Political fashioning : aesthetics, art and activism in South Africa 2013-2018

Bolton, Kylie Monique (2020-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The thesis offers a reading of four contemporary South African artists as forms of intervention in society. I consider aesthetic practices that include the mediums of sculpture, film and performance art not as a student of the fine arts, but rather as a particular kind of social analysis and mode of political practice, situated specifically two decades into democracy in the country. By using art that I found from the beginning of 2013 to 2018 in museums and galleries in Cape Town, at the Cape Town National Arts Festival and at the Design Indaba Conference, I show how the aesthetic appearance of an artwork affords its readers a cognitive experience that evokes past struggles, contemporary experiences and repressed memories that have been silenced in the narration of South Africa’s history. Further, I argue that by providing a prism from which to evaluate the South African transition, art provides a different representation to the dominant social sciences, which I read alongside my rendering of the artworks. By engaging with various readings of the art and with the sartorial as a form of political rhetoric, following Walter Benjamin, I argue that the aesthetic experience of an artwork can teach us something new about our world which can jolt the public out of moral complacency and political acceptance. In addition, I show how the rapid circulation of images in the digital age has given student protestors and art activists the critical potential to mobilize in the public sphere, to claim and to rewrite history, aligning aesthetics with politics in a progressive way. Through juxtaposing art and social science literature I draw attention to artists as political actors and their aesthetic practice as a form of cultural labour that heralds an opposing, “negative” relationship to structures of power and domination. I finally, consider how the production of South African history results in the absence and silencing of various narratives that these artists illuminate by creating a critical space wherein to juxtapose past remnants with our present fears.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie bied ʼn vertolking van vier eietydse Suid-Afrikaanse kunstenaars as intervensievorme in die samelewing. Ek het oorweging geskenk aan estetiese praktyke wat die mediums van beeldhoukuns, film en uitvoerende kunste insluit – nie as ʼn student van die beeldende kunste nie, maar eerder as ʼn spesifieke soort sosiale ontleding en selfs as ʼn spesifieke modus van politieke praktyk, wat baie spesifiek gesitueer is ná twee dekades van demokrasiewording in die land. Deur die gebruik van kuns wat ek van die begin van 2013 tot 2018 in museums en galerye in Kaapstad, by die Kaapstad Nasionale Kunstefees en die Design Indaba-konferensie gevind het, toon ek hoe die estetiese voorkoms van ʼn kunswerk aan die vertolker ʼn kognitiewe ervaring bied wat huidige begrip versteur deur worstelinge van die verlede, hedendaagse ervarings en onderdrukte herinneringe wat in die vertelling van SuidAfrika se geskiedenis stilgemaak is, op te roep. Ek voer voorts aan dat deur die verskaffing van ʼn prisma waarvolgens die Suid-Afrikaanse oorgang geëvalueer kan word, kuns ʼn ander voorstelling vir die oorheersende sosiale wetenskappe bied, wat ek naas my weergawe van die kunswerke vertolk. Deur verskillende vertolkings van die kuns te gebruik en aan die hand van die sartoriale as ʼn vorm van politieke retoriek, gegrond op die werk van Walter Benjamin, voer ek aan dat die estetiese ervaring van ʼn kunswerk ons iets nuuts kan leer van ons wêreld, wat die publiek uit morele selfvoldoening en politieke aanvaarding kan skud. Ek toon hierbenewens hoe die snelle sirkulasie van beelde in die digitale era studenteprotesteerders en kunsaktiviste die kritieke potensiaal bied om in die openbare sfeer te mobiliseer, om aanspraak op die geskiedenis te maak en dit te herskryf, waardeur estetika op ʼn progressiewe manier met politiekbelyn word. Deur naasmekaarstelling van kuns en literatuur in die sosiale wetenskappe vestig ek die aandag op kunstenaars as politieke akteurs en hul estetiese praktyk as ʼn vorm van kulturele arbeid wat ʼn teenstellende, ‘negatiewe’ verhouding met strukture van mag en oorheersing inlui. Laastens ondersoek ek hoe die voortbring van Suid-Afrikaanse geskiedenis lei tot die afwesigheid en stilmaak van verskeie vertellings wat deur hierdie kunstenaars belig word deur ʼn kritiese ruimte te skep waarin oorblyfsels van die verlede naas ons huidige vrese gestel kan word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/107981
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