Diffracting the present through the past: Engaging socially just art history pedagogies in the context of #RhodesMustFall

10 Jul 2017

This paper describes a process of classroom encounters where art history, current awareness and students? lived experience come together to co-construct a learning space in which students? emerging conceptions of social justice in South Africa are explored. Located in the Design Foundation course at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the case study describes an interdisciplinary approach whereby difference is explored through the material engagement with artefacts within and across space and time. The students come from diverse and unequal backgrounds that span urban/rural and race/class/gender divisions, as well as cultural and language barriers and differing educational experiences and needs. Focusing on a series of lectures that link ancient Mesopotamian cultural production with the #RhodesMustFall campaign at the University of Cape Town, the chronological and the thematic interconnect in a non-hierarchical web in which the relationship between art and power and how art functions as a symbol of power, are explored. By diffracting the contemporary through the ancient a space is opened up for students to identify themselves as generators of knowledge while they reflect on complex notions within the context of their own lives as young adults in South Africa (Haraway 1988). Following a post-constructivist perspective of the living curriculum (Roth 2014) and the becoming curriculum (Sellers 2014), the classroom becomes a space in which students engage materials, materiality and meaning in a matrix through which teaching and learning co-emerge in an ongoing state of becoming (Ettinger 2006). Intra-action between my practices as a teacher of higher education and visual artist give rise to pedagogical strategies aimed at empowering students to respond to the challenges of becoming designers in a differentiated and changing South Africa. Moving beyond the binary, the fixed and the linear, the paper examines how the educator?s task moves from the epistemological and ontological (Barnett 2009) towards that of onto-epistemological (Barad 2007). Through interweaving threads of matrixial theory (Ettinger 2006) and post-humanist agential realism (Barad 2007), new thresholds of interconnection, co-existence and becoming offer ethico-onto-epistemological possibilities for design praxis in a differentiated world.