Getting to Know the Driving Force Behind FADA
What attracted you to this faculty?
FADA brings together all the academic and creative disciplines that are close to my personal and professional interests, in Johannesburg, the city that is closest to my heart. I am particularly excited by the ways in which the Faculty responds to the challenges of real-world problems with a diverse and powerful mix of open-ended creativity and focused, socially responsible design solutions. It is very exciting to me to see architecture, visual art, and design all in one well-equipped space, staffed by committed and highly qualified professional artists, designers, architects and academics.
I believe implicitly that art, design and architecture are the most powerful transformative and democratic agents that we have. In its ability constantly to provoke thought and in harnessing the power of the imagination, art reminds us that its value is as manifold, complex and contradictory as the values of those who engage with it; it challenges us to see the world – and our place in it – differently, and in so doing affirms a common humanity founded on a respect for differing points of view. Similarly, architecture and design literally forms our world, the creative intentions and processes underlying it constantly reminding us that we have the ability and shared responsibility to design the world we hope to have. This is particularly true in the South African context, where attitude and ingenuity must often substitute for resources, but which in turn enable us to continue finding extraordinarily elegant and effective solutions to the challenges of building our democracy.
Tell us about your previous job?
I left my position of Associate Professor of History of Art at Wits University at the beginning of 2012 when I was invited to take up the position of Executive Manager and Senior Curator of the Goodman Gallery in Cape Town. I felt I needed a break from academia, and was interested to engage with the fast-paced world of contemporary art from the inside, as it were. I had fascinating experiences dealing with artists, curators and collectors, and learnt an enormous amount about the inner workings of the art world. Given the controversy surrounding Brett Murray’s The Spear, 2012 certainly was an interesting time to be at the Goodman Gallery, and my skills as an art historian and writer were put to good use in compiling press releases and in informing the legal arguments. Interesting and challenging as my time at the Goodman Gallery was, I saw the position of Executive Dean at FADA as a significant opportunity to bring to together my skills and experience in the service of education.
What do you aim to achieve with FADA?
I see FADA as poised to be the best institution of its kind in Africa. While the Faculty already has an admirable reputation for excellence, this can be significantly leveraged in the creative work and research we do, in the under- and postgraduate programmes that we offer, in the inter- and trans disciplinary possibilities of our unique environment, in the academic and professional links that we forge nationally and internationally, in the numbers and quality of students we graduate, in the ways that we engage with our wonderfully diverse, exciting and beautiful city. Watch this space.
What inspires you in life?
I’m inspired by creativity, ingenuity and intellect, and the limitless possibilities that these offer both singly and in combination. I am also inspired by Johannesburg, by its energy, dynamism and thriving diversity.
What is the one thing that irritates you the most about a person?
I’m generally an even-tempered and open-minded person who, in being tolerant of the foibles of others, expects the same in return, so I don’t allow myself to be easily irritated. Nonetheless, I do find it difficult to deal with narrow-mindedness and the thoughtless, damaging prejudice that it often breeds.
Do you have any resolutions for 2013, if yes what would they be?
In addition to the usual (and thus far unsuccessful!) resolutions lower my overdraft, continue the seemingly pointless battle to retain my waistline, and to limit my fondness for a glass or two of wine, my resolution for 2013 is to live up to the awesome challenge and expectations of my new position as Executive Dean at FADA!
Tell us about yourself.
I have been involved in the arts for as long as I can remember. After matriculating from what was then the Johannesburg Art, Ballet, Drama and Music School (now the National School of the Arts), I studied Fine Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, majoring in photography and printmaking. I was also particularly interested in History of Art, and began research in my fourth year into what has become a key aspect of my on-going research, namely the political iconography of public buildings. I graduated with distinction , and went on to pursue postgraduate studies in History of Art at the University of Cape Town. While there I seized the opportunity of pursuing what has always been another of my great passions – music making – to study towards a Performer’s Diploma in Opera at the UCT College of Music, and later at the then CAPAB (Cape Performing Arts Bureau) Singers’ Studio. It was also during this time that I took my first steps towards an academic career and begun teaching History of Art part-time at the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch, and History of Design at what was then the Cape Technikon (now the Cape Peninsula University of Technology). This was followed by my first full time appointment, at the Cape Technikon, as a Lecturer in History of Design. I left the Cape Technikon to relocate to Johannesburg, taking a three year break from academia into the world of human resources consulting, where I worked in research and development. In 2002 I was appointed at Wits University, first as a Lecturer in History of Art, and after completion of my PhD, I was promoted to Senior Lecturer and later Associate Professor. I also served for a while as the Acting Head of School of the Wits School of Arts, and subsequently as Deputy Head of School.
My PhD, entitled ‘The Politics of Ornament’, considered the political iconography in the decorative programmes of South African public buildings in the inter-World War period in relation to the political tensions between nationalism and imperialism at the time. The scope of the research that has followed from this, and for which I have been awarded an NRF C2 rating, has subsequently expanded to encompass post-Second World War as well as post-apartheid public architecture and constructions of imaginaries of national belonging. A secondary line of research has been into the construction of the canon of modern South African art, and more recently how the art market is implicated in this. I have published a number of papers and book chapters on these and other subjects, and frequently present papers at national and international conferences. I have active relationships with professional bodies, being the ex-officio President of SAVAH (South African Visual Arts Historians), a Vice-President on the Board of CIHA (the International Committee of the History of Art), and a member of the International Committee of the College Art
Association in the United States.
In addition to my teaching, researching and other responsibilities, I have managed to maintain something of a presence in the professional music world, with fairly regular orchestral and solo concerts and recitals.