Coloured Avant-Gardes in Postcolonial Cape Town: On How the Visual Arts Influence Racial-Ethnic Meaning Making

Monday, 16 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Jorge GONZALEZ, University of Ottawa, Canada
With politics, economics, and facets of the physical scientific academy taking a very essentialist turn, traditional and historically consecrated understandings of race and ethnicity continue to inaccurately portray the reality of people in South Africa. In contemporary South Africa, the long-recognized and defined concept of "coloured" continues to be problematic for those claiming the label. This research analyzes the role of coloniality on the visual arts as a form of racial-ethnic meaning making for coloured avant-garde painters, graffiti artists, and sculptors in Cape Town, South Africa. This research explores the intersections of racial-ethnic identity, the avant-garde visual arts, and the construction of self by employing participant observation, in-depth interviews with coloured visual artists, discourse analysis of what it means to be coloured in South Africa, and semiotic analyses of artworks created by coloured avant-garde artists. This research project further contributes to the literature on Southern African studies, race-ethnicity, the sociology of art and culture, and postcolonialism. In a time with massive human migration due to war and political instability; racial-ethnic conflict and tension in North America, Europe, and Southern Africa; and the importance of cultural artefacts and symbols for uniting peoples and movements, the complexity of racial-ethnic categorization and racialization must continue to be elucidated and explored. With the increasing rapidity of globalization and the associated movement and intermixing of cultures, identities, and peoples, constructivist approaches to race-ethnicity empower mixed-race peoples to define identity for themselves. As an ever-growing contingent of the global population, mixed-race peoples and their lived realities must be explored and valued on par with essentialized racial-ethnic categories of people. What this research does is empower the voice and dignity of coloured peoples in South Africa in relation to their use of visual artworks for the creation of racial-ethnic meaning-making.