From visual identities to bioart: Leora Farber and the VIAD Research Centre

In this dialogue Prof Christo Doherty of ARA speaks to Leora Farber Associate Professor and Director of the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre, in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg . Under Leora’s leadership the Centre has become a vibrant hub where an international community of visiting professors, research associates, and postdoctoral fellows have conducted interdisciplinary research over the last fifteen years around the theme of African and African diasporic histories and identities; with visual practice and questions of representation at the centre of their investigations. Recently Leora has opened up a new thematic current at the centre exploring the connections between art, design and the life sciences through a bio lab due to be launched in 2023. We explore both currents in this podcast.

In addition to directing the VIAD Centre, Leora is an artist, academic, editor, curator and post-graduate supervisor. She obtained a BA Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand, followed by an MA Fine Art (cum laude) also from Wits, and then DPhil in Visual Art at the University of Pretoria. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally, with interdisciplinary works that deal with the concerns of the body, embodiment, abjection, and activities historically associated with women’s work and domestic objects. A strongly feminist thematic which she has pursued since her first performance installation, entitled A Room of Her Own, as The Premises in Johannesburg in 2006.

In this discussion we explore Leora’s personal trajectory and education as an artist and her early practice as a lecturer in Fine Arts. We look the reasons for the establishment of The Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre at the University of Johannesburg in 2007, the vision that Leora had for the Centre and the ways in which the planned research was actualised. We then discuss the important colloquium "On Making: Integrating Approaches to Practice-Led Research in Art and Design" that Leora organised at VIAD in 2009. The colloquium was the first gathering to explicitly explore the impact and implications of practice-led research in the South African context but also brought a wide range of European perspectives into the conversation.

We then examine Leora’s move into an engagement with bioart, her initial collaborations with bioscientists at the University of Johannesburg, and her residency in 2019 on the SymbiotikA programme at the University of Western Australia. We explore whether bioart is a break with the concerns articulated by the work at VIAN or if it takes these concerns further into the ambit of post humanist and new materialism and we assess the implications of this work for the decolonial project.
Useful links:
The VIAD website:
The "On Making" conference proceedings. All papers available as downloadable PDFs:
The SymbiotikaA website with details of Leora's 2019 residency:
23 Nov 2022 English Explicit South Africa Arts · Education

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