Rhodes SARChI Chair challenges notions of African art

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Professor Ruth Simbao, SARChi Chair Geopolitics
Professor Ruth Simbao, SARChi Chair Geopolitics
Along with fellow Rhodes University staff members and researchers Professor Heila Lotz- Sitsika and Dr Adrienne Edkins, Professor Ruth Simbao has been awarded a Chair position on the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI). 
Simbao works in the Rhodes University Fine Art Department as an Associate Professor. Her research for the Chair ‘Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa’, challenges dominant knowledge structures in the north that produce a skewed discourse on African art. 
Focusing on issues of agency, diversity and democratisation through what she calls “strategic southernness” this research generates locally situated and embedded knowledge, transforming skewed views of global art and global Africa produced in the North. Simbao aims to turn around notions of privilege arguing that rather than being used and labelled by Northern American and European scholars, African art and scholarship is able to determine its own dominant discourses.
“A critical aspect of my research is reciprocal engagement with scholars in other African countries, which contributes to the development of the local production of new scholarly knowledge on the arts of Africa” Simbao explained. “[Being awarded chair] means having the space to focus on what I am most passionate about – to develop the ideas that keep me awake at night, and to do so with scholars and artists across Africa who are energised by similar concerns and ideas.”
For a researcher to be awarded a SARChi chair, it means that they have both an outstanding history of research and display potential to continue producing quality research that benefits researchers, learners,a nd South African universities in general. Simbao considers it a great honour to be awarded the position of SARChI Chair amongst 44 other Chairs, all of whom have been awarded to women. What was Simbao doing when she received the good news? 
“Holding my breath!” she said. “I felt ecstatic and eager to start, as well as sobered by the level of responsibility to consistently produce meaningful and socially relevant research.” 
The arts aren’t always given the time they deserve in South Africa, especially in the realm of research where intellectual and critical discussion around African art is crucial. From the first SARChI chairs awarded in 2006 which saw Rhodes University’s professor Tebello Nyokong receiving an award, it is a huge achievement for South African arts to have Simbao take a position as a SARChi chair holder. 
Article by: Dave Mann
Photograph by: Ruan Scheepers

Source:  Rhodes University

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