18 August 2021

Arts Faculty showcases its fascinating research

Research is alive and kicking at the Faculty of Arts & Design based on a Research & Artistic Output Virtual Showcase the Faculty hosted on 28 July. The line-up included nine staff members sharing pockets of their diverse, yet fascinating, research – ranging from the spiritual experiences of pianists during music-making, to the traumatic realism in the work of the hip-hop group, Die Antwoord.

Opening the showcase, Prof Nalini Moodley-Diar, Executive Dean, said it is important to, ‘during one of the darkest hours of our time,’ ask what role the Arts, and in particular the Faculty, plays to reimagine the future.

She said, according to the World Economic Forum, creativity and originality remain on the top five list of the most important skills needed to survive and thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), and beyond. “This reveals the power of the Arts as it sits at the very core of technological processes, which continue to shape this revolution.”

She added that the Arts can assist and play a crucial role in reducing the skills gap and, as such, the Arts and Humanities should be fundamental pillars of all education systems. “While education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is of paramount importance, research is clear that for skills required in the ever-changing job market, STEM skills are not enough. We also need abilities, such as imagination, creativity, and empathy,” she stressed. “This is simply to ensure that Science and Technology are developed in human-centered ways where the balance of advanced technological competencies and moral complexity is now demanded at an unprecedented level.”

“While we are still somewhat straddling the 3rd Industrial Revolution, the 4IR is here. But the Arts must take some comfort that our industry is safe. As far as I can tell, machines lack passion and, therefore, can't dance, write a poem, or a moving play, nor can they analyze the world and distill it into an abstraction that draws an emotive response from the viewer. Thus, let us celebrate the Visual Arts, Performing Arts, and the Design elements of our Faculty to ensure that we contribute meaningfully towards engendering real change and transformation in our society,” she concluded.

Performing Arts
The Department of Performing Arts boasted five speakers, namely Drs Laetitia Orlandi (Vocal Art), Refiloe Lepere (Theatre Arts and Design), Rostislava Pashkevitch (Music), Roland Moses (Music), and Nicola Haskins (Dance).

First up was Dr Orlandi with a presentation titled Exploring five professional pianists' spiritual experiences during music-making: an interpretative phenomenological analysis. She said very little is known about the spiritual experiences during music-making and that she, therefore, explored how five professional pianists, employed at tertiary institutions in South Africa, make sense of spiritual experiences during music-making. The findings of her study suggest that the spiritual music-making experiences of professional pianists are rooted in connectedness and sacred experiences.

Postcards: Bodily Preserves: A rogue archive in practice was the title of a presentation by Dr Lepere. She used a play from her own pen, Postcards: Bodily Preserves to look at how our bodies remember traumatic events. “The play is a deep, ritualistic, and turbulent exploration of how we store memories. We preserve records in our bodies because there is something in them that defies understanding, but we want to grasp the conspicuous, and feverish,” she said.

In her presentation, titled 432 versus 440Hz frequencies, Dr Pashkevitch took the online audience through the history of sound frequency, or the perfect pitch. She said 432Hz is as old as the world and that music instruments uncovered in ancient Egypt utilised this tuning. “The ancient Greek God of music, death, and rebirth, Orpheus, also tuned to this frequency. It was only around 1940 that the United States introduced 440Hz, which became standard in 1953.” However, she pointed out, many musicians and researchers do not agree with the new standard pitch. “It does not harmonize on any level that corresponds to cosmic movement, rhythm or natural vibration.”

Dr Moses’ presentation, titled COVID-19 lockdown music lessons: digitalising for online music learning, was very relevant for this challenging time of teaching, and could also serve as a template for other practical subjects within various disciplines. “With the COVID-19 outbreak, universities worldwide have moved towards online learning or distance education. Despite the pioneering distance learning initiatives by institutions globally, the digital platform, particularly for online music teaching and learning, is yet to be explored. The protocols aligned to COVID-19 posit problems for practical based subjects, as face-to-face teaching is challenged,” he argued.

His presentation examined whether online music programmes address the specific challenges of music students. To this effect, the TUT Music Department was the case study. The teaching model is being digitalised to face the challenge of online learning. To facilitate instrumental teaching during university closures and lockdowns, a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) stepwise online lessons programme was developed. The programme was adapted according to stakeholder (students, teachers, and curriculum experts) analysis. This shed light on learning preferences, teaching techniques, assessment methods, online platform preferences, infrastructural availability, and challenges (mostly relating to latency, quality of equipment, internet, bandwidth, practice space, and musical instruments).

Dr Moses said results showed an improvement in success rate, peer learning, self-evaluation, self-learning, and student engagement. Based on these results, he found that it is feasible to provide online instrumental lessons to TUT Music students by using this programme. “Due to its synchronous and asynchronous online instrument teaching approach, this programme transforms students’ learning experience through the use of digital technology and 4IR underpinnings.”

Haskins’ presentation dealt with Decolonial storying: embodied memory in facilitating choreographic composition, which forms the basis of her Doctoral studies. The study is very relevant given the current discourse in academia around the Africanisation and decolonisation of curriculums. It is situated in the field of choreographic composition within the context of higher education in South Africa, and aims to design and assess the efficacy of decolonial teaching and learning strategies to facilitate choreographic composition.

“These teaching and learning strategies will access autobiographical, long-term memories that contribute to human identity in the creation of solo and group choreographic work. I intend to potentially contribute to decolonial processing through developing teaching and learning strategies among dance education students by drawing from memory, acknowledging how memory shapes the stories through which humans present themselves,” said Haskins.


Pfunzo Sidogi’s presentation centred around Ubuntu Aesthetics’ in the works of twentieth-century Black South African artists. In his talk, he proposed the term ‘Ubuntu Aesthetics’ as a context-specific theoretical framework of thinking and writing about certain forms of creative expressions of humanness from Africa. He engaged with the visualities of Ubuntu within select examples of twentieth-century, urban-based Black art in South Africa, detailing how these artistic representations of particular human interactions and subjectivities can be codified as aesthetic manifestations of Ubuntu. “These select artworks showcase how the artists captured and embodied the essence of Ubuntu in their visualisations of Black life under Apartheid,” he said.

Dr Anne Scheffer delved into the Traumatic Realism in Die Antwoord, specifically analysing a music video of the group, called I Fink You Freeky, wherein art photography meets popular culture. She said that the term traumatic realism refers to a mimetic response to a traumatic experience, where the subject mimics that which is traumatic. In her research, she applied the concept of Traumatic Realism, developed by the American art historian, Hal Foster, towards an understanding of the aesthetic developed through the collaboration between artist-photographer, Roger Ballen, and Die Antwoord. “Their collaboration evokes both alienation and trauma,” Dr Scheffer said.

Visual Communication
Towards a new epistemology of design: The cosmosisation of the common and the Lefebvrian production of space was the title of Schalk van Staden’s presentation, arguing that it is problematic that current design tends to focus on the object, rather than the experience. Van Staden (Integrated Communication Design) followed a transdisciplinary approach, providing insight into the relationships between the common (a term signifying the common world/everyday) in the cosmos, and Lefebvre’s notion of the production of space.

He said it is important that the field of the philosophy of design unpacks ‘its’ epistemologies to establish the usefulness of the latter for design practice and for each designer. “The field of the philosophy of design has not been investigated from the perspective of cosmopolitics (termed cosmosisation) and the cosmos/common world and, doing so, might enrich understanding of the epistemology of design and, consequently, design practice itself.”

Design Studies
Shining the spotlight on systems of innovation, SDGs, AU Agenda 2063, and NDP 2030: Perspectives from manufacturing and creative industries, was the title of Dr Sipho Mbatha’s presentation. Dr Mbatha (Fashion Design) said it is well documented that South African higher education is fast losing citizens with advanced skills that are critical for achieving strategic objectives, like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), AU Agenda 2063, National Development Plan (NDP) Vision 2030, Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP), and Creative Industry Policy. His presentation outlined his research publication strategy that seeks to contribute to South Africa’s realisation of its strategic policy objectives.

His own Mbatha Diamond Helix model for innovation-led competitive advantage development is applied, alongside other models, to determine how systems of innovation positively or negatively affect the achievement of the SDGs, the AU Agenda 2063, NDP, IPAP, Manufacturing-, and Creative Industries.

Prof Nalini Moodley-Diar.
 Dr Refiloe Lepere.
Dr Anne Scheffer.
Dr Roland Moses
Schalk van Staden.
Dr Sipho Mbatha.
Nicola Haskins.
Pfunzo Sidogi.
Dr Rostislava Pashkevitch.
Dr Laetitia Orlandi.

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