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