Learning from South African art
Quinby House began its weekly discussion series with a presentation led by Professor Julie McGee of the Africana Studies Department. McGee, whose courses focus on African and African American art, spoke on "Race, Class, Privilege: Learning from South African Artists."
McGee went to South Africa as a part of the CBB Cape Town program in fall 2001. While there, she worked with students to create an art exhibit in the township of Langa.
McGee was away in the spring as well, making a documentary film with Vuyile Voyiya, a colleague she became acquainted with in South Africa. The film is still in the editing stages, but she was able to explain much of what it would include to the audience.
She chose to record her work in South Africa with a documentary film rather than a more "typical" mode of academic analysis such as a journal article because she wanted "to suppress [her] own voice and allow other peoples' voices to be heard."
Lundo Mduba, an artist from whom McGee said she learned that sometimes "one just has to shut up and listen," served as an example of current issues in the area. Growing up in a township, he did not have an opportunity for formal art training. His lack of a portfolio makes it impossible for him to get into a university art program.
Mduba also helped McGee explain how different pressures affect artists. Mduba showed McGee a work with "biomorphic form" that he had learned from a workshop-but refused to let her make it part of the exhibition, because it was different from his other work and "wasn't township enough." McGee said that other artists were just as adamant in rejecting characterizations as "township artists."
Though the topic was a new one for most in attendance, students said that they got a lot from the talk.
"The discussion was very interesting and eye-opening," said Laura Welsh '05. "Professor McGee gave a good background on how race is dealt with in South Africa, stemming from colonial and apartheid issues, and how these impact how art and artists are viewed in South Africa."
The Quinby House Discussion Series is a weekly forum for discourse on various subjects. Next Wednesday at 7:30pm, Professor Allen Springer, chair of the Government and Legal Studies Department, will lead a discussion entitled "To Attack Iraq? The International Legal Issues."
Thanks to Meghan MacNeil for her reporting assistance on this article.