Academics explore alternative discourses in Arts

Leading minds in the visual arts representing universities countrywide are gathering at the Tshwane University of Technology’s Faculty of the Arts this week for the South African Visual Arts Historians (SAVAH) conference. It is the first time that the conference, now in its 32nd year, is hosted by a University of Technology.
​​SAVAH is an organisation of academics and professionals that seek to advance the professional practice of art history and visual culture in South Africa and to forge relations with practitioners from other disciplines and regions.

This year’s conference, organised by the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, revolves around alternative and current visual discourses in South Africa and the continent.

The conversation began with a thought-provoking keynote address by Prof Denis Ekpo, Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. His presentation was titled Manifesto for a Post-African Art and interrogated the effects of colonisation on traditional African art.

Prof Ekpo said the first major anti-colonial burden that must fall off the aesthetic preoccupation of Africa is the crippling anxiety over colonial influence, the cognitive dissonance of swimming in colonial influence while doing everything possible to deny it. “For post-African art, there is no room for such unhealthy self-deception. All cultures grow by borrowing from other cultures. Then there is the undeniable positivity of colonial borrowings. For the African artist, the issue is not what we took from colonial culture, but how to convert such cultural debts into sources of new cultural profits for Africa,” he added.

During the three-day-long conference close to 30 presentations will be delivered.  One of the presentations during day 1 that stood out was that of Khulekani Madlela from the University of Pretoria, titled Hair that talks: The Visual representations of Black Hair in True Love Magazine. She argued that hair, a lifeless biological phenomenon, is not just a part of the human body; but also a part of an individual’s personality and identity which play a fundamental role in women’s body image. Madlela explored how black hair issues are articulated in media, in particular on True Love magazine covers published between June 2015 and May 2016.

the first day ended with a visit to the Pretoria Art Museum for a panel discussion about this year’s Sasol New Signatures Art competition, themed Be Discovered.

The line-up for the three days, among others, include presentations about Alternative Visual practices for the artist in contemporary Africa (delivered by Kim Berman from the University of Johannesburg), as well as one by Philiswa Lila from Rhodes University, titled Art Criticism for Whom? Critical Art Writing in Contemporary Africa.

Prof Mzo Sirayi, Executive Dean of the Faculty of the Arts, said the diverse presentations and inter-institutional engagement that the conference will enable, promise to significantly contribute to scholarship and practice across the visual arts, locally and regionally. “The theme of the conference is also in line with current dialogues we are having at the Faculty, such as a Decolonisation seminar, hosted in August,” he added.
  • Prof Ekpo will also be the guest speaker at the 20th Vice-Chancellor’s Prestigious Research and Innovation Seminar Series to be held at the Prestige Auditorium of the Pretoria Campus on 26 September (14:30). The title of his presentation is Decolonisation and Africanisation: Re-closing of the African Mind.
For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Willa de Ruyter on tel: 012 382 5352 or send an email to

Delegates attending the 32nd SAVAH conference hosted by the Faculty of the
​Arts this week.