Art Activism in South Africa and the Ethics of Representation in a Time of AIDS

By Allen, Rika | Critical Arts, November 2009 | Go to article overview

Art Activism in South Africa and the Ethics of Representation in a Time of AIDS


Allen, Rika, Critical Arts


Abstract

In South Africa, art activism plays an important role in the fight against HIV/AIDS. During the past number of years the South African National Gallery (SANG) has staged several events where works of art were commissioned to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The article discusses how the activist strategies of the SANG draw on two distinct traditions when combatting the AIDS epidemic by means of art. These two traditions are found in the SANG's legacy in the resistance art movement during the fight against apartheid, and in the resources of its networking strategies with the AIDS activist movement in general, and more specifically the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

The article explores the different roots of 'artworks against AIDS' and highlights its findings with short overviews of the SANG's exhibitions held between 2001 and 2007. The article also discusses how both the SANG and the TAC benefitted from the 'social movement spillover effect' (Epstein 1996), which enabled them to use their previous activist structures and resources in order to embark on the struggle against HIV/AIDS.

Although the art activist strategies are successful in getting the art world's attention to respond to the effects of HIV/AIDS, the article suggests that in light of the ever-changing landscape that characterises the epidemic, art activists are challenged to continually reinvent their strategies of engagement. Advances in treatment options play a significant role in shaping new meanings and forms of social mobilisation that influence the signifying practices driving activist strategies. The need for an 'ethics of representational practices' that is sensitive to changes in the landscape, offers art activists a renewed basis from which to act when engaging with the complexities of mediating the realities of people's lived experiences in the time of HIV/AIDS.

Keywords: activism, art against AIDS, ethics, HIV/AIDS, resistance art

Introduction

This article will explore recent trends in art activist practices in South Africa, in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Although the works of art themselves cannot be detached from the activist practices, the article will not focus on or engage with the visual strategies applied by the artists. Instead, the focus of the article will be on the strategies of signification (Treichler 1999: 4) that accompany and inform the works of art in their battle against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The discussion is informed by the understanding that the process of producing and engaging in the practice of art activism is a different kind of practice than producing art for 'art's sake', which concerns itself only with aesthetic formalism and technical qualities (lines, angles, colours and texture). The basis for this distinction stems from the assumption that art's role in society is multi-functional, and that the 'historical, social, cultural, political and economic context within which the artwork is produced, partly contributes to the overall meaning' thereof (Oliver 2007: 60).

The above distinction becomes important when investigating the practice of art activism that engages with themes relating to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. As this article will demonstrate, it is apparent that on the one hand, the notion of local art activism is inextricably linked with the protest or resistance art movement that emerged between 1960 and 1990 in apartheid South Africa. On the other hand, it is equally linked to the strategies and agendas of AIDS activist movements in general. Hence, the 'artworks against AIDS' movement is not only informed by issues pertaining to those that inform AIDS activism in general, but in South Africa the discourses of protest and resistance art still play an important role when planning and taking part in interventionist strategies. Although these strategies have proven to be effective in getting the art world involved in the struggle against HIV/AIDS, the article will present a speculative argument suggesting that alternative strategies are not to be overlooked. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Art Activism in South Africa and the Ethics of Representation in a Time of AIDS
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.