Arts Research Africa Dialogues

ARTS RESEARCH AFRICA  |  Podcast , ±51 min episodes every 6 weeks, 6 days  | 
These dialogues from the Wits School of Arts, Arts Research Africa project, are intended to stimulate practice, enable research, and inspire collective engagement around the question of Arts Research in Africa. Art lecturers and postgraduate students in the Wits School of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, are grappling with the challenge of positioning arts research in an African context. These podcasts seek to develop a dialogue with both national and international practices and debates.

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Invisibility and hyper-visibility: Portia Malatjie and Nontobeko Ntombela on curating When Rain Clouds Gather

In this dialogue, Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Dr Portia Malatjie and Nontobeko Ntombela, the curators of When Rain Clouds Gather, an important new exhibition at the Norval Foundation in Cape Town. The exhibition is a reflection on the influential and often unacknowledged contribution of Black Women to South African art history in the 20th Century. Covering the the period from 1940 to the year 2000, the exhibition stages a cross generational communion of 40 Black women artists from early Modernism to the contemporary period.

Portia is a Senior Lecturer in Visual Cultures at the Michaelis School of Fine Arts, University of Cape Town. She is also adjunct curator of Africa and African diaspora at the Hyundai Tate Research Centre at the Tate Modern in London, and is adjunct curator at the Norval Foundation in Cape Town. Nontobeko is a lecturer and Head of the History of Art department in the Wits School of Arts at Wits. Previously she was curator of the Contemporary collection at the Johannesburg Art Gallery and before that was curator at the Durban Institute of Technology Art Gallery.

In this discussion, we explore the curatorial tools and strategies that Portia and Nontobeka deployed in this ambitious undertaking to disrupt existing categories of classification while creating a space to contest the erasure of work by Black women artists in South African art history. We examine the way in which they negotiated the negative effects of both invisibility and hyper-visibility on the understanding of Black women's art and the way in which Black feminism informed their curatorial approach. We also discuss the challenge of understanding curation as a form of creative practice in itself, and its importance as means of making previously suppressed work visible to new audiences.

Avril Joffe: Engaging Arts Policy with Creative Methodologies

In this dialogue, Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Avril Joffe, currently the postgraduate programme coordinator and previously the Head of the Department of Cultural Policy and Management in the Wits School of Arts.
Under Avril’s headship the department was renamed to focus on cultural policy and management, and has developed a range of productive relationships with institutions in both the Global north and south, including Kings College, London; the Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries at Peking University, China; and in South Africa with Business Arts South Africa, the National Arts Council, and the Goethe Institute.
We explore Avril’s own trajectory from an MPhil in Developmental Economics at Sussex University to a career as a researcher in labour relations and urban development before moving into the field of cultural policy. In this field Avril is an internationally recognised expert, advising on policy to the South African government and an appointment as an expert member of UNESCO’s Cultural Policy and Governance Facility. We look closely at Avril’s interest in Creative Methodologies as a tool for researchers collecting data, and the ground-breaking international conference on creative methodologies and urban research that Avril co-organised in 2021. We also discuss the function of cultural policy, and whether or not government policy in post-apartheid South Africa has fostered or hindered the creative arts. We weigh up the challenges of working with cultural institutions in authoritarian states such as China, and finally we discuss the ways in which creative artists can productively engage with questions of cultural policy.
Check out the following links:
Dept of Cultural Policy and Management webpage:
Dr Nancy Duxbury's website with key papers on creative methodologies:

Interlocutor/halfie: Dr George Mahashe on being a Molobedu, an artist and an academic

In this dialogue, Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Dr George Mahashe, a lecturer in Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town, who was recently based at the Geneva Observatory as part of the Swiss Artists-in-Labs programme. George talks about his work at the Observatory and his perspective on the experience as a black African who has a acute awareness of his “distributed sensibilities” as a member of a specific African sociality, the Balobedu, and as an academic and an artist.
George was born and raised in Bolobedu in the rural north eastern part of Limpopo Province in South Africa. He first practiced photography as an assistant to a local itinerant photographer before going on to study for a BTech degree in photography. After working as a lecturer and practitioner in commercial photography his awareness of the implications of photography as a colonial representational practice led him into studying the intersections between anthropology, photography and fine arts practice culminating in a PhD in Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town. George used the space offered by PhD research to imagine the concept of khelobedu, from his own point of view, as a member of an African community whose knowledge practices have been studied and marginalised by the colonial academy. Using a combination of unorthodox methods, notably travel and the practice of "ill-discipline", within more established methods such as fine arts play and the participant observation techniques of anthropology, his PhD research challenges the western representational emphasis in photography while employing the film essay and developments of the camera obscure to recognise the dream as a Balodedu technology that can foreground Balobedu subjectivity.
Useful links:
The text of George's UCT PhD, MaBareBare, a rumour of a dream:
AiL mini-documentary on George at Geneva Observatory:
Omenka interview:

Exploring the spaces between - Marcus Neustetter's playful interventions into art, science, and public engagement

In this dialogue Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Marcus Neustetter, the South African artist, cultural activist, and producer who has been working at the intersection of art, science, technology and public engagement for the last two decades since his graduation with an MAFA from Wits in 2001.

They discuss some of the collaborative projects that Marcus has undertaken across these intersections and will unpack key aspects of his critical and playful multi-disciplinary practice that has ranged from conventional drawing and painting to site-specific installations, mobile and virtual interventions, performance art, and socially engaged projects across South Africa and Africa, and internationally.

They focus on Marcus's work with the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland in the Karoo; his explorations with light and how he has deployed the concept of the "vertical gaze" in his imaginative involvement with Sumbandila, the first South African space satellite. They also probe deeply into how his understanding of the interrelationship between artistic practice, public engagement and science has evolved, and his most recent participation in the Vienna-based transdisciplinary project, The Zone.

Links: See Marcus's artist's website:

The Zone project website:

Irène Hediger & Artists-in_Labs: exploring the unknown across diverse disciplines

In this dialogue, I speak to Irène Hediger, the director of the Artists-in -Labs programme based at the Zurich University of the Arts in Switzerland. The programme, which has now been running continuously for the last nineteen years, is one of the most successful Arts-Science initiatives in the world and has initiated and managed over 50 creative engagements between artists and research labs, ranging from CERN to Aquatic Research.
The programme is part of the Department of Cultural Analysis (DKV) at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) and it works to build sustainable collaboration between artists and scientists of all disciplines, not just in Switzerland but, under Irène’s leadership, has been expanding its field of engagement all around the world, including China, Saudi Arabia, and most recently South Africa. These long-term interdisciplinary and cross-border collaborations provide artists with an opportunity to critically engage with the sciences and their experimental and aesthetic dimensions. This includes explorations of the site of the laboratory, as well as a range of scientific topics, methods and technologies.
In this podcast, we discuss the personal path that brought Irène to join Dr Jill Scott as co-director of AiL; the lessons learnt from the first pilot projects; the way that the AiL project has evolved and the lessons that have been learnt about time and how to manage such residencies; the selection process; and the importance of unknowing and creative thinking on the part of both artists and scientists in such collaborative projects.
The AiL home page:
The project also has extensive documentation of all the residencies, with short documentary videos recording the artists and scientists experiences.
For details about their current collaborations and projects see the AiL Facebook page:

Art-Science engagements: Karel Nel's brilliant darkness

In this dialogue, I explore the challenging and increasingly important concept of Art~Science creative collaboration with one of the leading International practitioners in this field, the South African artist, Karel Nel. Until 2017, Karel was an Associate Professor in the department of Fine Arts at Wits, and is an internationally regarded artist as well as a curator and scholar of African, Asian, and Oceanic art from the late 19th and 20th centuries. This dialogue focuses on his work that crosses the boundaries between science and art and the relationship this work has to his deep interest in traditional, particularly African, art forms.

Karel has been the artist-in-residence on the COSMOS astronomical project since the launch of the project in 2004. COSMOS, one of the largest international astronomical projects ever conducted, is an investigation into the origins and evolution of the Universe and Karel has been an integral member of the scientific team. In addition, over much of his career as an artist, Karel has also worked in the field of palaeontology, inspired by the proximity of his family home to the Cradle of Mankind and his creative collaborations with world class palaeontologists at Wits such as Professor Phillip Tobais.
Some useful links:
Karel’s London gallery, with online versions of exhibition catalogues:
The COSMOS project site:
Nechama Brodies’s account of the Life of Bone exhibition at Wits Origins Centre. The exhibition catalogue is available from Wits University Press at the same link or from Wits Libraries.

The Feedspot survey of international art school podcasts - the ARA dialogues were rated one of the top 10 by Feedspot users - can be found at

Re-centering Africa through artistic research and decolonial pedagogy: a conversation with Prof Samuel Ravengai

In this dialogue, I speak to Prof Samuel Ravengai, a leading exponent of artistic research into African modes of performance and theatre making, a multi faceted mode of enquiry that he theorises as Afroscenology.
Samuel is a Zimbabwean born, South African based, scholar and theatre director with a doctorate in Theatre and Performance from the University of Cape Town. He was most recently the head of the Department of Theatre and Performance in the Wits School of Arts, and has just been appointed as the editor of the South African Theatre Journal. He has also just co-edited, with Owen Seda, an important collection of essays in the Palgrave Macmillan Contemporary Performance Interactions series. Entitled Theatre from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe with the subtitle Hegemony, Identity and a contested identity the collection encompasses many of Samuel’s interests which span both research and creative work in the areas of theatre making, directing, theatre historiography, critical theory, post-colonial/ de-colonial theory, performance analysis, cultural studies, performance art, installation, site-specific theatre, curation, race, cultural identity and African studies.

In this ARA dialogue we discuss Samuel’s personal background in Zimbabwe, his studies and professional work. We unpack his theory of Afroscenology and its application in the Wits School of Arts where Samuel led the transformation of the old department of Drama into a department of Theatre and Performance. We also look at his new book on the emergence of Zimbabwean theatre in the context of the postcolony and how the iconoclastic writer/poet Dambudzo Marechera can be understood through Afroscenology. Finally, we explore Samuel’s perspective as a Zimbabwean on the possibilities of pan-African engagement and the kind of networks necessary to foster artistic research on the continent.
Further reading: Artistic research in Africa: Formulating the theory of Afroscenology -

Taking contemporary art practice into the forensic lab: a conversation with Dr Kathryn Smith

Dr Kathryn Smith is an interdisciplinary visual artist and curator who has moved from an initial education in Fine Arts (with a BAFA and MAFA from Wits) to actively explore applied sciences at the University of Dundee where she earned an MSc in Forensic Art, and a PhD from the Liverpool John Moores University. It is a journey that has taken her from advanced contemporary art practice, she was winner of the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 2004, to a deep engagement with the practicalities and theoretical and ethical challenges of forensic facial imaging.
In this dialogue, we discuss the trajectory of Kathryn's career from "crime artist and muse" - starting with her MA on Joel-Peter Witkin - to applied forensic facial reconstruction projects such as the recent Sutherland Reburial Initiative.

We also discuss the postgraduate work Kathryn did at the Dundee Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification and the challenges raised by the "Laws of the Face" which she explored in her PhD; as well as her contributions to the Face Lab research group, including the development of the MA Art in Science degree at Liverpool John Moores University.
We talk about her return to South Africa and how she is establishing resources to promote forensic imaging skills through VIZ.Lab, as well as new understandings of this scarce skill in the African context, most recently for the Charting the Uncharted exhibition.

Finally we explore Kathryn's thinking about the relationship between art and science practice; the management of "pracademic" exchanges between operational, institutional, and research environments; and the notion of knowledge generation in arts-science-technology research.
Stellenbosch University profile of Kathryn:
The Sutherland Reburial Initiative:

ARA Podcast - A ludic approach to artistic research - a conversion with Prof Margarete Jahrmann

In this dialogue I speak to Professor Margarete Jahrmann, the internationally renowned media artist, artistic researcher and games theorist who has just been appointed head of the new department of Experimental Game Cultures at the Vienna University of Applied Arts. Margarete was previously a Professor in Artistic Research at the Vienna University of Applied Arts and was a Professor of Games Design at the Zurich University of the Arts. We discuss how her background in Game Design led her into the realm of Artistic Research; the different ways in which Artistic Research has been taken up across "Europe"; the challenging relationship between games, contemporary art, and commercial game design; her approach to developing the new Experimental Games Cultures programme; and the challenging work which she has been pursuing during the lockdown.
Two of Margarete's recent publications, which we discuss in the podcast, are accessible at:
Margarete Jahrmann, 2021. Ludic Meanders through Defictionalization: The Narrative Mechanics of Art
Games in the Public Spaces of Politics. In: Narrative Mechanics
Jahrmann M (2021). Ludics: The Art of Play and Societal Impact. In Franke, B. (ed.): NOT AT YOUR SERVICE. MANIFESTOS FOR DESIGN. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel. pp.319-329.
Margarete's own website, containing links to all her work is

At the centre of the Centre for the Less Good Idea - a conversation with Bronwyn Lace

In this dialogue I speak to Bronwyn Lace, perhaps best known as the animateur, and now co-director, of the Centre for the Less Good Idea in Johannesburg, but who is also a visual artist with specificity, responsiveness and performativity as central concerns in her practice. We explore all these aspects of her rich engagement with performance and visual arts in this podcast.

In the dialogue we discuss the how the Centre for the Less Good Idea began and the ways that the project has evolved over the first four years of its existence. We also look at how Bronwyn became involved in the Centre and her role as the “animateur”.
We examine the evolution of the “Academy" within the Centre and its relationship with orthodox forms of institutionalised arts education in Gauteng. We then go on to discuss Bronwyn's understanding of artistic research and the involvement of the Centre in the international Octopus artistic research project.
Finally we discuss Bronwyn’s deep interest in the Arts-Science relationship, her previous Arts-Science projects in South Africa and the ways that she is continuing to investigate this challenging area in the Vienna arts environment.

After graduating with a BAFA from the Wits School of Arts in 2004, Bronwyn has developed a combination of introspective, process-led studio practice together with a gregarious, collaborative communal practice operating from her studio in Maboneng and the Centre for the Less Good Idea which she joined William Kentridge in establishing in 2016. Bronwyn is now based in Vienna, Austria, but continues to play an active role in the Centre as the Co-Director and leads the Centre’s development of an Academy and its engagement with international artistic research developments.
Important links:
Arts-Science projects: "My Room at the Centre of the Universe"

ARA Podcast - The aesthetic as a research modality - a conversation with Dr Alex Arteaga

In this dialogue I speak to Dr Alex Arteaga, a leading European artist-researcher who works with text, sound, video, photography, essays and installations according to the nature of his projects and their specific research issues.
Alex has received professional degrees in piano and theory of music, has a Masters degree in electro-accoustic music. He studied architecture at Berlin University of the Arts and obtained a PhD in philosophy at Humboldt University Berlin. He is currently teaching courses at the Berlin University of the Arts (at the MA Sound Studies and Sonic Arts), film university of Catalonia (ESCAC) and the graduate school of the University of Lapland. As a researcher, he’s connected to the University of Applied Arts Vienna
In the dialogue we discuss how Alex's complex background led him into the realm of artistic research and his sense of how artistic research has been taken up across Europe.
We look closely at Alex's major projects: the Auditory Research Unit at the Berlin University of the Arts  and the relationship between the auditory and the visual in architectural thinking; the Architecture of Embodiment and Alex's non-hierarchical approach to the structure and methodology of the research; and his collaboration with the Austrian media artist Nikolaus Gansterer exploring concepts such as the "presence of situations" in Contingent Agencies. We also engage with the more provocative aspects of Alex's thinking such as his insistence that "aesthetic research" should be distinguished from "artistic research". We cover his involvement in the new African-European collaborative project, Artistic Research and City Spaces which is linking The Wits Schools of Art and Architecture and Planning with a range of different artistic research initiatives in Europe. Finally we discuss Alex's critique of the notion that artistic research produces forms of (alternative) "knowledge" and the implications of this view for strategies of decolonisation.

ARA Podcast - Artistic Research in Africa - a conversation with Berhanu Ashagrie Deribew

In this ARA dialogue I speak with the Ethiopian artist-researcher who gave the closing address at our ARA2020 Conference.
Berhanu is currently a lecturer in the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design at Addis Ababa University and is a doctoral candidate in the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Alle School where he was the gold medal winner in his final year, and subsequently studied for his Master of Fine Arts at the Utrecht Graduate School of the Arts in the Netherlands.
Berhanu has been engaged with numerous individual and collective artistic projects both inside and outside the studio environment and has exhibited the results of his projects in Ethiopia, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Georgia, Italy, Greece and Spain. In the last few years, Berhanu has been working with a particular emphasis on the human issues that have come from the modernisation of urban spaces, notably in his home city of Addis Ababa.
In this discussion, Berhanu talks about the ground-breaking Interdisciplinary Arts Practice MA programme which he helped introduce at the Alle School in 2014. The two year programme allows students from a range of backgrounds - fine arts, music, performing arts, as well as architecture, psychology, and philosophy - to work collaboratively using different research modalities.
We also explore Berhanu's own artistic-research projects, notably his contribution to the collective project Despite Dispossession, and his own intervention into the history of dispossession in Addis Ababa: "Care and Become".
Finally we explore Berhanu's ideas concerning mourning in the context of the suffering and anger in the global south, and the role of artistic research in such conditions.
Useful Links:
Despite Dispossession: An Activity Book.
Closing Address: Artistic Research in Africa-rethinking the" avant-garde"

29 episodes

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