Category Archives: 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 [email protected]

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.

Fractals in Global Africa

Call For Papers: Critical Interventions Special Issue on Fractals in Global Africa – Spring 2012

Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art and History invites contributions for a special issue on Fractals in Global African Art to be published in Spring 2012.

As an arena for rethinking African arts and exploring the nature and value of African art/cultural knowledge, *Critical Interventions* is interested in how the recent work on fractal structures in African arts and culture can be extended, discussed, contested, and theorized in domains such as aesthetics, politics, philosophy and economics, as well as applied to practical matters such as education and design.

We are therefore interested in receiving proposals for substantial articles on all areas in which global African creativity–painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, film, and other cultural productions–intersects with fractals, networks, complexity, self-organization, and other nonlinear models. Locations could include any African-influenced culture around the globe as well as well as continental Africa.

Possible topics could include any of the following in relation to Africa or the African Diaspora:

  • Fractals in art
  • Fractals in design and education
  • Scaling and recursive patterns in the arts
  • Fractal routes/roots
  • Visual metaphors of branching (e.g. the Baobab, the arabesque)
  • Scaling or self-organization in traditional or contemporary architecture
  • Fractal social networks and the arts
  • Cycles within cycles in expressive media

We also welcome significant work by artists who work with fractals in classical formats or new media. We invite proposals to be submitted by February 28, 2011. The deadline for the final version of the paper is July 31, 2011. Articles should be based on original research, which has not been published before. Proposals should be no more than 500 words. Articles may be up to 7,500 words (not inclusive of the bibliography) and contain up to ten images. All rights for reproduction of images must be cleared in advance and submitted along with the article.

Proposals of no more than 500 words (or queries) should be sent to Audrey Bennett, Guest Co-Editor ([email protected]) Associate Professor of Graphics Department of Language, Literature, and Communication School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 110 8th Street Troy, NY 12180-3590

Critical Interventions, a peer-reviewed journal, provides a forum for advanced research and writing on African and African Diaspora identities and cultural practices in the age of globalization.

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).”

Australia’s Re-engagement with Africa

The University of Sydney International Forum 

Australia’s Re-engagement with Africa

Friday, 19 March 2010, 9.30am – 12.30pm McLaurin Hall, Quadrangle

The University of Sydney is Australia’s first University, founded in 1850.The International Forum series brings together leaders and thinkers from around the world to present their views on strategic international issues and the way in which these issues may impact on Australia and the globe.

The next International Forum to be held on Friday, 19 March will focus on “Australia’s Re-engagement with Africa”.

The Hon Mr Stephen Smith will be one of keynote speakers at the International Forum.  This Forum will give the Foreign Minister and opportunity to discuss the Australian Government’s re-engagement initiatives in Africa.  A senior African diplomat will follow Mr Smith as the second keynote speaker.

An expert panel discussion including: The Hon Dr. Geoff Gallop, H.E. Mrs. Marie Rousetty (Dean of the Africa High Commissioners Group), an Australia Africa Business Council Representative and an African Government official will follow the two keynote speakers.  The audience will include prominent persons from government, business and academia.

We invite you to attend the International Forum on Friday March 19, 2010 at 9.30am in MacLaurin Hall, Main Quadrangle University of Sydney. Registration will be open from 9.00am. On conclusion of the Forum at 12:30pm lunch will be served in the Hall. Information on the location of the venue is included on the registration form.

To register for the International Forum please complete the attached form and return it via email: [email protected] by Friday 5th March 2010 or via fax 02 9036 6047 As there are limited places for this important event and seats are reserved upon receipt of registration, please notify us as soon as possible if you are able to attend.

A Southern way of showing art?

There’s long been a hunger in Western art galleries for the creativity of the so-called ‘margins’. Whether its Picasso gazing at Dan African masks in the Trocadero or Jean-Hubert Martin curating outsider artists for Magiciens de la Terre, there has been fascination for the seeming more unconstrained, primitive creativity that emerges in distant continents like Africa.

Yet while the gaze of Western art extends well beyond its borders, the business of art itself seems very much confined to the metropolitan centres. There is an assumption for any culture to realise its potential in art that it will be manifested in spaces like the Venice Biennial, Tate Modern and the many museums of contemporary art throughout the transatlantic.

What if a community in that other world decided to host its own art event? Rather than spend millions setting up a satellite biennale, jetting in the art world, what if they sold tickets for a virtual presence? The outside audience would enable the event by their purchase, and in return obtain restricted information about the kind of world that emerges.

The Chilean architect Claudio Torres, who has been working in the Nairobi ghetto of Mathare, has developed a project with the locals to host a competition for a painted mural on a rented ghetto wall. You can see him explain the project here:

 

More than that, tickets are still available. They are limited, so book soon.

To reform or to start again? An argument across the south

In Kuala Lumpur 24-26 January 2009 there was a south-south event titled The International Conference on Hegemony, Counter Hegemony and Alternatives to Hegemony: Implications for the South. This event was part of a ‘scholarly collaboration program’ between three major academic networks across the South – CODESRIA, APISA and CLACSO. The participants represented a tri-continental range of views, with particularly strong representation from Nigeria, Malaysia, Colombia, Mexico and Argentina.

The session began with an introduction by the organisers, Hari Singh (Malaysia), Adebayo Olukoshi (Nigeria) and Alberto Cimadamore (Argentina). They contextualised this initiative within the  sense of discomfort that the only way colleagues in the South could learn about each other’s counties was through northern centres, such as the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. The aim of this event was to share ideas about the hegemonic relation of North towards South in a broad manner, including perspectives beyond international relations.

So the conference began with a discussion of ‘verticalism’ which explored the cognitive dimension of the South. In discussion, the Western orientation towards the highest point in the landscape was countered by a Botswana perspective, where the top of the hill is considered a lonely place far from the centre of power in the valley. And the Western focus on the setting sun was also differentiated from the Pakistani poetry in praise of the rising sun. This phenomenological approach to the idea of South seemed a fruitful dimension of comparison.

The first of many debates began with the Colombian situation. There were strong differences over whether FARC guerrillas were a spent force in Colombian politics, with one arguing that they had lost support through their violence and another claiming that the issues they represented were still relevant, even though they were denied by the middle class elites that dominated politics.

The second and parallel debate concerned the issue of language. It was proposed that languages in different regions needed to be consolidated around a lingua franca, such as Hausa in West Africa and Swahili in East Africa. This consolidation was seen as necessary to develop regional capacities, though it was countered by a defence of linguistic diversity. This argument seemed to reflect an ongoing division between the realist and romantic positions in the South – whether the answer lay in adapting existing structures of power to Southern interests or in dismantling those structures in themselves.

China was a dominant topic in the second day. It began with a critique of the damage that Chinese imports had inflicted on the Nigerian textile industry. Almost all textile factories have now turned to vegetable oil production.  Part of the problem seemed to lie not just with the Chinese, but also Nigerian entrepeneurs that too often sacrificed quality for the sake of low price. The discussion developed around the hope that China might provide an alternative hegemon to the United States. But it seemed that China had little interest in competing with the US for global leadership, and was simply looking to further its own interests. In the course of this discussion the positive dimension of hegemony was revealed as the promise of a leadership that would seek to establish common interests. The broad argument between reformist and revolutionary positions raised the question whether the solution was to establish a new fairer hegemon or try to find an alternative to hegemony per se.

During the course of these discussions, questions were often raised about the meaning of South. What is the ideological link between countries of the South? Is there a common interest beyond contestation of the global hierarchy? It seemed in this context that the idiomatic use of the word ‘South’ played a important role in opening up the problem of global equity. ‘South’ provides a more neutral identity than the negative concepts such as ‘developing’ or ‘third’ world. But giving identity to this ‘South’ is an important challenge that still lies ahead. Future discussions are likely to be around the ethical dimension of the southern perspective.

Finally, there was discussion about Australia’s position as a country of the geographical South yet of the Global North. Australia’s ongoing perspective on these issues, particularly from a Pacific point of view, was warmly welcomed.

Presenters included Franca Attoh Chitoh (Nigeria), Olga Castillo-Ospina (Colombia), Romer Cornejo (Mexico), Jerónimo Delgado (Colombia), Gladys Hernández (Cuba), Brendan Howe (South Korea), Ijaz Khan (Pakistan), Bárbara Medwid (Argentina), Lipalile Mufana (Zambia), Kevin Murray (Australia), Kolawole Olu-Owolabi (Nigeria), and Kenneth Simala (Kenya)

The paper on ‘verticalism’ is available here.