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Research Themes

Art, Activism and Social Justice

In light of the urgent need to respond to growing social inequality, citizens are impatient and activism has given rise to an increase of critical artist-citizens or art activists. While socio-political, environmental and health crises are global to some extent, 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 continue to experience the aftermath of the injustices of colonialism.

In the arts, there has been a surge of research on political contestation, protest and activism as seen in the exhibitions global aCtIVISm (ZKM, 2013-2014) and Global(e) Resistance (du Centre Pompidou 2020). Studies on global resistance (Weibel 2015), like studies on global art (Belting et al 2013), often struggle to significantly de-centre Western readings of (world) history. Dominant global art approaches fail to sufficiently question on whose terms art becomes global, and they tend to “write out” or flatten local narratives (Simbao 2015). Even terms such as ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ are persistently viewed (and judged) through Western lenses and are seldom understood in grounded, context-specific and community-based ways.

Our research contributes towards filling these gaps by focusing specifically on civil society and the arts in various African and global south contexts. While activism often relies on urgency and clarity in order to achieve high impact in public contexts, our research explores the complexities, multiplicities and at times contradictions of various forms of activism and creative resistances through the arts. We question how creative practice as a form of 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). We encourage a broad understanding of art that includes work that cuts across and breaks down notions of disciplines, genres and modes of working.


Grounding, Reducing, Decelerating: Art, Environments and Materialities

More than ever before, there is a pressing need for grounding, reducing and decelerating. With an emphasis on Africa and various global south contexts, we focus on grounded and embedded ways of understanding our environments, land and the various materialities we find around us.

There is a need to decelerate our understandings of movement, as triumphalist notions of global mobility overlook the pain and trauma of forced movement (such as involuntary migration) as well as the benefits of deliberately slow movement (such as spiritual walking practices and embedded associations with the land). Environmental crises are forcing us to answer for the ways we have grossly violated the environment and allowed our responsibilities towards land and spiritual connections with land to deteriorate.

What are spiritual and ancestral relationships with land in specific African contexts? In what ways are artists’ works impacted by land and/or the urban environment they are situated in? How might this relationship engage with site-situational (Simbao 2016) practices in art or performance? In what ways are artists’ materialities impacted by their various forms of movement? How do we develop relationships with land that can be viewed as acts of decoloniality, as bell hooks (2008) suggests? How can practices of grounding also be viewed as acts of standing one’s ground?


Rising Souths: Reorientating Art’s Futures

“Strategic southernness” (Simbao 2018) is a conscious and political decision to engage and collaborate across the south despite the multiple differences, complexities, struggles, tensions, and challenges enfolded within the notion of “the South”. Importantly, “strategic southernness” is a temporary choice, an orientation that develops a particular strategy at a particular time and for a particular purpose.

In Knowledges Born in the Struggle: Constructing the Epistemologies of the Global South (2020), which de Sousa Santos edited with Mozambican scholar Maria Paula Meneses, de Sousa Santos wrote a manifesto titled, “Toward an Aesthetics of the Epistemologies of the South.” In this manifesto he argues that, “The tragedy of our time is that domination operates as a coordinated totality, while resistance against it is fragmented” (de Sousa Santos 2020). The complexity needed to resist these forms of domination in our processes of creating knowledges of justice calls for high levels of cooperation that value the collective over the individual and embody a “knowing with” (de Sousa Santos 2019).

In what ways can “strategic southernness” and deliberate south-south collaboration be framed as a form of resistance? How does such resistance repositon the visual and performing arts?

We invite studies that analyse the rise of “strategic southernness” (Simbao 2018) (including its struggles and tensions), and the ways in which new orientations can change how we create, share, analyse and write about the arts. Existing south-south studies in the programme focus on Africa, China, Brazil, Chile, Jamaica, Mexico and Palestine. We welcome further research in these and other regions and are open to a broad understanding of art, culture and creative practice.


Epistemological Intimacies: Ways of Practising as Ways of Knowing

In this research theme, we welcome studies that explore the ways that subjects engage across geographies, political stances and personal experiences through the lenses of story-telling, life writing and intimacy, and we encourage new and creative ways of interpreting and utilising intimacy within scholarly research.

In creating knowledge, it is important to consider the relationship between ways of knowing (from a distance) and ways of practicing. This relates in many ways to the distinction made by Boaventura de Sousa Santos between “knowing about” and “knowing with”, a distinction that to him is critical to epistemologies of justice (Baasch, Folárànmí, Kakande, Koide, Simbao 2020). “Knowing about” reflects, for example, old “African Studies” models and orientalist studies from the north, while “knowing with” demands shifts in terms of recognising, respecting and legitimising the knowledges, stories and experiences of practising subjects.

Expanding this further, epistemologies of practice also refer to the relationship in the arts between creating art, generating practice-led and practice-based research, and speaking about/writing about art. How are intimate ways of knowing, practising, remembering and creating shifting academic approaches and methodologies, particularly in the visual and performing arts?





Last Modified: Tue, 30 May 2023 16:40:04 SAST