568.2 Visual interventions and community engagement through a university curriculum in South Africa

Friday, August 3, 2012: 12:42 PM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Sophia ROSOCHACKI , Visual Arts, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, Cape Town, South Africa
Elmarie COSTANDIUS , Visual Arts, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, Stellenbosch, South Africa
This paper discusses ethical and political issues which emerged through a university course which used visual methods to address local social issues. Although not strictly classified as visual sociology, projects incorporated in the Visual Arts Curriculum at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, enabled sustained engagement between university students and a local community organisation. The partnership between the Visual Arts Department and a youth-focussed NGO working with adolescents from the nearby township of Kayamandi, facilitated close interaction between two groups of young people coming from very different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. This six year partnership, shifted from a teaching-based skills-transfer model of interaction to one of collaboration, knowledge exchange and applied visual activism. Students and adolescents partake in collaborative projects using photography, design and drawing to engage with self-chosen issues like HIV/ AIDS, education, racial discrimination, collective memory, social inequality and urban environmental degradation. This paper draws from the participants' written reflections, the visual projects themselves and relevant literature.

The visual projects are designed for application within the Kayamandi community as awareness campaigns, creative reflections on urban spaces and cultural practices etc. At the same time however, they are subject to a process of aesthetic judgement imposed by the managing institution. The tendency of these parallel expectations to pull in opposite directions hints at the deeper social and racial divisions which structure the interactions between the university and the community. This paper argues that although visual media can function as a powerful vehicle of social engagement and change, the politics and power struggles which are tied to all forms of visual and cultural production, must be taken into account. In order to create truly cross-cultural and emancipatory forms of cultural expression and visual communication, the deep-seated power imbalances in much 'development' and 'community' work need to be overturned.