Setting art apart : inside and outside the South African National Gallery (1895-2016)
Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.
ENGLISH ABSTARCT: Setting Art Apart explores practices of exclusion and erasure in the white art world in South Africa. It looks at how art and art spaces, such as the art museum and the art academy were part of a project of reinforcing difference. The South African National Gallery in Cape Town is the historical reference of the study. The time frame spans the colonial beginnings of the museum through apartheid to the democratic present. After a long period of bureaucratic uncertainty the South African National Gallery was opened in 1930 as a monument to white art and culture. Excluding those who did not belong was part of the process of white self-affirmation. State art museums served to make black people invisible by portraying them as marginal while denying their art. Furthermore, the art museum played a role in the way powerful white constituencies imagined themselves. There are two prevailing elements that I have found useful to examine in the project: the manipulation of space and the changing position of the excluded black individual. Space is what was imagined, defined and controlled by the South African National Gallery. The museum shaped itself into a field of contention during the colonial period, physically setting art apart in the racially heterogeneous city of Cape Town. The museum differentiated itself from private spaces during apartheid by aligning itself with the sanitization and reconfiguration of the city. The black individual had a fraught and traumatic relationship with the white art world. At once omnipresent and invisible, black people did the manual labor and kept the museum space pristine but their presence was scarcely recognized. In this thesis I consider numerous instances of the erasure of black subjectivity including the way black female models were studied as generic black bodies in drawing classes at Rhodes University and were barely considered human. After apartheid, at the South African National Gallery, were objectified while the legacy of apartheid endured. In order to investigate practices inside the museum, I use traditional methods of archival research and look at exhibition catalogues, annual reports, newspaper reports and associated publications to track what was included. However, looking at what was erased and excluded exceeds the bounds of traditional methodologies, especially since archives were formed through colonial and apartheid enterprise. In order to engage with the apartheid archive while seeking to examine what is on the outside I position myself in the argument. As researcher, as a woman of colour and as a subject excluded from the white art world I insert my personal voice and experience in order to open up a space closed off to people of colour. Setting Art Apart is a project about a public institution that was never truly public and by inserting my own voice I engage subjectively with marginalization and exclusion.
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