Curating a space to reflect on lived history
ARTISTS and activists have launched a month-long residency at Stellenbosch University to reflect on #FeesMustFall protests.
#FeesMustFall, the countrywide demand from some university students for free higher education, this week led to clashes between security guards and students at the University of Johannesburg. University leaders blocked journalists from entering the campus to report on protest action.
In Port Elizabeth, parents of students at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) are reportedly threatening legal action against the institution for not ensuring their children continue their studies.
NMMU has been shut down since the start of the week and lectures have been suspended amid #FeesMustFall protests.
UCT vice-chancellor Max Price this week called for university lectures to resume after classes were suspended last week.
Against this backdrop,
Stellenbosch University’s art gallery and museum has opened its doors for a monthlong residency, comprising a series of events to reflect on #FeesMustFall.
Greer Valley, a Capetonian with a master’s degree in fine art from Stellenbosch University, is curating the residency called Open Forum. It launches this weekend and runs until the end of October.
The initial call for artists to participate premised the residency on the “one-year anniversary of the historic occupation of Admin B, Stellenbosch University’s administration buildings which were occupied as part of the #FeesMustFall campaign that spread across South African university campuses in 2015”.
“To commemorate this, we, a collective of artists, curators, students and staff at Stellenbosch University, will initiate a month-long ‘opening’ of the university museum and gallery and we are inviting students, artists and activists to occupy these spaces over this period to produce artistic and interventionist works,” went the call.
“We are not interested in polished artworks but in the production of narratives that challenge hegemonic ideas of protest and activism. We recognise protest as an important site of knowledge production.”
Valley said participating artists would showcase “photography, video, documentary films, sculptures, installations, posters, graphic design and interventions” at the university venues.
She said the university was at first “hesitant about this, but now we have support”.
“Things that are progressive are met with fear in Stellenbosch. Progressive views are met with resistance,” she said.
“This (residency) is a space for dialogue. There’s an opportunity to engage with students. We support progressive dialogue.
“We want to push the agenda forward. It’s a dialogue to talk about the complexities we are in. And there’s no one position.
“The protests are much bigger than what’s happening on our campuses. It’s a microcosm for South African society.”
Greer, who has been “embedded in student politics”, said the protests were also about addressing social inequalities and “decolonising the university curriculum”.
Open Forum is not the first attempt at a university-based exhibition on #FeesMustFall. In March, UCT’s Centre for African Studies gallery hosted the Echoing Voices from Within exhibition. This exhibition of photographs, videos, posters and “relevant artefacts that capture the essence and the evolving story of a dramatic year in student protest” was disrupted by protesters over a perceived lack of inclusivity.
Greer Valley is the curator of Open Forum, a month-long residency at the Stellenbosch University gallery reflecting on #FeesMustFall protests.