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Visualizing Transformation: Contemporary Art in Johannesburg

English title Visualizing Transformation: Contemporary Art in Johannesburg
Applicant Förster Till
Number 124470
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Ethnologisches Seminar Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline Ethnology
Start/End 01.04.2009 - 31.03.2011
Approved amount 103'568.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Ethnology
Visual arts and Art history

Keywords (8)

Contemporary African Art; Visual Culture; Johannesburg; African art; contemporary art; South Africa; urban culture; anthropology of art

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Urban change is a highly prevailing topic, not only strongly experienced but also debated in the big cities of many African countries. Much has been written about these urban transformations, but only little research has been done about the way how these transformations are perceived and reflected by visual artists. This project aims at doing precisely this in Johannesburg.Johannesburg has experienced a strong impact of urban and cultural change since the end of apart-heid and the introduction of democracy in 1994. Many artists of the younger generation engage in these processes of change in the city. Based on different art histories (which are related to the history of Apartheid), they deal with urban change in their individual media and discourses. De-segregation, new segregations, migration, economic uncertainties, AIDS and crime are just a few of the topics which artists take up, partly replacing the resistance (and other) art of the preceding generation. But also the beauty, the unique history and the myths keep artists intrigued by the inner city of Johannes-burg. The experience, examination and representation of the changes in the metropolis by contemporary artists is the focus of this research project. Its central question is: oHow do the artists perceive and reflect urbanity and social change in Johannesburg within their work?To what extent is transformation "only" part of a programme in cultural and educational policy, or can it also be identified within the contemporary development of visual arts in Johannesburg? What forms, structures and aesthetics are peculiar to these changes in visual arts? How are they related to the so called local, urban, national or "global" art history? The approach is based on a combination of perspectives and methods from art history and anthropology, meeting in the recent discussion of visual culture as an interdisciplinary field of enquiry. A selection of artistic positions dealing with urban and social change covers different media like painting, photography, performance and more, and thus provides for a concept of diverse, historically influenced "art histories" as well as a perspective on differing notions of public space in a transitional city and its role in the artists' agency. Crucial aspects are the artist's topics, visual interpretations and strategies specifically in terms of a contemporary urban space and its intrinsic potential of change.With the focus on contemporary artists in a specific metropolitan area, the project can include a local as well as a global view, but directs it to the specific practice of artists working in and about the city.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Imagining the Nation
Förster Till (2012), Imagining the Nation, in African Arts, 45(3), 42-55.
Schichten des Transitorischen. Oberflächen und Reflexionen in der zeitgenössischen Fotografie in Johannesburg
Siegenthaler Fiona (2010), Schichten des Transitorischen. Oberflächen und Reflexionen in der zeitgenössischen Fotografie in Johannesburg, in Kunsttexte, (2), 1-14.
Athi-Patra Ruga's Performances: Showing the Invisible Side of Public Space
Siegenthaler Fiona (2009), Athi-Patra Ruga's Performances: Showing the Invisible Side of Public Space, in Whatiftheworld and Athi-Patra Ruga (ed.), 7-15.
On Urbanity
Förster Till, On Urbanity, in Elßisio Macamo et al. (ed.), Lit-Verlag, Hamburg.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Ausstellung Alterating Conditions (kuratiert von Claudia Stemberger), GoetheOnMain Johannesburg 22.01.2011 Johannesburg
Schweizerische Tage der Afrikaforschung, Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Afrikastudien 29.10.2010 Bern
Konferenz Living the City, Universität Basel 07.10.2010 Basel
Konferenz (In)visibility in African Cultures, African Studies Association UK 16.09.2010 Oxford
XIII. Schweizerisches Nachwuchskolloquium für Kunstgeschichte 16.10.2009 Genf
European Conference on African Studies III 04.06.2009 Leipzig


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Jahreskonferenz der Schweizerischen Ethnologischen Gesellschaft, Panel "Field Research in Urban Settings - Challenges in Practice and Methodology" (mit Barbara Heer) 25.11.2011 Zürich
Fifteenth Triennial Symposium on African Art, panel on "The African City as a Sphere of Work and Imagination" 23.03.2011 Los Angeles

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Guest Lecture for Art Class of the University of Pretoria (Nicola Grobler) 17.02.2011 Pretoria


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Afrika mit eigenen Augen International 19.11.2011

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
134813 Visualizing Transformation: Contemporary Art in Johannesburg 01.04.2011 Project funding (Div. I-III)
120450 Visual Culture in Urban Africa 01.03.2008 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

Urban change is a highly prevailing topic, not only strongly experienced but also debated in the big cities of many African countries. Much has been written about these urban trans-formations, but only little research has been done about the way how these transformations are perceived and reflected by visual artists. Johannesburg has experienced a strong impact of urban and cultural change since the end of apartheid and the introduction of democracy in 1994. Many artists of the younger generation engage in these processes of change in the city. Based on different art histories (which are related to the history of Apartheid), they deal with urban change in their individual media and discourses. De-segregation, new segrega-tions, migration, economic uncertainties, AIDS and crime are just a few of the topics which artists take up, partly replacing the resistance (and other) art of the preceding generation. But also the beauty, the unique history and the myths keep artists intrigued by the inner city of Johannesburg. The aims and strategies of the artists have, though, changed in the era of transformation: The questioning of identity, political commitment and immediate coming to terms with the past have increasingly given way to an engagement with complex social phenomena, psycho-logical studies and a preoccupation with urban culture within a rapidly changing city. The experience, examination and representation of the changes in the metropolis by contempo-rary artists is the centre of this research project. Its central question is: •How do the artists perceive and reflect urbanity and social change in Johannesburg within their work?The research questions of this project may be resumed as follows: To what extent is trans-formation “only” part of a programme in cultural and educational policy, or can it also be identified within the contemporary development of visual arts in Johannesburg? What forms, structures and aesthetics are peculiar to these “transformation/s in visual arts”? How are they related to the so called local, urban, national or “global” art history? The approach is based on a combination of perspectives and methods from art history and anthropology, meeting in the recent discussion of visual culture as a newly emerging, inter-disciplinary field of scholarly enquiry. A selection of artistic positions dealing with urban and social change covers different media like painting, photography, performance and more, and thus provides for a concept of diverse, historically influenced “art histories” as well as a perspective on differing notions of public space in a transitional city, and its role in the art-ists’ agency. Crucial aspects are the artist's topics, visual interpretations and strategies spe-cifically in terms of a contemporary urban space and its intrinsic potential of change.The PhD project is embedded in the working group on “Kunst und Globalisierung” at the Institute for Art History and in the Research Group on Visual Culture at the Institute of So-cial Anthropology, both at the University of Basel. In addition, it is carried out in close coop-eration with the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research and the chair for art history, also at Wits University, Johannesburg. Preliminary field work has been carried out since 2006 in Johannesburg, funded by the SNF (6 months research grant) and by the Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft and by the University of Basel. The project being in an advanced state, the dissertation will be submitted in two and a half years.
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