Arts of Africa and Global Souths is an interdisciplinary research programme that focuses on the ways in which scholarly and artistic production that engages with the cultural, social and political pulse of contemporary societies can reshape structures of knowledge, power and social space as acts of decoloniality. Initiating, formulating and driving knowledge from the African continent and the global South, this research programme works with collaborators to situate the South at the forefront of contemporary scholarship and shift the centre of gravity of the global academy.
The research programme comprises the following:
The academic home of Arts of Africa and Global Souths is the Fine Art Department at Rhodes University in South Africa. Participants include the Research Chair, Research Associates, Postdoctoral Fellows, Postgraduate Students, Resident Artists, Resident Writers, Visitors and Collaborators.
PROSPA (Publishing and Research of the South: Positioning Africa) is a supra-national research programme that is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and focuses on the production and positioning of knowledge in the South. The core goals of PROSPA are to increase and strengthen scholarly activity in the visual and performing arts at African universities and to raise the visibility of Africa-based scholars on local and international platforms. PROSPA includes a postgraduate research programme that aligns with the SARChI Chair research programme, as well as a pan-African publishing network, a residency programme for artists and writers. RAW—Residencies for Artists and Writers—was founded at Rhodes University in 2014 with support from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, and now continues annually as part of the PROSPA programme. Art POWA (Producing our words in Africa) brings together scholars in the arts across the African continent as a way of sharing knowledge, strengthening the production of knowledge, raising the profiles of writers, and developing meaningful collaborations that are initiated and driven by African scholars.
SARChI—the South African Research Chairs Initiative—was founded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) in 2006, and aims to attract and retain excellence in research and innovation at South African public universities. Rhodes currently hosts a total of X NRF Chair Programmes, and in September 2015 Rhodes University was awarded four new SARChI Chairs, one of which was Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa based in the Fine Art Department. The SARChI programme in the arts of Africa offers the opportunity for research-based postgraduate studies at the level of Honours, Masters and PhD, as well as advanced research at the Postdoctoral level. To date, research projects have focused on the arts of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Uganda, Brazil, China and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“Geopolitics” in the research of Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa is a study of the entanglement of geographic, political, conceptual, and situational positioning of Africa in relation to knowledge-production, with a particular interest in challenging hierarchical forms of power that privilege the global over the local. (“Knowledge” includes written scholarly knowledge and artistic practice). Viewing all geographies as situational—that is, deeply embedded and simultaneously contingent, constitutive and process-based—our approach displaces top-down, masculineist frameworks of geopolitics and instead resonates in various ways with critical geopolitics, feminist geopolitics, anti-geopolitics, subaltern geopolitics and alter-geopolitics.
By referring to the “Arts of Africa” instead of “African art” we acknowledgement that the term “African art” is fraught due to the fact that it has been used in essentialising and at times derogatory ways in, for example, the arts, anthropology, historical studies, and heritage and museum studies. The “arts of Africa” registers art that has connections to Africa, but doesn’t need to fit into constructed categories (that is, particular types of art) that often rely on myth, skewed perceptions and stereotypes. Nor does this art have to be produced by particular types of people and moves away from essentialist, reductionistic notions of what an “African artist” might mean or might be expected to mean.
Africa in this research is formulated in multiple ways, and it acknowledges various geopolitical, spatial, conceptual and experiential approaches. While recognising and exploring these tensions and complexities, this research leans towards a locally embedded approach on the African continent as a way of addressing the imbalances of power in the international artworld.
In 2011 Rhodes University awarded research Focus Areas to four departments in the Humanities Faculty, namely Fine Art, Journalism, English and Psychology in order to promote research and to grow research capacity. Seed funding was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with the expectation that these research areas would attract further funds and develop into self-sustaining areas of research strength. Professor Ruth Simbao founded the Visual and Performing Arts of Africa (ViPAA) programme in the Fine Art Department in 2011, and in 2017 ViPAA became part of the Arts of Africa and Global Souths research programme.