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Research Students 2016

Art as Agent for Change: Ecological awareness in the South African landscape

Informed by radical ecological theory, Hanien Conradie explores ‘belonging’ by establishing relationships with threatened indigenous plants and other matter endemic to particular landscapes in the Cape Floral Region, where she was born.

Conradie has a transdisciplinary approach which is informed by various disciplines such as botany, ecology, natural law, psychology and philosophy. Her paintings include installations with matter and reflected light effects, painterly video documentation and pieces drawing on conventions of botanical illustration and preservation. Her work focusses mainly on the medium of painting but also includes delivering public lectures and workshops, dialoguing with local farmers and conservationists and curating environmentally focussed exhibitions.

Hanien Conradie is currently engaging in an interdisciplinary PhD research programme through the Environmental Humanities South. Her research topic explores how artistic practice can assist in expanding ecological awareness within the South African context.

Art Museum Education as a progressive, accessible alternative form of higher education in the USA and South Africa

This project is an attempt to provide insights into the possibility of an art museum education as an alternative form of higher/tertiary education. By exploring the history/development of the modern and contemporary art museum and the subsequent relation of the institution to its audience, the project will highlight how art museum education has evolved in consequence and demonstrate why it can operate both in conjunction with and separate from a traditional university experience.

The project will examine the plausibility of such a development by utilizing the institutional landscape in the US. Meanwhile, it will highlight the art museum education shortcomings in South Africa in the hope that they can be addressed and this development can be plausibly examined in the near future.

Chad Rossouw graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art and a Masters of Fine Art both from the Michaelis School of Fine Art. He has worked as an artist, an educator and a critic.

His current research focuses on the ways in which artists tell history. Considering the contested nature of historiography in the post-colonies and the specific spaces, rhetorics and forms of contemporary art, the research examines the potential of art practice to impact the telling of history.

A box with the sound of its own making: curatorship and the empathy of objects

My research focuses on a Tabloid medicine chest situated in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the University of Cape Town library. By presenting the object to a variety of disciplinary experts for examination, the project sets out to show how viewing an object from a single perspective, excludes a variety of its other characteristics, and negates its fullness. It also examines the codes of knowledge production within disciplines, and the influence and pressures of history on the formulation of these codes. Furthermore, it argues that these processes result in narrowed view of the object, which limits the set of potential interactions, inhibits the formulation of contact zones and creates a lack of empathy. Drawing on Donna Haraway’s formulation of the term ‘figuration’ in When Species Meet (2008), and using artmaking and curation as methods, the project seeks to reveal the complex, polyphonic and layered narratives of an object in order to engender a global sense of ethical and political responsibility.

How High Modernist Structures are used to Communicate Failed Social Idea(l)s within Contemporary Fine Art Photography

Developing upon Harvard Professor Jill Stoner’s premise that “architecture can no longer limit itself to the art of making buildings, it must also invent the politics of taking it apart” (Stoner, 2012: 7), my MAFA research thus attempts at an investigation into the works of contemporary fine art photographers who, in utilising high modernist structures as subject, critique the failure of key social idea(l)s. At the core of this investigation there will comprise a detailed study of the often perplexing architecture-centric works of German artist Beate Gutschow.

‘Slow Stain’

Wait’s work is founded in moments of visual dislocation and the attempts to make sense of it. Wait’s current body of work focuses on how women in South Africa from different economic, social and political backgrounds experience slow symbolic violence, not only through gender stereotypes according to which women have a ‘natural’ quality for certain domestic roles, but also a way of thinking that has become ingrained in the fibers of society. All women’s experiences are not the same and vary depending on historical, social and geographical contexts. Thus, Wait’s aim is not to speak for all women but rather to start a dialogue in a manner that promotes a more open-ended discussion that aims to be accessible to a large scope of women. In this way, Wait intends to create work that will allow different women with varying experiences and outlooks to engage with and relate to it.

Philippi: A Photographic Investigation

The Philippi Horticultural Area is in essence a microcosm of the land and identity issues we experience in South Africa. It has endured decades of political, social and environmental strains, with physical and emotional scars clearly evident in the land and its people.

With a modest mobile studio, Hammond positions himself within this landscape as something of a participant observer in order to create a narrative through conversation, interaction and the juxtaposition of visual perspectives.

Through this photographic project, Hammond aims to create images that elucidate the conflicting undercurrents of violence and hope within the compromised and entangled context of environment, social identity and personal belonging.

Echoes: a photographic exploration of reproduction.

Moon’s work explores the notion that life consists of a series of moments; moments that are layered and textured. Working within the field of photography, her work resists the notion of a singular defining moment within portraiture. The elements of time and space play a significant role in complicating clearly defined singular intentions and depictions. As an individual never comfortable within any clearly defined, prescribed or expected social, cultural or political structure, unsettling an expected norm in portraiture is inevitable. This body of work is informed by Moon’s own experience as a mother and artist. It is a photographic exploration of (largely unchartered) feminist mothering, looking at the continuous cycle of projection and reflection within her relationship with her two daughters.

Looking, beyond the object: Painting as a Wall and a Window

Justin Brett graduated with a BA in Fine Art and a Masters in Fine Art both with distinction from the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2003 and 2009, respectively. Brett was involved in teaching at the school in the departments of painting and sculpture for many years, until beginning his doctoral studies in Fine Art in 2015.

Brett’s current research investigates the cultural contingency of visual knowledge systems, using a visual practice that is invested in the intersection between painting, sculpture and architecture to explore historical representations of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional space in order to determine their impact on the perception and interpretation of visual information.

Not Making Big Rocks Small: Story-telling as a Destabilizer of Historical Narratives in South Africa

The film essay I intend to produce will explore the life of my great-grandfather Bruno Heilig, and will focus primarily on 7 years which he spent in the Andalusia concentration camp, or internment camp. The camp was built to house German-South Africans suspected of being Nazi supporters during WW2. The story is told through the eyes of his son, who, in those 7 years, was never permitted to visit his father, intern 575. Therefore the story bares the marks of my grandfather’s fictions, preconceptions and historical amnesia. Desire and loss, risk and doubt, test the subjectivity of the receiver and the narrator. This indeterminacy in essay film-making, because of its relation to the interpretive power of public imagination, has become a form through which questioning and rethinking of the self in relation to the viewer has been used to subvert or revolutionize oppressive forms of image production. This film will complete a trilogy of short essay films that explore the history of gambling, horse racing, racial, sexual, and gendered relations in South Africa, titled The Road to Nowhere in Particular (2015) and The Horse Rider (2015).

The Ordinary Archive of Extraordinary Times

My thesis locates itself on the threshold of private-and-public space, between past-and-present memories within a fraught South African society. Through theoretical exploration I aim to explore the role of the archive as well as the creation of ‘the archive of ordinariness’. What is seen is the need to reframe the archive due to its political power as it enhances and perpetuates ideologies and social norms. This gap in the archive, where I locate myself, is a space to rethink colonial subjectivities allowing for the re-reading of such diverse histories. My research will stipulate that this is a history that has not been dealt with, and that such trauma is still present in the creation of the ordinary archive. Whether as a notion, impression, concept or anti-concept, the image of the archive is a useful focal point for bringing together issues of re-presentation, interpretation and reason for the creation of the ordinary archive.

Addressing Positionality Dissonances In Western Education Models of the ‘Post-colony’

Personal Positionality and Identity as Centres for Imaginative and Creative (Collective) Knowledge Production, and Learning as an Art Practice

This is a project that, through reference to both some experience with, and writings on alternative pedagogical strategies, hopes to make practical the theoretical aspects of fine art thinking. After becoming frustrated by my perception of fine art teaching during my undergraduate degree, as a result of it seeming to employ so few of the creative principles it teaches, I want to pose the question of whether we can understand learning processes that employ the creative process in their actual structure, as art practices themselves? The idea is that if our learning practices become creative practices, we begin to understand and break down the exclusivity and impermeability of fine art culture and discourse- a culture that largely excludes Black bodies, in a country where Black people are the majority. Through creating a reading, viewing, and art production group that operates according to the positionality of those in the space, I foresee an art practice whose natural trajectory will begin to depart from the gallery space, and in fact, abandon it as a reference point altogether. Framing these lines of alternative learning spaces for oppressed peoples as an ‘escape’ that exists within the institution, I am interested in whether other Black creative escapisms, primarily Afrofuturism (a Black diasporic movement) might situate itself in contemporary Cape Town and nationally.

Deborah Weber is an alumni student of UCT Michaelis School of Fine Art who graduated with a BAFA in 2004 and a Post Graduate Diploma in Fine Arts in 2015.

Having worked collaboratively in her early work, Weber’s renewed interest in collaboration started in 2014 with the initiation of a co-authored work on fracking in the Karoo called Karoo Disclosure, followed by Ubulungiswa/Justice Collaboration in 2015. The working process of the two collaborative art projects has provided a successful methodology in achieving the intent of producing a jointly authored and co-created body of work with a group of multidiciplinary artists.

Weber is interested in investigating the methodologies and ethics of producing jointly authored work and her MAFA research will focus on the theoretical and practical implications of shared authorship.

A dynamic balance exists between destruction and creation, as the transformative potential of each is intrinsically linked to the other. Everything, including human beings, is in a constant state of change. The continuum of change can be subtle or dramatic, but it is ubiquitous and ongoing. In my studio practice, I investigate notions of trace and transience as I use the corrosive properties of iron to document the transformation of materials by rusting on canvas.


My MFA research will concern colonial and missionary interpretation and representation of African religious practice, focusing on the M’bona cult of Malawi. Through my body of practical work that will be composed of both paintings and sculptures, I wish to explore and question the postulation made by a missionary anthropologist Mathew Schofeleers that the advocates of the M’bona cult appropriated Christian beliefs. Through a personal artistic perspective, I also wish to visually represent the ideas of the cult as believed by its advocates.

Plan B / A gathering of strangers

Plan B aims to offer an alternative to research methods to provide a reinterpretation of intersectional experiences of identity, queerness, colonialism, social justice and is deeply rooted within Decolonial Practice. I propose that site-specific performances can fluidify boundaries, breaking the fourth wall, where artist and audience collaborate in a dialogue aimed at shifting ideas of power and so-called public space. Embodying an avatar named Goldendean I participate in an evolving public performance exploring the fascination with the flesh, in particular the flesh of non-normative queer bodies and how they inhabit and take space, challenging the arbitrary values we place on normalisation and assimilation. It is love, shifting boundaries, quietly from the centre of attention.

Growing Things: Repetitive Labour in Process-Based Production

The focus of my research is the concepts of repetition, accumulation and growth. Repetitive patterns are prevalent in all spheres of art-production, be it a repetitive mark on a piece of paper, or the repetitive act in the labour of producing an art object. I aim to examine the significance of repetition as a crucial element in the creation and interpretation of contemporary art and in my own art-practice.

The trajectory of growing-processes forms another key component of my research project. I aim to research the ideas surrounding growth and process by working with live plants and/ or process-based materials. Growth is typically associated with plant-matter and is an ongoing and natural process. The concept of accumulation will be used as a means to link these two terrains, and develop a coherent theoretical framework.