Rhodes>African Studies Centre>Research>Artivism & Social Justice

Artivism, Social Justice & Epistemic Revolution

Project Leader: Professor Ruth Simbao, Rhodes University: r.simbao@ru.ac.za

As scholars and practitioners, our collective research grapples with the role and efficacy of art in activism, social justice and epistemic revolution. In light of the urgent need to respond to growing social inequality, citizens have become impatient and activism has given rise to critical artist-citizens or artivists. While recent studies on activism and the arts tend to frame activism globally and draw from world events of 1989, we complicate this starting point and emphasise contextual and situational forms of resistance and activism . While current socio-political, environmental and health crises are in certain ways global, the impact of these crises (spurred by neoliberalism, global capitalism, pervasive deregulation, corruption and on-going violence against women and migrants) is often experienced more acutely in southern spaces that have experienced the injustices of colonialism.


Engaging with activism on two levels (protest against specific socio-political conditions and resistance to dominant ways of creating knowledge), we produce research that firmly situates Africa and African knowledge-creation within the global south. While our notion of the south is not tied to physical coordinates, we are driven by “southern epistemologies” (de Sousa Santos 2014) and “strategic southernness” (Simbao 2017) with situational understandings of geography. Employing an inter-contextual approach, our research within this first phase engages with the art and visual culture of Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Morocco, Senegal and the DRC in relation to Brazil, China and Spain.


Activism in general often relies on simplicity and a sense of urgency in order to achieve high impact in public contexts. Our research explores the complexities and multiplicities of activism through art, and seeks to understand the ways in which resistances and solidarities are entangled. We question how art creation as social justice can be nuanced, reflexive and potentially restorative in the face of pervasive epistemicide (de Sousa Santos 2014) that has, particularly in African contexts, eroded the creation, experience and legitimation of knowledge (Chikowero 2015).

Last Modified: Sat, 06 Jun 2020 00:16:42 SAST