Accepted paper:

Claiming place through art in the South African city: Questions around creative activism


Anna Selmeczi (University of Cape Town)

Paper short abstract:

Since the early 2000s, South African cities experienced new waves of protest, and gave site to new forms of resistance. Through conversations with participants of three different creative initiatives, the paper discusses the contested politics of art in relation to the public in South Africa today.

Paper long abstract:

Whereas creative practices had featured prominently in the anti-apartheid struggle, and conceptions of political art from that period remain influential to this day, new forms and waves of protest emerging since the early to mid-2000s shed new light on the exclusionary and oppressive spatial order of South African cities and the work of art in sustaining and/or disrupting and transfiguring that order. Gaining a particularly strong impetus from the most recent waves of nation-wide student protests and the demands for decolonization at the heart of most university shutdowns, contestations of socio-spatial exclusion have reinvigorated creative practices that challenge the relationship between art and the public - both as the collective political subject and as places of community. Through a series of conversations with curators, contributors, and participants of two creative projects and a political initiative, this paper will discuss how artist-activists (or artists and activists) conceptualize the relationship between art and public spaces; what are its limits and/or how might it introduce openings to the political-aesthetic imagination? Via dialogues with Cape Town based collectives involved in the Instagram project "The Real City of Cape Town", the artistic-educational project called Harare Academy of Inspiration, and the initiative to cover up potentially offensive artwork at the University of Cape Town, these issues will be assessed from multiple angles, offering insights into the work of art in urban resistance today.

panel P084
Youthful agency, art practices and the right to the city