor, and the contours of contemporary capitalism—in order to ask how we might understand these things with theory developed from an ‘ex-centric’ vantage. This view renders some key problems of our time at once strange and familiar, giving an ironic twist to the evolutionary pathways long assumed by social scientists.

Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff ‘Theory from the South: Or, how Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa’ Anthropological Forum Vol. 22, No. 2, July 2012, 113–131

Heading South: a meditation on the ‘ruins’ of the South Project

This is paper by Pamela Zeplin was presented in the panel ‘Cultural production: Where to put baskets in an art gallery? ‘The place of traditional cultures in art history’, which was part of Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South, a colloquium organised by SAVAH under the aegis of the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 12 – 15 January 2011

Abstract

Geographically and historically situated ‘south of the west’, Australian art institutions are yet to fully embrace Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures of the global south, despite recent incursions into the Asia-Pacific region. Notwithstanding claims to cultural inclusivity, Melbourne’s 2008 CIHA Congress, for example, barely registered the presence of Diasporic African, Pacific Island and Latin American communities dwelling in this island continent. It was as if the South Project, another significant local initiative with international cross-cultural reach, had slipped below CIHA’s Eurocentric horizon. With a visionary five year program interrogating conceptual and geo-political understandings of ‘south’, The South Project was last sighted somewhere between Yogyakarta and Noumea, although it is rumoured to be still in existence. This ambitious endeavour was inevitably doomed by idealism as it journeyed between Santiago and Soweto, Melbourne, Wellington and Yogyakarta with its ‘cargo’ of lateral connections between art and craft communities, exhibitions, workshops, residencies and gatherings. Surprisingly, these peripatetic events attracted little critical attention, despite initiating a complex web of weird and wonderful events and relationships. The paper critically examines this program as a possible alternative to biennale models of ‘exchange’ and ruminates on the South Project’s remains.

Biography

Dr Pamela Zeplin is a writer and artist based in Adelaide, where she is Portfolio Leader of Postgraduate Research Education (Art, Architecture & Design) at the University of South Australia. With a long-standing research focus in regional cultures in the Asia-Pacific and southern hemisphere, Pamela regularly publishes and actively participates in national and international events throughout the region. In 2005 and 2006 she delivered plenary addresses at South Project gatherings in Wellington and Santiago. With Dr. Paul Sharrad in 2009, Pamela convened a funded national workshop, The Big Island: Promoting Contemporary Pacific Art and Craft in Australia at the University of Wollongong, resulting in Art Monthly Australia’s landmark ‘OzPacifica’ edition, specifically devoted to Australian Pacific art. In 2008 Pamela received a national Distinguished Researcher Award from the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools.


First of all, I’d like to acknowledge the Indigenous owners of this land upon and thank the SAVAH team for such a welcoming and stimulating environment.

Where to put baskets in an art gallery?

Installation, Pacific Storms, 2009

Installation, Pacific Storms, 2009

Before I ruminate on the ruins – or otherwise – of The South Project, let’s begin with baskets since my paper has migrated to this panel, Where to put baskets in an art gallery?’ from the now abandoned panel ‘Interrogating the Global South ‘. During this process, the following discussion become a more personalised and ‘basketised’ narrative – that has loosened a few strands during the process.

This photograph shows Pacific Storms, a ground breaking 2009 exhibition in Australia of work by artists from the Pacific-Oceania neighbourhood and those of Pacific heritage resident in the world’s largest continental island, Australia. You will notice the baskets and also numerous other weavings festooning Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery in northern Queensland alongside contemporary art; photographs, videos, paintings, and poetry texts.

Although no longer fresh and lush, these fibre textiles remain as more than dehydrated relics of performative opening ceremonies; they represent lingering testimony to creative expression that can be participatory, cross-disciplinary and multi-dimensional in nature – including, notably, children’s furniture and programs actively inviting art and play.

So, you might wonder, what is so groundbreaking among the textiles here? Firstly, Pacific Storms represented a rare exhibition of contemporary Oceanic – and predominantly ‘Melanesian’ – art in this country, even though 400,000 of its population (or2%) are of Pacific Islander heritage.

Children’s program, Pacific Storms, 2009

Children’s program, Pacific Storms, 2009

Secondly, this landmark exhibition took place not in a major institution, like Queensland Art Gallery, renowned for the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art but in a regional gallery in rural northern Queensland. Thirdly, baskets are not generally encountered in Australia’s sharp and shiny art world unless they form part of an Indigenous – generally Australian Indigenous –exhibition. So there’s something significant happening here – something about generosity, conviviality, hospitality, inclusiveness. Perhaps, even ‘relational aesthetics’, although this recently ‘discovered’ art ‘fashion’ features less as a rationale for curator of Pacific Storms’ Papua New Guinean-Australian, Joycelin Leahy, than ‘the Pacific way’ things are done in this part of the global south. Ironically, few Australians, including art cognoscenti, have had access to these indigenous and ‘southern’ ways of knowing – and presenting – given our continued reverence for northerly trans-Atlantic models of knowledge production.

In fact, the Pacific region has long been considered Australia’s ‘backyard’ and in political, economic and cultural terms, a place of tacky tourism – and/or tornadoes and trouble. And, until 2007 with the Rudd Labor Government’s revised regional foreign policy, the Oceanic/Pacific region was collectively regarded by Australian governments post 1975 as a ‘basket case’.

CIHA 32nd Congress

This near invisibility of Pacific and southern hemisphere art and culture still characterises major art events, including the prestigious ‘parent’ body of this Colloquium, CIHA International Committee of the History of Art, although yesterday’s comments by CIHA committee members addresses gave us cause for hope. CIHA’s so-called ‘ground-breaking’ 2008 32nd Congress in Melbourne, Crossing Cultures: Congress, Conflict, Migration and Convergence aimed to ‘to make people of different nationalities engage in debate’ and was declared by convenor (and now CIHA President), Professor Jaynie Anderson as the ’first meeting of an international congress of the history of art in the southern hemisphere [to] epitomiz[e] the expansion of the field throughout the globe’[1].

Whether or not this claim can be validated, this ‘Art History Olympics’ certainly made an impact on Australian art historians, attracting almost 700 registrations from 50 countries[2]. With one exception[3], however, among 226 presentations, including 42% of papers from Australia and 10% (22) from ‘other’ Southern Hemisphere countries[4], the only ‘Pacific’ featured was in two presentations of New Zealand’s – not Australia’s – urban ‘Pasifika’. Moreover, only four Australian Indigenous speakers presented amongst 74 Australian papers, although many of these concerned issues of indigeneity. There were two speakers from ‘Africa’ (South Africa and Cameroon), a country not, however, considered an ‘appropriate’ location for the next full CIHA Congress (to be held in Nuremburg in 2012). This decision catalysed the staging of the Johannesburg colloquium[5], which was endorsed by CIHA following the Melbourne event, but not financially assisted by the international ‘parent’ body[6].

Astonishingly, the Melbourne-based South Project’s intensive four year dialogue across the Southern Hemisphere did not appear on the Melbourne Congress’ agenda[7], where neither baskets nor wider craft discourses were apparent. For all CIHA’s cross-cultural claims, at $AUD660 (R4454) many attendees expressed disappointment at the congress’ elitist and inhospitable environment[8]. Eurocentrism dies hard, it seems, even in the highest echelons of well-intentioned art history.

South Project & ‘The Basket’

The South Project, on the other hand, by 2008 had demonstrated over five years that art gatherings – even conferences- can be about more than a schedule of topics. Although Pacific Storms was not part of The South Project, it might well have been; its spirit embodied much of what this enduring Melbourne-based endeavour successfully achieved. And baskets and weavings provide appropriate metaphors for both Pacific Storms and The South Project; traditionally crafted within social and performative story-telling situations, baskets are containers with capacity for plenitude, exchange and countless uses. Woven from diverse materials and designs, baskets are strong, porous and receptive and nothing if not portable. Importantly, like the South Project, they are not intended to last forever.

A combination of Indigenous and non-Indigenous ‘basket cultures’ as well as contemporary art informed by cross-cultural social and political engagement, provided the architectural structure of The South Project. This was envisioned in and for the most culturally conscious of Australian cities – Melbourne. By 2003 this city was, ironically, ‘sliding off the international art map’[9] without an ongoing biennale or triennial event. The South Project intended to fill this void but in a radically lateral rather than vertical direction so as to explore the possibilities offered by south-south transactions. In an Australian art climate unsympathetic to localism or craft, this project challenged and enlarged understandings of what ‘south’ could signify within and beyond its Eurocentric contexts. ‘South’ was thus situated by this new organisation as much as ‘a question as a location’, where attitude’ mattered as much as ‘latitude’[10] .

A unique, highly ambitious, and visionary program, The South Project was inaugurated in 2004 by Kevin Murray with manager, Magdalena Moreno under the auspices of the Craft Victoria organisation. It was carefully developed through personal professional networks cultivated over time[11]. This enterprise encompassed a vast practitioner-based program comprising Indigenous and non-Indigenous craftspersons, artists, writers, curators, scholars, and social activists, thickly intertwining a continuous web of exchanges, exhibitions, residencies, symposia, workshops and publications across different places and times in – and beyond – the Antipodes. Significantly, until 2009 a highly developed children’s program, Southkids provided an essential and ongoing component of South Project’s broader endeavour, enabling children across the Southern Hemisphere to work with professional visual arts and craftspersons[12]. With the exception of a few Australian state art galleries (namely Queensland Art Gallery), the acknowledgement of children as an integral part of the project was remarkable at this time.

South 1 Gathering

Launched in Melbourne in 2004 with miniscule staff resources and a proposed five year lifespan, The South Project stimulated conversations between artists and communities of the south whether defined by hemisphere or by concept. These dialogues might be visual, verbal, tactile or textual, embracing different shapes, textures and tones. The inaugural gathering with hundreds of delegates was astounding.

In a conventional auditorium with workshop spaces, a dazzling diversity of Indigenous and non-Indigenous ‘southerners’ from fourteen countries came together to re-imagine possibilities for weaving previously un-dreamed of connections. ‘South 1’, in Susan Cochrane’s words, ‘encouraged all kinds of responses: philosophical and whimsical, creative and conceptual, contesting and renewing ideas, in the first gathering of its kind’[13]. Presentations ranged from Aboriginal Australian weavers and writers and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) artists lamenting their lost language, to Argentinian activists witnessing for the politically ‘disappeared’, community architects from South Africa and Antarctic voyagers. Taking its cue from Mbulelo Mzamane’s inspiring keynote address[14], an extraordinary spirit of ‘ubuntu’ suffused the event. This atmosphere transformed a conference into an intensely moving and uplifting experience where delegates (even art historians!) openly wept and embraced during the closing ceremony; for those attending it felt like re-uniting with family.

Southern journeys

While The South Project continued to catalyse numerous strands of diverse and intersecting activity, by 2005 its annual gatherings began literally weaving their way across southern latitudes[15]. Wellington (New Zealand) hosted the first gathering outside Australia (administered by the Melbourne South Project team collaborating with local hosts). From this South Western Pacific location, the next South Project travelled to the South Eastern Pacific, to Santiago (Chile) in 2006, and in 2007 to Soweto/Johannesburg, this last event organised locally by Clifford Charles and team, with support from Melbourne staff.

Southkids Workshop, Belle Primary School, Orlando West, Soweto, October 2007

Southkids Workshop, Belle Primary School, Orlando West, Soweto, October 2007

For me, the highlight of this event was the Southkids workshop at Belle Primary School in Orlando West, Soweto, particularly the way these kids came back for more, ‘crashing’ South Project’s adult craft workshops at Uncle Tom’s Community Centre the next day. Such an intrusion by children would be unthinkable in my country. At the kids’ workshop I met Muelo Lebenya, an artist volunteer working at the school who constructed ‘baskets’ from recycled vinyl LP records. I returned to the school four days before this Colloquium to find it dramatically expanded and now renamed Mbuyisa Makhubu Primary School, after the young man who was photographed holding Hector Pieterson, the twelve year old school child martyred during the 1976 Soweto Uprising[16].

Following this South Project imbizo, the Melbourne-based organisation was re-structured under Interim Director, Magdalena Moreno and a new board since Murray’s resignation as Director of Craft Victoria in early 2008. Murray continued involvement with South Project activities, including the 2008 Johannesburg/Soweto Imbizo. Nevertheless, the organisation separated from its former craft base at Craft Victoria via an ‘exit strategy’ as part of a new corporate makeover. Up to this point, a new prospectus recorded that between 2006 and 2007 alone, 84 events had attracted audiences of 33,000 in addition to 227,000 website visits[17].

Time does not permit a detailed analytical or theoretical account of South Project’s major gatherings, its related programs, myriad partner organisations and participants – let alone its lively internal politics. Suffice to say this organisation’s multiple parameters and ever-expanding connections had become a complex weave of intersecting and pulsating nodes between people, ideas and objects around the globe, and from many reports, anecdotes and statistics, a generative and useful platform for practitioner exchange.

Instead of South Project’s grand finale originally planned for 2008, a focus group style of symposium in Melbourne[18] was assembled where d a Yogyakarta Gathering was proposed for 2009, ‘the intention of [which was] above all COLLABORATIVE, RECIPROCAL AND OF ACTIVATION’[19]. This was to be followed by a grand triennial South Festival for 2010, ’focus[ing] on Melbourne as a cultural hub’, after which would be a Pacific gathering in francophone New Caledonia in 2011 and from thence to Rio de Janeiro in 2012. This ambitiously expanded schedule was, however, not to be, despite being set out in a glossy prospectus polished with corporate language describing KPI deliverables, ‘cultural capital brand[ing]’ and an impressive ‘investment logic map’[20]. Significantly, the word craft seldom appeared in the document and, apart from two images of weavers, baskets were not to be seen. Metaphorically speaking, The South Project ‘basket’ of multiple dimensions had been stitched up and hermetically sealed – economically, politically and culturally.

Dylan Martorell et al. Documentation, final night performance, Room Mate, Yogyakarta, 2009.

Dylan Martorell et al. Documentation, final night performance, Room Mate, Yogyakarta, 2009.

Notwithstanding South Project’s elaborate new strategic plan, the organisation was, surprisingly, soon de-funded by major institutional sponsors and the 2009 gathering in Yogyakarta (Indonesia) proceeded with almost no financial support[21]. What went wrong? The World Financial Crisis? Too many Festivals? Too much Melbourne focus? Not enough Pacific focus? More likely, the following factors played a role in the project’s demise: a lack of critical review coverage by external arts writers and an efficient but extraordinarily demanding administrative structure that was constantly required to be on the move between Melbourne and ‘field’ locations across the South. A call for donations went out across the networks in 2009. But not all was lost; such was the loyalty engendered by The South Project that most Yogyakarta-bound artists self-funded their participation, unlike other waged participants/curators long associated with the South Project who withdrew. As Zara Stanhope has noted: I think people are hungry to get out and experience those other cultures…And artists do it so well. They go off and live on the smell of an oily rag to have those experiences”.[22] Despite – or because of – a severe paucity of resources, a down-to-earth exchange took place in Yogyakarta. Here, local Indonesian artists politely but firmly challenged the privileged cultural naïveté of a number of [inappropriately selected] emerging artists, predominantly from Melbourne, whose steep learning curves offered valuable opportunities to learn about ‘real’ relational aesthetics away from the theorised and insulated precincts of familiar urban art spaces at home. The event became a grass roots encounter on concrete floors, grass and cyberspace in a city where craft plays a significant role in contemporary art and life. Ironically, baskets as well as designer T-shirts were for sale in the main exhibiting venue, Kedai Kebun contemporary art space, which epitomises Indonesian artists’ necessary capacity for resourcefulness.

Four days of four hour long improvised performance culminating in Kraton tea ceremony complete with furniture music/hand made instruments, live call to prayer, crickets. Frogs, bejak, medicinal root vegetables, and sugar-powered gong sculpture, various field recordings from bali and Jogjakarta, aquarium equipment, found materials, etc. ‘ [sic].

Yogyakarta exchanges continued via a small post-event exhibition and residencies in Melbourne[23], while independent collaborative projects initiated in Yogya have maintained momentum, even without external funding. In Australia, this is unusual in assisted cross-cultural projects.

Re-considering ruins

On ruins one can begin to build. Anyhow, looking out from ruins one clearly sees; there are no obstructing walls’. (Dame Rose Macaulay)[24]

In terms of its past ambitious range and scale of activities, The South Project may now appear as ‘ruins’ but it continues to facilitate south-south and multicultural projects, all be they in reduced capacity through online networks linked with, for a time, a small alternative gallery in a Melbourne shopping mall[25]. In this way, contemporary visual artists rather than craft practitioners have continued to characterise the program’s curatorial focus, which, it may be argued, has contributed to the organisations’ diminished social texture and following.

I had intended to lament the unfortunate demise of this remarkable phenomenon known as The South Project. It has been an important part of my life since 2004 but after six years I realise I probably need to get over it and continue researching in and of the south – including the Australian Pacific – in different ways. In any case, strong links have been established through various South Project activities between many people and these continue to be maintained – as the Yogyakarta experience demonstrated, outside the structures of a facilitating organisation. It is remarkable, nevertheless, that such a nimble and dynamic venture could continue to be relevant and exciting over such a long period of time. At this event in Johannesburg and elsewhere I am reminded, in meeting up with previous South Project participants, of how those initial professional and personal connections can and do remain engaged through the South Project ‘Diaspora’ – with or without a capital G Gathering.

Nathalie Luis, Inside Taman Sari ruins, Yogyakarta. 2008.

Nathalie Luis, Inside Taman Sari ruins, Yogyakarta. 2008.

Thus it’s appropriate to conclude with this 2008 image of Taman Sari (Water Palace) ruins in Yogyakarta following one of a number of recent major earthquakes, A year after this photograph was taken Yogyakarta was the site of The South Project’s final gathering ‘abroad’. Here and in previous gatherings this organisation provided remarkable models for consideration of what Domenico de Clario refers to as ‘southness’: ‘It follows’, he suggests, ‘ that we must turn our attention to the quality of what constitutes our immediate reality, and love it more and better.’[26] Significantly, the photographer of this image has angled the shot skywards, looking upwards and beyond the ruins.

If we consider statistics alone, it’s possible that hundreds of thousands of people have been made aware of their ‘immediate reality’, directly or virtually, through The South Project[27]. Finally, and of more consequence than these impressive statistics is the fact that legions of Southkids across the southern hemisphere can now look up into southern skies and, hopefully, more confidently identify their own place in the global south – where ideas, things and events (including conferences) can be done differently – and sometimes better than those imposed from above.

The vital point for identity…is that the antipodes is not a place so much as it is a relation, one not of our own choosing but one which also enables us.”

(Peter Beilharz, 1997)


Notes

[1] ‘The history of the International Committee of the History of Art suggests what many people throughout the world have recognized: art and the discourses around it are increasingly global. Art and its history are not only created, but discussed in one form or another on all the inhabited continents of the earth. Globalism has thus also assumed an art historical aspect: indeed it has been described as art history’s most pressing issue. But how can global issues in art history take form in theory or practice? What are the possibilities for a world art history?’. CIHA International Committee of the History of Art 32nd Congress: Crossing Cultures: Congress, Conflict: Migration: Convergence, The University of Melbourne, January 13-18 2008. Online: Accessed 6 January 2011. http://www.cihamelbourne2008.com.au/

[2] ‘Melbourne’s passion fills the house at ‘Art History Olympics’, The University of Melbourne Voice, Vol 2, No 1, February 2008. http://uninews.unimelb.edu.au/news/4892/

[3] Childs, Elizabeth, ‘Exchange: Gifting, identity and writing history in fin-de-siecle Tahiti’, paper presented at CIHA 32nd Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art, The University of Melbourne, 13-18 January 2008.

[4] Of the papers by Australian-based presenters, 33% were from The University of Melbourne, CIHA’s host institution.

[5] ‘First call for papers: Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South’, Southern Perspectives, Online: Accessed December 15 2010. http://www.southernperspectives.net/conference/other-views-art-history-in-south-africa-and-the-global-south-call-for-papers

“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… 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’”.

[6] Conversations with SAVAH president Dr Federico Freschi and Professor Anitra Nettleton, Johannesburg, January 14 2011. In obtaining CIHA affiliation, the small SAVAH organisation funded and/or facilitated accommodation and business class airfares for a number of visits to Johannesburg by members of the CIHA Committee executive, including attendance by these speakers at the SAVAH event in January 2011.

[7] The South Project elicited only passing criticism, as ‘diminish[ing] the artistic culture of Asia’. Marravillas, Francis, ‘Art Histories at the crossroads: “Asian” art in “Australia”’, presentation at CIHA 32nd Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art, University of Melbourne, 13-18 January 2008.

[8] While (optional) receptions at Government House and the National Gallery of Victoria were lavish, the CIHA congress $AUD660 conference fee included no lunch or refreshments, except for inadequate tea/coffee facilities for long lines of patient delegates.

‘Delegate Welcome Packs’ supplied an impressive if cumbersome 269 page volume of presenters’ abstracts and biographies but no schedule summary with which to navigate up to ten parallel sessions per day. Information about (many) changes to the schedule were unavailable, except online, and there was much discussion about lack of courtesy and hospitality by the professional conference organisers.

[9] ‘With Australia’s second city “sliding off the international art map”, [Peter Hil] proposed that it was time to invent an event where “so-called rival cities in the region ” could “work together inclusively rather than facing off at each other as if at a sporting match”. This would, he suggested, “fully integrate the region within the global art world”’. Fuller, Peter, in Hill, Peter.( 2006), cited in Zeplin, Pamela, Horizontal Relations: The South Project goes to Santiago’, ‘Publications’, The South Project. Online: Accessed 2 January 2011. http://www.southproject.net/south/Pam_Zeplin_Horizontal_Relations.html

[10] Rankin, E, ‘South 1: Common Ground’, The South Project, Online, Accessed 11 May 2006. http://www.southproject.org/texts/rankin.htm

[11] For more details about the 2007 South Project’s aims and objectives, see The South Project. Online: http://www.southproject.net/south/Johannesburg2007_files/Johannesburg%20Program_1.pdf

Accessed 2 January 2011. ‘ The South Project is the major international arts project that brings together the distinct voices of the southern hemisphere through south-south dialogue and cross-cultural exchange. Making its platform in the south, it supports contemporary dynamic cultural practice and promotes the experience and understanding of visual culture for global audiences. We are by nature a lateral organisation in our structure and philosophy: consultation is essential. We are dedicated to ongoing rigorous investigation of contemporary cultural life that challenges & inspires audiences & the art community…’.

[12] South Kids, ‘…students had worked with nine international artists who had originated from countries from Chile, Brazil, South Africa, India, Korea, Indonesia, Mauritius, Maldives,Fiji, New Zealand and of course Australia. Some of the workshops over the three years included learning skills in the areas of puppetry and mask making, jewellery design, stencil printing, weaving, carving, sculptural construction, performance and curatorship, painting and drawing. South Kids have been very fortunate to have the opportunity of working with such a diverse group of people and to be able to experience the one on one contact with each artist’.

[13] Cochrane, Susan, ‘Towards Ubuntu: The Way of the South’, Artlink, Vol 24 no 4, 2004.

[14]…abantu (Bantu languages) we call ubuntu –the sum total of humanising values as the First Nations People of the South understand them…It rejects the regressive and takes due cognizance of progressive strains in all cultures that it harnesses, and teaches…[Ubuntu] eschews chauvinism and cultural imperialism – the insistence by a group that their ways of doing things are superior beyond compare – as well as narcissism and ethnocentrism – the incapacity to look beyond Self. Ubuntu humbles and teaches…a fitting and uplifting philosophy on which to predicate a movement of re-humanisation.’ Mzamane, Mbulelo Vizikhungo, ‘Of Minks and Men’, ‘Beyond Mythification: Constituting a Southern Identity’, Conference Paper from South 1: The Gathering, The University of Melbourne, 1-4 July 2004, p. 7. The South Project. Online: Accessed 11 May 2006. http://w.w.w.southproject.org/texts/mbulelo.htm

[15] South 1 Melbourne: The Gathering – A New Conversation, July 2004; Wellington Gathering: Between Earth and Sky – Ways of Making a Place in a Placeless World, Wellington, 20-12 October 2005; Crossing Horizons: Context and Community in the South, Santiago (and Valpariso), September 2006; South-South Imbizo, Johannesburg and Soweto, October 2007.

[16] For further details, see ‘Hector Pieterson’, Accessed December 13 2010. http://www.soweto.co.za/html/p_hector.htm

[17] Moreno, M, ‘History of the South Project’, The South Project: A new international arts voice (prospectus), The South Project, Melbourne, 2007? (n.d.), pp. 15,17.

[18] Why Gather?, Elisabeth Murdoch Theatre, The University of Melbourne, 19—20 July , 2008.

[19]’… Delivered through a series of exhibitions, actions, performances, workshops and collaborations, most of which will take in the public domain, the Yogyakarta Gathering in 2009 will be the first time that the South Project has travelled to Asia. Although a select group of Indonesian artists has already participated in South Project activities (such as Heri Dono, Titarubi, Jumaadi, Wulan Dirgantoro, and Dian Fatwa) the South Project has a growing network of potential support, such as the Indonesian Contemporary Art Network amongst others. The South Project also welcomes collaborations from other regions in the South to participate in Yogyakarta 2009. The intention of the Yogyakarta Gathering is above all COLLABORATIVE, RECIPROCAL AND OF ACTIVATION…’. ‘2009 South Project Yogyakarta Expression of Interest’, The South Project, 2008. Online: Accessed December 13 2010. www.southproject.net/south/Yogyakarta2009…/Yogyakarta_October_Brief_ 2008.pdf

[20] Moreno, M, p. 12.

[21] Perjumpaan Selatan-Selatan, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 21 to 25 October 2009

[22] Stanhope, Z, in Andrew Stephens, A,A new world order’, The Age Entertainment, July 5 2008, p. 2.

[23] ‘Tuesday, December 15, 2009 until Sunday, December 20, 2009…Melbourne Reflection Post Yogyakarta South Gathering 2009 The South Project presents in Melbourne a reflection on the 5th International South Gathering in Yogyakarta Indonesia in October 2009 – a collaborative model of engagement bringing together arts projects from Melbourne, Perth, Santiago and Yogyakarta. Opening includes artist talks’. ‘South Project’, Bus Projects, 2009. Online: Accessed December 13 2010. http://www.busprojects.com.au/2009/12/09/south-project/

[24] ‘Dame Rose Macaulay’ [n.d.]. Wise Wisdom on Demand. Online: Accessed December 15 2010. http://www.iwise.com/m2ORX

[25] 2010 South Project Inc., Melbourne 2010: How Can a Network….?, Exhibition, 22 November 2010 – 5 December 2010. 2010 ‘Each concept is an imaginative response to the question of ways of activating people and places by means of a network. Some were planned as hypotheses only, others evolved to works in process, and a number fully intended to be realised by the artist either for this exhibition of ideas or at a future time. All were originated by artists in diverse locations to be seen in Melbourne for this South Project event’.

[26] De Clario, Domenico, ‘South remarks Sunday 20 October 2007’, Unpublished essay, email correspondence, 2007.

[27] Moreno, M., p. 12.

Southpaw released

Southpaw is a new literary journal of writing from  the global south. It is dedicated to the idea of  ‘south-south’ dialogue: to conversations between  writers, artists and readers about life away from  the metropolitan centres of power and culture. It is a literary left hook from the south features fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, essays, reviews and  images.

Southpaw issue 1 is focused through the theme of  displacement. Writers from South Africa, Indigenous  Australia, Philippines, Colombia, Suriname, Angola,  Indigenous Japan, China, the Horn of Africa, Tunisia,  New Zealand and non-Indigenous Australians write fascinating stories and reflect on home and eviction, migration and asylum seeking, cultural diplomacy  and political oppression, cross cultural dealings and cultural reclamation.

Including:

  • Kevin Murray on the idea of south,
  • Danilova Molintas on the city of Baguio, Kendall
  • Trudgen on diplomacy in East Arnhem Land and
  • Martin Plowman on UFOs in South America.
  • Fiction by: Karen Jennings, Tony Birch, paulo da costa, Ruth San A Jong and Paul Maunder.
  • Non-fiction by Yeeshan Yang, Karen Lazar, Batool Albatat and Aliza Amlani.
  • Reviews by Alice Robinson (Tamil pulp ction), Justin Clemens (Mapanje), Bernard Caleo (Ubby’s Underdogs), John Hughes (Planet B) and Vicki Crowley (Indigenous sexuality).

South Paw Order Form

Southpaw launch–a new literary journal

South Paw Order Form

 

SOUTHPAW # 1

You are invited to the launch of a new literary journal
Southpaw: writing from the global south

To be launched by
Professor Stephen Knight
Wednesday 14th December
Arena Project Space
2 Kerr Street Fitzroy
6.30 pm

Refreshments

All welcome

Southpaw # 1 features writing from and about Australia, Africa, China, Philippines, South America and the Pacific around the theme of displacement. It includes essays on the idea of South, power shifts in East Arnhem Land, change and development in Philippines, UFOS in South America and displacement in Colombia fiction and creative non-fiction from Angola, Australia, China, New Zealand, South Africa and Suriname; reviews of Tamil pulp fiction, Indigenous graphic novels and documentaries from the Pacific. There’s an Ainu fable re-told, a radio play and poetry from many places in the global South, much of it in new translation.

Further information: 9416 0232 or 0418 304 500.

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.

Interview with John Mateer – a home for poetry in the South

‘Written from the rim of the far flung South African diaspora, these poems by John Mateer roll back the tide of forgetting, giving us one glimpse after another of a multifarious and beloved homeland.’  JM Coetzee

This interview refers to a poem African City which can be found here.

Where is your home?

This should be an easy question to answer. Yet, as I formulate what to say, I realize that I don’t have a simple answer. Usually I would prefer not to answer a question like that, but due to the nature of your interest in the South, let me explain some things about my background. When I was a child, in 1977, my parents and I emigrated to Canada. My father found living there difficult, partly for health reasons – he suffered badly from asthma – and partly because he had set up a company in South Africa which seem to have better financial prospects than what he had in Canada. So we returned to Johannesburg, and it was shortly after that that my father started preparing for us to emigrate to Australia. We only left for Australia when I was 17 and had already received my conscription papers. That was in 1989, towards the end of the Emergency period. That was in retrospect exactly the wrong time to go: Mandela was released the year after! When people ask me why our family moved to Australia there is a complex of issues, too many to spell out in this interview. But at the back of them all were concerns about the inequality of that society, and at that time – it is easy to forget – South Africa was a warring state, both within its borders and on the borders with Mozambique, Angola and, to a lesser extent, Botswana. If I ponder why we went to Canada in 1977, I think both of the Soweto Uprising and of South Africa’s invasion of Angola that was only called off because the CIA were afraid it would creating a flash-point between the US and Cuba. That is not all. Being someone whose life was shaped by an awareness of the violence of racism in South Africa, being in Australia, while it is a much more peaceful country, nevertheless leaves me in a state of disquiet; the nature of White Australia’s relationship to the Aboriginal peoples makes me feel that this country itself is, if only on a symbolic level, but I don’t think it is only symbolic, in conflict with itself. Through my art-criticism and certain parts of my poetry I have been confronted with a special kind of silencing that occurs here, a silencing which is concerned to rein-in disruptive discourses or people. The current director of the South Project once told me, after I had described to her a number of the ways my writing, both critical and literary had been hindered here in Australia, that she would really like me to write a book about all the subjects you can’t write about in Australia! So, in answer to your question, I am not sure how at home I can feel here. Perhaps this is a post-traumatic feeling… Sometimes when I think of my father I think of the evening when he was preparing his company-tax and he came to me, I was a young child, and explained that he had paid the same amount of money that a tank cost the army. He was astonished and disgusted. It was only after his death that I found out he had in his youth been involved in liberal – in the good sense! – politics.

As a poet, you seem to place great importance in the public act of reading. Do you write each poem as a test, awaiting the results of its reading?

There is a larger question here, related to the dynamic nature of the poem, of the literary artefact. I stress the event of reading aloud as much as reading privately; both are events, which through their performance have certain histories and practices. In the Western World – if we may include Australia – there is a greater familiarity with the idea of silent reading than with the performance of the voice. This has been changing, but largely this remains true. I see the importance of the “public act of reading”, as you put it, in that it is an event of voicing. Whether this is good for the poem and the poet is open to debate – I suspect it isn’t – but that is a separate and complex issue… But it is this idea of the voice, elemental and vulnerable, a form of “bare life” to use Giorgio Agamben’s term, that is crucial here. It has less to do with the consequence of the nature and meaning of the poem than it has with the existential fact of one’s own presence, and, therefore, the world represented by that presence. That presence can’t fail if it is attended to with the hope of encounter. In a less philosophical sense, the question that must arise in the context of ‘performance’ must be the degree of success of the communication, though that is something, perhaps, not to be gauged, rather experienced.

Is the ‘haunting’ something that is always open a sense of cultural difference, or can it sometimes close cultures off.  How do you avoid the pitfalls of the gothic when composing poems about the South?

Haunting. This experience appears in a number of my poems, poems written in various parts of the world. I am not sure how to respond to the first part of your question, except to say that many people in the West don’t believe in the reality of the spirit-world – though I am sure they are outnumbered by those who do elsewhere! – and so if one speaks about hauntings and spirits and the Ancestors they might simply think these are tropes. I remember once speaking at the Free University Berlin and explaining that to understand certain things about South Africa one needs to acknowledge that the spirit-world and religion, including African-styles of Christianity, play an essential role in many people’s live, and that, for example, Soweto is quite a haunted place. One need not simply believe me: there is a very good book, Madumo: a Man Bewitched by Adam Ashford, on this subject. I also told them that I agree with the photographer Santu Mofokeng when he said that South Africa would have had a civil war with terrible bloodshed had it not being for the calming presence of the African Zionists. The students looked at me with a degree of disbelief, and their professor, in whose class I was ‘ a guest speaker’, somehow made what I had said sound more academically respectable. The reality there, I suppose, is that academia is about studying life not living it. In that sense, it might close off cultural difference. As to the question of the gothic. This is not at all a concern for me because that literary category is one that would be imposed on the kinds of experiences I am talking about and have written about. I hardly think you could accuse Amos Tutuola of being Gothic! If anything, I believe still thinking along those lines, being concerned in that way, shows the extent to which non-Western experiences aren’t accepted as being authentic in themselves.

To what extent is the world of poetry a flat space? Do you feel able to move around as a poetic consciousness in any part of the world, or do you tend to locate yourself in a particular terrain? What would that be?

I am not sure what you might mean by “a flat space”. I sometimes think that when readers look at my body of work, with poems written in many parts of the world, that they imagine I am leading some kind of scattered existence, that what I have been doing is incoherent. Actually, what I have been doing in the last decade or two, is developing a sense of the post-colonial world; by that I mean I have mostly travelled in places that were colonized or responsible for colonization, whether the US or Portugal, Austria or Sri Lanka, and very often within the hemisphere defined by the Portuguese Empire, though I must admit this is far from complete! I see my travelling, since my visit to Sumatra in 1998, as a way of following in the wake – I was going to say footsteps! – of poets and pilgrims, trying to witness the way traffic and commerce produces connections between certain worlds and walls of silence between others. South Africa is the country of my birth and youth, so it has a special meaning here, whereas all the other places I see as places of encounter. One of the problems literary critics seem to have with my work is that is doesn’t suit any of their categories, especially national categories, with the exception of Portugal, where there is a strong tradition of poet-travellers: Luis de Camões, Camilio Pessanha, Rui Knopfli and Gil de Carvalho. One of the reviewers of my book Elsewhere concluded very pessimistically saying that she thought I was – to use a metaphor – at the end of the road, that my work was full of miscommunication and silence. It was an observation inattentive to the mechanisms of certain kinds of silence, how silence can speak in an encounter just as powerfully as the silence of a place can. A Portuguese critic, much more sympathetic to my work, told me what most interested her in my work was the way silences, often as evidence of historical memory, interrupted the everyday, the norms of place. When you ask me about how I might situate myself, I have the feeling that you might be wanting to return to the question of homeliness again… Let me say this: Last weekend I was present at the unveiling of Yagan Memorial Park, a place where, after 177 years, the remains of one of Australia’s legendary Aboriginal figures were laid to rest. There, in that place, and in a few other places around the city of Perth where I am ‘based’, I felt there was a respect for reality of this place, his land, its histories and peoples. It’s at moments like that that I feel a homeliness, though it might not be mine. Elsewhere, at other moments in other places, places that might have been damaged, I often write poems.

Can you recommend a Xhosa poet?

I was going to ask, Why Xhosa? And when you say that, do you mean the language of the ‘ethnic group’, because Xhosa writers might not write in isiXhosa… But there is one whose work I like, who comes immediately to mind, who did write in isiXhosa: St J Page Yako. Let me quote his “The Contraction and Enclosure of the Land”:

Thus spake the heirs of the land
although it is no longer ours.
This land will be folded like a blanket
till it is like the palm of a hand.


John Mateer has published books of poems in Australia and overseas, and a prose travelogue about Indonesia. He has been writer-in-residence in Kyoto, Beijing, Coimbra, Medan and at Ledig House, New York. In 2006 he was a participant at the Iowa International Writing Program. He has given readings in many countries, most recently in Austria at Schloss Leopoldskron/Salzburg Global Seminar as well as at PEN International’s Free the Word festival in London. His latest books are Ex-white/Einmal-Weiss: South African Poems (Klagenfurt: Sisyphus, 2009), The West: Australian Poems 1989-2009 (Fremantle Press, 2010) and Southern Barbarians (Sydney: Giramondo and Lisbon: T41, forthcoming).”

The Brazilian paradox in Australia

Last night, Brazilian academic and curator Ilana Goldstein explored the Brazilian paradox in the second talk of the Southern Perspectives series. How can a country that embraces racial mixing fail to support Indigenous arts? Why is it that a country like Australia, that takes whiteness as a norm, puts so many resources into developing indigenous creative industries?

Goldstein provoked much discussion. Philip Morrissey, Director of the Indigenous Studies major at Melbourne University, showed great interest in the utopian nature of Brazilian nationalism, but remarked that the Australian model can be seen by some as a form of cultural dispossession. The visiting South African artist Zanela Muhole suggested that this discussion show widen to include the state of indigenous arts in countries like her own.

Here is Ilana Goldstein, anticipating and reflecting on her talk:

Goldstein is founding editor of the journal Proa.

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 federico.freschi@wits.ac.za

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