Sym­po­sium for black artists step

A bi­en­nial event has sprung up to pro­vide a fo­rum for black artists and in­tel­lec­tu­als to meet

Mail & Guardian - - Culture - Non­to­beko Ntombela, Same Md­luli, Kwezi Gule & Londiwe Langa

As South Africa delves into yet another themed month, the arts have come into fo­cus be­cause of their close re­la­tion to ques­tions about cul­ture and her­itage. The month of Septem­ber has seen events in Jo­han­nes­burg such as the Jozi Book Fair, the South African Book Fair, the Fak’ugesi African Dig­i­tal In­no­va­tion Fes­ti­val and the FNB Joburg Art Fair, all of which are rel­a­tively new ini­tia­tives.

Al­though each of these seeks to evoke a broad range of is­sues in the vis­ual arts and lit­er­ary space, few are cen­tred on black schol­ar­ship, crit­i­cal cre­ative think­ing and prac­tice. A new ad­di­tion to this spec­trum is the Vis­ual Arts Sym­po­sium, which will be held at the Mar­ket Photo Work­shop. It is an ini­tia­tive of the Black Mark Crit­i­cal Thought Col­lec­tive.

See­ing the need to ad­dress the short­age of crit­i­cal think­ing spa­ces for black schol­ars and artists, the Black Mark Col­lec­tive held its first sym­po­sium in 2015, with the aim of out­lin­ing and map­ping out the re­search of black schol­ars and artists. This was hosted by Wal­ter Sisulu Univer­sity (East London), ex­tend­ing the con­ver­sa­tion to lo­cales that are of­ten left out of the city-cen­tred dis­courses about the arts.

At the cen­tre of Black Mark’s project is the de­sire to in­ter­ro­gate ideas that speak to the work of black schol­ars and artists. Broadly speak­ing, the black vis­ual arts prac­ti­tioner with a cur­sory in­ter­est in art his­tory, knowl­edge pro­duc­tion or crit­i­cism will prob­a­bly have iden­ti­fied at least three ur­gent tasks.

The first is a corrective task. This in­volves ac­tively chal­leng­ing the hege­mony of the pre­vail­ing Euro­cen­tric schol­ar­ship. Im­plicit in this task is sim­ply the need to es­tab­lish one’s right to speak. The sec­ond task has to do with a restora­tive or re­cu­per­a­tive project that in­volves un­cov­er­ing, com­pli­cat­ing and reartic­u­lat­ing forms of knowl­edge that have been ne­glected by the Western canon or that have been rel­e­gated to the realm of non­knowl­edge, su­per­sti­tion, the anec­do­tal and the un­sci­en­tific. The third task ad­dresses it­self to imag­in­ing dif­fer­ent dis­cur­sive uni­verses. Ex­per­i­ment­ing and seek­ing out new forms of ex­pres­sion are its hall­marks.

Un­der­ly­ing all these con­cerns is a de­sire to self-rep­re­sent, self-de­ter­mine and self-de­fine. These con­cerns cut across a range of schol­arly en­deav­ours and pur­suits of knowl­edge in every coun­try that Euro­pean im­pe­ri­al­ism has touched. But, in the vis­ual arts, as in other fields of study, at the mo­ment of in­cep­tion these tasks come up against some for­mi­da­ble ob­sta­cles. These in­clude ac­cess, lan­guage, re­sources, rank prej­u­dice, marginal­i­sa­tion and ridicule.

Some of these ob­sta­cles can­not be said to sim­ply be oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ards and, yes, they are al­ways the prod­uct of hu­man agents.

Al­though these hur­dles are both sym­bolic and ma­te­rial, they are also sub­ject to white priv­i­lege, with its moral and eth­i­cal rec­ti­tude as well as its aes­thetic su­pe­ri­or­ity. Chal­leng­ing these ob­sta­cles means ac­quir­ing skills and a cer­tain man­ner of speak­ing that will take the be­lea­guered and be­wil­dered black crit­ics fur­ther and fur­ther away from the very au­di­ence they seek to ad­dress, mak­ing them strangers among their peo­ple.

For this rea­son, the sec­ond edi­tion of the bi­en­nial sym­po­sium ex­plores ten­den­cies that are preva­lent in cre­ative prac­tices to­day. The pro­gramme in­cludes pre­sen­ters speak­ing about film­mak­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy and pho­to­graphic archives, col­lec­tive prac­tice and ur­ban plan­ning.

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