Arts Research Africa Dialogues

ARTS RESEARCH AFRICA  |  Podcast , ±46 min episodes every 7 weeks  | 
These dialogues from the Wits School of Arts, Arts Research Africa project, are intended to stimulate practice, enable research, and inspire collective engagement around the question of Arts Research in Africa. Art lecturers and postgraduate students in the Wits School of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, are grappling with the challenge of positioning arts research in an African context. These podcasts seek to develop a dialogue with both national and international practices and debates.

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ARA Podcast - Transversing the Rural - a conversation with Dr Same Mdluli

In this dialogue I speak to Dr Same Mdluli, who was the recipient of a 2020 ARA grant for her book project: Transversing the Rural: Revisiting the works of South African artist Johannes Mashego Segogela.

Dr Mdluli is the Manager and Chief Curator of the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg and an Associate Researcher in the Wits School of Arts. She is an artist, art historian and writer, and holds a PhD in History of Art, and an MA in Arts and Cultural Management, both from Wits University, and a B-Tech degree in Fine Arts (cum laude) from the University of Johannesburg. She has worked as an administrator at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg and other art projects, and has also participated in a number of international residencies including at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and the INHA in Paris.
Her research interests are in contemporary African art, black expressive modes and aesthetics as well as the conversations between jazz and visual art. Dr Mdluli also serves as an advisory council member for the South African Arts Council.

When Dr Mdluli was appointed to manage the Standard Bank Gallery in 2018, the Bank’s Head of Brand, Sponsorships and Events announced that “Dr Mdluli brings a visionary energy to the role.” She went on to say that “We are convinced that Dr Mdluli will help us take the gallery to a new level of leadership as a stakeholder institution of the art industry in the country and beyond. Her leadership as a respected creative and academic, along with her easy accessibility will surely help to open the doors to more people to fall in love and support art in our country.”

All those qualities were very much in evidence during our conversation which ranged from her work as curator, in particular her first major exhibition for the gallery - "A Black Aesthetic" of 2019 - to her engagement with the rural-urban divide in South African art, to her analysis of the obstacles to real transformation in the South African art industry.

ARA Podcast - Researching the Arts of Movement - a conversation with Prof Jane Taylor

In this dialogue I speak to Professor Jane Taylor, who, together with Nhlanhla Mahlangu, gave the opening performance and dialogue, at the ARA2020 Conference, which was held here at Wits University in January.

Jane currently holds the Andrew W. Mellon Chair of Aesthetic Theory and Material Performance at the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape where she heads the Laboratory of Kinetic Objects. A highly regarded academic, Jane is also a playwright and author and is a frequent creative collaborator at the Centre for the Less Good Idea in Johannesburg, where she has directed a number of their seasons. Jane has written several plays for puppets, working with the artist William Kentridge and Handspring Puppet Company, notably the internationally celebrated Ubu and the Truth Commission. She has also written a puppet play for the American Renaissance scholar, Stephen Greenblatt, a work interrogating the early history of neurology. Her second novel explores the complex politics of heart transplants in South Africa.

Amongst the topics explored in this dialogue are the significance of a Chair of Aesthetic Theory and Material Performance at UWC, a university which historically has not had creative arts disciplines. The research questions prioritised in the Laboratory of Kinetic Objects. The challenges for accepting creative arts as a form of thinking. Aesthetics and a virtual future.

The links which support/extend our discussion are -
The website of the Laboratory of Kinetic Objects (LoKO):
NYT video on the Japanese funerals for robotic family dogs:
Video documentation of the complete performance of Pan Troglodyte at the Centre for the Less Good Idea, Johannesburg.
Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural (Stanford University Press,2000)
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter (Duke University Press, 2010)

ARA Podcast - The Journal for Artistic Research: a conversation with Dr Michael Schwab

In this dialogue I speak to Dr Michael Schwab, the co-initiator and inaugural Editor-in-Chief of JAR, the Journal for Artistic Research. Michael was most recently a keynote speaker at the ARA2020 Conference, on the theme of artistic research in Africa, which was held here at Wits University in January.

As a JAR editor and a leading exponent of the 'practice turn in contemporary theory', Michael has been at the forefront of conceptualising the expanding field of artistic research in Europe, and increasingly internationally for more than a decade. Michael is also himself an artist, and an artistic researcher who interrogates post-conceptual uses of technology in a variety of media including photography, drawing, printmaking and installation art.

His ARA 2020 keynote address, "Dynamics", can be accessed at
The Journal for Artistic Research (JAR), an international, online, Open Access, peer-reviewed journal is available online at

ARA Podcast - The Hybrid model of Performance-Research: A conversation with Mark Fleishman

In this ARA dialogue I speak with Mark Fleishman, Professor and Head of the Centre for Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, University of Cape Town and artistic director (together with Jennie Reznik and Mandla Mbothwe) of Magnet Theatre, an independent theatre company he established in Cape Town in 1987.
Mark has been a leading figure in the development of Performance-Research both in South Africa and Internationally. Since 2008, he has been an active member of the Performance as Research Working Group of the IFTR, and was co-convenor of the group from 2009-2013. His frequently-cited articles have appeared in the South African Theatre Journal, Contemporary Theatre Review, and Theatre Research International. He is also editor of Performing Migrancy and Mobility in Africa: Cape of Flows, in the Studies in International Performance series at Palgrave (2016).
At the same time, Mark has been active in professional theatre practice. His works for Magnet involve development projects in urban townships and rural communities using theatre as a tool for social justice and transformation.

In this discussion we explore Mark's trajectory from a person primarily involved in theatre practice to becoming an academic and researcher in performance. Mark also expands on the thinking and experiences behind the paper he presented at the ARA2020 conference on artistic research in Africa, at Wits in January, and explains the hybrid model of research that has evolved from his work that spans the fluid space between independent theatre, the university, and the activist community. We also discuss strategic alliances necessary to develop artistic research within the university, and the relationship between performance practice and Sciences and Humanities. Mark also discusses the lessons learnt about North-South relations that have been learnt from teaching performance during the Coronavirus lockdown.
Magnet Theatre
Google Scholar

ARA Podcast - Performance and Research: a discussion with Annette Arlander.

In this ARA dialogue I speak with the first ARA artist-in-residence of 2020, Annette Arlander. Professor Arlander is an artist, researcher and a teacher, and one of the pioneers of Finnish performance art, as well as being a trailblazer of artistic research in Scandinavia. As an ARA artisti-in-residence- she will be based in the Theatre and Performance department of the Wits School of Arts for the next two months until 10 April. She has already initiated her residency project, a work she titles "Meeting with Remarkable Trees". Follow the project blog -
In this wide-ranging discussion, Annette talks about the development of artistic research in Finland, and her role in this development. From her own experience as a theatre practitioner who has moved into a praxis more closely allied with the visual arts tradition, she discussed the complex meanings of "performance" and what this means for understanding performance as research., or research into performance. She also discusses the different types of artistic research, and the crucial difference between presentation and documentation. Finally she talks about her own performance art projects in which she has focused on performing landscape by means of video or recorded voice, moving between the traditions of performance art, video art and environmental art.
Annette's own website - with a wealth of links to her academic writings and documentation of her creative works:
Useful links:
Annette discussing the development of artistic research in the Nordic countries at a Middlesex University colloquium:
An Informal presentation of her project, Performing with a Pine Tree, at the Research Days of Academy of Fine Art, University of the Arts Helsinki in :

ARA Podcast - Bones and Dinosaurs: Art/Science collaborations

In this ARA dialogue I speak to three Wits academics who have creatively engaged, in both their research and teaching, with the interface between Scientific and Artistic research. My guests are Dr Justine Wintjes and Joni Brenner who were both members of the History of Art department in the Wits School of Arts at the time of this collaborative project, and Prof Jonah Choinere, from the Wits Evolutionary Sciences Institute.
Although we explore the routes, professional and personal, that led the three to collaborate across the Arts-Sciences divide, the focus of our discussion is the art-science pilot project which they initiated with postgraduate students in History of Art and Paleontology in 2016 and 2018.

In this lively and wide-ranging discussion we cover the following issues:
The different ways in which Joni, Justine, and Jonah approached the collaboration, and the factors in their backgrounds that led them to collaborate;
How the teaching project developed out of the Life of Bone exhibition curated by Joni Brenner with Elizabeth Burroughs, and Karel Nel in 2011 at the Wits Origins Centre Gallery (and published by Wits University Press in 2011);
The similarities and differences between artistic and scientific practice;
The value of drawing as a mode of intense observation;
The design of the collaborative teaching project and the challenge of scope;
The different effects of the project on the arts and science students who participated.
The lessons learnt from the collaboration and the ways that the project could be taken forward into future projects.

ARA Podcast - Creativity, agency, and African feminisms

In this ARA dialogue I speak to Professor Sharlene Khan and Fouad Asfour about the recent African Feminisms (Afems) Conference which was held at the Wits School of Arts from 5 to 7th September.

Sharlene and Fouad were both organizers of the conference together with Lynda Gichanda Spencer. Sharlene is an associate professor in the department of Fine Arts at the Wits School of Arts and is a visual artist whose multi-media work focuses on the socio-political realities of a post-apartheid society and the intersectionality of race-gender-class. Fouad is a writer, editor and publisher who organises independent spaces for discourse and artistic collaboration. He is currently a visiting research associate in the Wits School of Arts.

The conference is the third in a series of annual events that bring together African feminists for two days of intellectual engagement, art, and networking. With an insistence on the centrality of creative practice to African feminist thinking, the conference was an intense amalgam of conventional academic forms such as academic papers, keynotes, panel discussions together with performances, art exhibitions, creative dialogues, and book launches.
Amongst the topics covered in this dialogue are:
the background and history of the Afems conferences;
the relationship between the history of the conference and intergenerational black feminist scholarship in Africa;
the central role of creativity in black women's creation of self and identity; and the challenges of staging the conference on Wits campus during a turbulent week of politics, and particularly gender-based politics in the city and South Africa;
the plans for the future of the conference, including an innovative approach towards crowd-funding.

ARA Podcast - New developments in Artistic Research in Europe

In this ARA dialogue, I discuss new developments in the European space of Artistic Research with Professor Stefan Winter, Head of the Institute of Artistic Research at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF in Potsdam, Germany.
Prof Winter also represents Germany in a new institutional development: the European Forum for Advanced Practices, an inclusive research network originating not just from universities but also from NGOs, community-based organisations, independent research entities, museums, and a wide range of arts academies with a focus on emergent forms of artistic- and practice-based research.
In this dialogue Prof Winter discusses a number of important issues, notably the place of Artistic Research as a producer of distinct forms of knowledge; the role the AR can play in relation to scientific and technological knowledge formations; particular instances of AR in action; and the potential of AR for the decolonising project in South African universities.

ARA Podcast - the innovative new PhD programme in Drama for Life

In this ARA dialogue, we discuss the new PhD programme at Drama for Life in the Wits School of Arts. This programme, launched in 2017, has just won the 2019 Wits Faculty of Humanities Individual Teaching and Learning Award for Postgraduate Teaching. The designer of the programme, Dr Petro Janse van Vuuren, and the head and founder of Drama For Life, Warren Nebe, are in discussion with Prof Christo Doherty, the head of Arts Research in the Wits School of Arts. They discuss the role of postgraduate research in the strongly activist DFL department and the way in which the design of the new PhD programme has created a scholarly community of practice amongst researchers across Africa using digital communication technologies together with a decolonial approach to pedagogy in Africa.

ARA Podcast - Ethnographies and Art Practices as Research in Africa

In this ARA dialogue, we look at the changing relationship between ethnographies and art practice as research in Africa.

The dialogue was prompted by the recent workshop on African ethnographies which was organised by Dr Jung Ran Annachiara Forte and Prof Sakhumzi Mfecane from the Department of Anthropolog and Sociology at the University of the Western Cape as part of the ongoing African Critical Inquiry Programme.

The workshop was intended to prompt reflection around the concept and practices of ethnograpy which the workshop organisers describe as "slippery, changing, dense, polysemic, and composed of a plurality of voices". And in a formulation that resonates with the manner in which artistic research practice is often understood, they describe contemporary African ethnography as enabling "conceptual work that transcends simple divides between the empirical, the methodological, and the theoretical." Of particular relevance to these dialogues, one of the major aims of the workshop was "to re-rethink ethnography from the African continent."

In this ARA dialogue, three Wits colleagues who attended the workshop will be discussing the changing relationship between ethnographies and artistic practice as research with particular reference to their own work at Wits in the light of the African Ethnographies workshop.
Prof Brett Pyper, Principal Investigator on the Arts Research Africa project and Head of the Wits School of Arts is in discussion with Dr Nosipho Mngomezulu and Dr George Mahashe, both lecturers in Wits Anthropology.

ARA Podcast - The Challenge of publishing artistic research on a digital platform

In this ARA dialogue, we explore the thinking behind Ellipses the innovative online publishing platform for creative research that has been just issued a submission call for its third issue. [] The editor-in-chief/digital editor of Ellipses, Dr Tegan Bristow, and the editor of issue 3, Dr Mareli Stolp, are in discussion with Prof Christo Doherty, from the ARA (Arts Research Africa) project in the Wits School of Arts.

ARA Podcast - Denise Nicholson: Open Access, APCs, and Predatory Publishing Practices

Open Access is an international movement that aims to “make the products of research freely accessible to all.” Here in the global South, the movement is becoming increasingly influential across many universities, with Wits adopting Open Access as official policy in June 2018.
In this ARA podcast, Denise Nicholson, the Scholarly Communications Librarian at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. gives a highly informative presentation on Open Access, APCs, and Predatory Publishing Practices. Her presentation is strongly user-orientated and provides a wealth of practical information on how young scholars should approach academic publishing in the growing open access environment.
Since it is a presentation, the podcast is best accompanied by the PowerPoint slide show that Denise has prepared. It can be accessed from her LibGuides site:

17 episodes

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