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Reconsideration of place

Date Released: Tue, 26 July 2011 08:26 +0200

The Audacity of Place aims to present a body of relevant research that rigorously theorises issues of place, diaspora, globalisation and so-called authenticity in relation to knowledge production and art creation in Africa.

It is one of four Mellon-funded research and postgraduate education focus areas launched by the Faculty of Humanities and is led by Professor Ruth Simbao of the Department of Fine Arts.

According to Prof Simbao, the international artworld has, in the past decade,opened up exciting possibilities for contemporary African artists to study, exhibit and talk about their work overseas. Nonetheless, the field of Visual and Performing Arts of Africa and its history is largely ignored and critically important socio-political issues have an actual impact on the way the arts of Africa are framed, researched and taught in higher education contexts.

Scholars are struggling to respond adequately to these problems as debates are locked into so-called local versus global or continental versus diasporic dichotomies.

The Audacity of Place – Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa aims to directly address these problems and to show how the theoretical concerns in this field are, in fact, pertinent to many Humanities research areas that relate to the African continent and multiple African diaspora.

National Research Foundation Thuthuka funding has enabled the project to gain momentum with a small team of postgraduate students over the past two years. Through the support of a Mellon Focus Area, the theme will be developed into a high-profile research topic and public debate in the artworld and in academia.

This research will demonstrate that it is important to talk about place—real places and the art and culture therein.

The theoretical underpinning of place and geopolitics has enormous relevance to many Humanities research topics that are connected to Africa and interdisciplinary contributions will potentially be made by scholars in fields as broad ranging as Drama, Politics, Sociology, Philosophy, Anthropology and Music.

Along with creating a unique research hub in the area of the Visual and Performing Arts of Africa at Rhodes, two interrelated goals of this project are transformation and Africanisation.

In South Africa the visual arts are notoriously untransformed in terms of demographics, research interests and methodological approaches. Art History in the academic context has remained predominantly white and conservative. A key aim of this project is to diversify the field by attracting young black scholars and by exploring research areas that are more relevant to current issues in South Africa and throughout the African continent.

Academics and artists who will collaborate with Professor Simbao on this project include: Nomusa Makhubu, Zama Nsele, Lerato Bereng, Dotun Makun, Gerald Machona, Maurice Mbikayi, Andrew Mulenga, Rachel Baasch, Paul Cooper and Eben Lochner.

The project already has links with the School of Media, Performing and Fine Arts at the Zambian Open University in Lusaka and the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, and locally connections are being built with Iziko (the South African National Gallery) as well as various arts editors, writers and curators.

The long-term plan is to develop a high profile research and teaching nucleus that attracts researchers and artists from across the continent, with occasional collaborations with international scholars beyond Africa.

Picture: Professor Ruth Simbao.

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