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Call for contributions: Edited Volume on Public Art in South Africa, 1999-2014

Immediately following the First Democratic Election which took place on April 27 1994, and during Nelson Mandela’s presidency, there was extensive activity in regard to art and imagery in the public domain of South Africa. The early years of a new dispensation saw, for example, the development of a number of new museum and heritage sites as well as increased funding for the commissioning of various artworks for public settings. Visual culture in the public sphere became a major focus of scholarly, popular, and national concern, and was at the centre of many debates about national transformation, national identity, and political reconciliation. Through national and local initiatives, South Africa made a tremendous political and financial investment in public visual culture including commemorative efforts to tell the story of the liberation struggle.

There has also been a tremendous amount of activity in the public domain in the new millennium. Crucial to note, however, is that such activities have taken place in an environment which has shifted dramatically in mood and spirit since the early years of democracy. Thabo Mbeki’s loss of grassroots support during his presidency, which commenced in 1999, was coupled by diminishing investment confidence through his denial of the mounting HIV crisis in South Africa as well as refusal to condemn the violations of human rights in neighbouring Zimbabwe. A sense of unease with ANC governance would, however, become increasingly pronounced following the recall of Mbeki at the ANC’s meeting in Polokwane in 2007 and the replacement of him by Kgalema Motlanthe and, in 2009, by Jacob Zuma - the latter accused of (amongst other charges) rape, corruption during a national arms deal and illegally using public funds for a lavish upgrade of his Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal.

Although work from the new millennium has continued to engage with the liberation struggle and issues around its memorialization, artists have also made works which are not always obviously linked to the impact of colonial or apartheid histories and questions around memory. Statuary continues to enjoy some prominence when matters pertaining to commemoration are raised. Nevertheless, objects intended to rejuvenate city streets, parks and public buildings include, for example, benches, bus stops, paving and other utilitarian elements. Also, artists working in a South African framework, like those elsewhere, sometimes produce experimental work which troubles conventional understandings of ‘public art’ as a category. Along with instances of artists working with forms conventionally outlawed from the public domain, such as graffiti, there has been work in the public domain which has involved performance, sky-writing, activist engagement at symbolically charged spaces, and other temporal modes of articulation. Artists have also from time to time used billboards, LED signage and other modes of communication associated historically with advertising.

While a number of scholars have critically analysed various initiatives from the 1990s, there has not been focused engagement with how the impetus underpinning the creation, display, management or reception of art in the public domain may have shifted in the very changed political circumstances of the new millennium. Nor has there been work which explores the idea of public art in South Africa in a comprehensive sense. Indeed, work outside the domain of liberation histories is at present somewhat marginalized in discourse on public art in South Africa.

*The volume we are proposing*

There has not to date been a comprehensive edited volume on public art in South Africa which brings together the research and ideas of academics, artists and other experts who have done work on this important aspect of visual production. The study we are planning will have the value of enabling different viewpoints to be articulated. It is hoped also that the volume will include examples from a range of geographical areas of South Africa rather than being focused exclusively on, for example, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

Our study takes as its starting point 1999, which saw the appointment of Thabo Mbeki as president. Its closure is 2014, a year which in some sense signifies the end of an era. Less than five months after the death of Nelson Mandela, April 27 2014 marks two decades since the First Democratic Election in South Africa. Those South Africans who cast their votes in the general election in May 2014 will for the first time include the so-called ‘born free’ generation - individuals who were born subsequent to the demise of apartheid and, while often still victims of the long-term structural inequities it created, nevertheless understand it as an historical occurrence rather than in terms of their immediate circumstances.

While very receptive to new studies of works linked to issues of memorialization and memory, particularly those revealing how changed attitudes to ideas of ‘nation’ or ‘community’ in the new millennium may have underpinned choice and treatment of imagery, we also seek essays which focus on public art which addresses other sorts of concerns.

Essays may (but do not necessarily need to) address questions and issues pertaining to the following:

*  Individuals and issues selected for commemoration, the modes for constructing ideas about heroism, and the implications of these choices
*  The politics of identity, gender or race
*  Critical interventions to historical statuary or monuments
*  Endeavours to regenerate buildings, sites and environments
*  New forms of public art and their social meanings or significance
*  Contentions and controversies that have arisen
*  The use and maintenance of public art or the lack thereof (including, for example, the destruction, vandalism, neglect, or removal of sculpture or sites)
*  The creative use of the urban or rural landscape as a support/setting for art interventions, and the photographic documentation of these visual productions
*  Ephemeral initiatives
*  Queer visibilities in public space
*  Local responses and objections to national artistic initiatives

Please note: While welcoming contributions which engage with new understandings of the category ‘public art’, we do not wish to include explorations of temporary exhibitions in museums or galleries. Including museum exhibitions will simply widen the scope of the volume in such a way that ‘public art’ is in danger of becoming a catch-all phrase for any and all art, and the overall study will end up lacking coherency. Furthermore, a considerable amount of scholarship has already been published on museums and their role in a democratic South Africa.

We envisage close and particular case studies by individual authors rather than chapters which are broad in focus and scope. An author should frame a proposal in such a way that the envisaged chapter can be illustrated with no more than four photographs.  Final essays should be between 6000 and 8000 words, including notes and references. Submissions must not have been published previously or submitted elsewhere.

*Submitting a proposal*

Authors interested in proposing a chapter for the envisaged volume should e-mail us both the following by June 1 2014

*  Title of proposed chapter
*  Abstract of proposed chapter (between 400 and 500 words)
*  A short CV which includes the institutional affiliation, position, list of key publications and/or other relevant experience of the author
*  Full contact details (primary e-mail address, secondary e-mail address, telephone numbers, fax number, postal address)

We will communicate our decisions by August 1 2014.

Kim Miller, Associate Professor of Art History and Women’s Studies, Wheaten College MA. and Research Associate of the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre, University of Johannesburg,
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Brenda Schmahmann, Professor with a Research Specialisation, Visual Identities in Art and Design (VIAD) Research Centre, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Source: H-Net

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