by Gerrit Bester
This month, as South Africans commemorate the 1956 march of some 20 000 women to the Union Building in Pretoria to petition against the country's pass laws, there is a platform on the threshold of this iconic building to honour women (especially women in the arts) 67 years later.
This was the view expressed by Prof Nalini Moodley, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Design, during a faculty forum that ushered in Women’s Month and provided strategic direction to faculty staff for the end of the year.
Prof Moodley stressed that one of the faculty’s priorities will be to create a gender-equitable curriculum and pointed to several challenges in this regard, including the underrepresentation of women in the art curriculum.
"A total of 70% of artists featured in the curriculum at the diploma level are men. This is embedding and reinforcing a patriarchal perspective, and it sends the wrong message to students," she emphasised. “We have a responsibility to ensure that as a University we shift the common narratives and that our future-ready graduates are also agents of social transformation."
"Although silence, such as that of the women of 1956, can yield more power in dismantling oppressive strategies, times have changed, and the time for standing still has long passed," she said.
She encouraged staff to find ways to address the challenge of transforming the curriculum and to keep this debate alive.
With the latter in mind, an A Re Bueng seminar, titled Celebrating Women in Art, was held just a week later at the Arts Campus. The seminar, moderated by Prof Chats Devroop, Research Professor, and Dr Anna-Marie Jansen van Vuuren, Senior Lecturer, Department of Visual Communication (Film and Motion Picture Production), invited an academic dialogue that highlighted the remarkable contributions of women artists throughout history and their lasting impact on the art world.
Prof Devroop began the seminar with a quiz where participants had to identify 25 women artists from various disciplines who are considered the most influential in the world, based on photographs. Although this seemed like a simple task, it highlighted how faceless women artists have become and are, as Prof Devroop put it, marginalised.
"9 August is just the whip that we need to get us into action," Prof Devroop said, adding that these discussions need to start in the lecture rooms. "We are beyond the point where women are the subject of the artwork. They need to be the artists."
It was suggested that the faculty take the lead in creating a database of women in the arts as a starting point.
In addition, the issue of women in art could also be included as a sub-theme of an international conference, Artivism, which the faculty is planning for July next year.
The conference aims to foster the intersection of art and activism, commonly referred to as artivism. Artivism has emerged as a powerful movement in the early 21st century, ushering in a new era in the field of artistic expression. Rooted in the belief that art has the transformative potential to instigate social and political change, artivism encompasses a wide range of creative practices, from visual arts to performance, music, literature, and more.
By bringing together scholars, artists and activists, the conference seeks to foster interdisciplinary dialogue and gain critical insights into the power and potential of art as a catalyst for social change. Through a series of presentations, panel discussions and artistic exhibitions, participants will explore the various practices, theories and challenges associated with artivism in different cultural and socio-political contexts.
Prof Nalini Moodley, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Design.
Prof Chats Devroop, Research Professor, Faculty of Arts and Design.
Dr Anna-Marie Jansen van Vuuren, Senior Lecturer, Department of Visual Communication (Film and Motion Picture Production), Faculty of Arts and Design.