Absa Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, Oudtshoorn, Western Cape, 3-6 April 2014

The African Critical Inquiry Programme (ACIP) is a recent initiative of the CHR at UWC and Emory University in the USA. The ACIP seeks to advance inquiry and debate about the roles of public cultural domains and institutions in shaping identities and society in South Africa after colonialism and apartheid.

The ACIP held its inaugural workshop in Oudtshoorn, South Africa, from 3-6 April 2014 on ‘The Arts of Intervention’. The workshop presented an opportunity to develop new perspectives on the relationship of the arts and humanities to questions of public institutions, politics and critique. It aimed to assess, extend and deepen those strategies developed in the 1990s and early 2000s that sought to unravel the legacies of apartheid in the sphere of public institutions in South Africa. Much has shifted in the debates about public arts, culture and education in the milieu in which artists now work.

Beyond the instrumentality that the notion of arts of intervention calls forth, what are these new institutional and political conditions that enable and constrain the work of art in contemporary South Africa? What are the possible frameworks and forums for bringing artists and scholars in the humanities into conversation? How can such a conversation make sense of the debates that the arts have provoked, both about the struggles against apartheid and about the shape of the post-apartheid in the public sphere?

Set within the space of the 20th anniversary of the annual Absa Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees in Oudtshoorn, the workshop sought to draw on the questions raised by an arts festival that has attempted to address some of the pressing issues of the transition to a post-apartheid South Africa. These questions relate to non-racism and anti-racism, notions of institutional transformation particular to public culture, the politics of language and community, and scripts of nation and belonging in the arts.

The immediate post-apartheid period in South Africa was a time of renewal and possibility. In this context, the country’s well-developed museums, universities, and other institutions were called upon to imagine new cultural, artistic, and humanistic forms and institutional transformations. Projects involving the Centre for the Study of Public Scholarship at Emory University and the African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies at UWC, in collaboration with a range of other public institutions, helped to forge different understandings of these new imaginings. This challenge engendered lively debates about forms of public cultural and artistic expression. Integral to these efforts was a dedicated cadre of scholar-practitioners from the humanities and social sciences and arts and culture institutions, who worked across institutional boundaries to forge new critical approaches in public scholarship.

In February 2013, nearly two decades after the formal end of apartheid, a public consultation on the scope of a new project on Hidden Voices in the Arts after Apartheid was hosted by UWC’s Centre for Humanities Research with Iziko South African National Gallery, and attended by approximately 80 arts practitioners and humanities scholars. A common recommendation emerged which suggested the need to build a partnership that would attend to revitalising the discussion about the role of the arts and education in post-apartheid South Africa.

Linking various initiatives on either side of two decades of the transition from apartheid to the post-apartheid is the question of the arts of intervention. The arts of intervention defines a topic that retraces and reinvigorates the debates about the making of post-apartheid public institutions and the manner in which the arts configure such remaking. The workshop provided a venue for this engagement.