UJ: Prof Brenda Schmahmann, NRF research chair in South African Art and Visual Culture Centre

Prof Brenda Schmahmann of the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) is the National Research Foundation (NRF) research chair in South African Art and Visual Culture – one of five prestigious SARChI chairs awarded to the University that were announced at a celebratory breakfast in Cape Town on the 2nd of September 2015. She is the very first Tier 1 SARChI incumbent whose scholarship and education is in Art History, specifically.

When she joined the University of Johannesburg as a Professor with a Research Specialisation in March 2013, Brenda Schmahmann already had three decades of academic experience. Professor of Art History & Visual Culture at Rhodes University prior to her move to UJ, she was in the History of Art Department at the University of the Witwatersrand from 1989 until 2001 and a staff member at UNISA before that. Rated an internationally acclaimed researcher by the NRF and winner of the Vice-Chancellor’s Book Medal when at Rhodes, Prof Schmahmann is active in research and professional bodies. A former president of the South African Visual Arts Historians, she is a long-standing member of the Arts Colleges of the African Studies Association (ACASA) in the United States. She served an extended term on the NRF’s panel for rating scholars in the Performing and Creative Arts and is a member of the Standing Committee of Humanities of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf). Book-review editor and editorial board member of the journal, De Arte, since the late 1990s and on the Advisory Group of The Art Book, a journal published until 2011 by the Art History Association in the United Kingdom, she frequently acts as a scholarly reader for journals and publishers.

Co-editor of a special issue of African Arts (published by MIT) on Gender and South African Art (Winter 2012), Prof Schmahmann has organised panels for a number of international conferences and is the international chair of the session on gender at the Comité international d’histoire de l’art Congress which is being held in Beijing in 2016. She has published a large number of scholarly journal articles and book chapters, and curated two complex exhibitions that travelled to various museums, each over the duration of a year. The author of Through the Looking Glass: Representations of Self by South African Women Artists (2004), Mapula: Embroidery and Empowerment in the Winterveld (2006) and Picturing Change: Curating Visual Culture at Post-Apartheid Universities (2013), she edited Material Matters: Appliqués by the Weya Women of Zimbabwe and Needlwork by South African Collectives (2000) and co-edited (with Marion Arnold, Loughborough University, UK) Between Union and Liberation: Women Artists in South Africa, 1910-1994 (2005). She recently co-edited (with Kim Miller, Wheaton College, USA) a volume on public art in South Africa that has been submitted to an international scholarly publisher for peer review, and is currently authoring a book on the Keiskamma Art Project in the Eastern Cape.

As the titles of her publications indicate, much of her scholarship is focused on gender and on exploring and analysing the works of women artists in mainstream contexts as well as practitioners working in the context of community projects. She also has specialist interest in the politics of public art and thorny questions it raises about transformation.

Prof Schmahmann indicates that there are exciting synergies between these research interests and those of others in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture – a connection which means that her research chair in South African Art and Visual Culture will offer FADA enormous opportunities to advance the academic project: “Along with hosting high-level scholars who have expertise which coincides with the interests of faculty members as well as organising conferences, symposia or publishing initiatives on topics where not only established but also emerging researchers at the university have opportunities to participate, my intention is to enable initiatives focused on enhancing scholarly writing as well as offer seminars where people can test their work. And I welcome this opportunity to allow my own contacts to benefit people in my faculty, and in that way to offer colleagues increased opportunities to establish national and international links. I envisage hosting postdoctoral fellows who, besides working on their own publications, will undertake projects which enhance scholarship and research within the university – whether through the organisation of conferences or seminar programmes, the mentoring of postgraduates, or through undertaking curatorial projects, for example. And perhaps most crucially of all, my intention is to contribute to the University of Johannesburg increasing its postgraduate cohort and thus to work towards enabling retired researchers to be replaced by an appropriately qualified younger generation.”

The other new chairs are:

Laser Applications in Health: Prof Heidi Abrahamse (Faculty of Health Sciences);

Integrated Studies of Learning Language, Mathematics and Science in the Primary School, Prof Elizabeth Henning;

Welfare and Social Development: Prof Leila Patel (Faculty of Humanities); and

Industrial Development: Prof Fiona Tregenna (Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences).


The five new chairs augment the following chairs at UJ:

African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy: Prof. Chris Landsberg (Faculty of Humanities);

Education and Care in Childhood: Prof. Jace Pillay (Faculty of Education);

Geometallurgy: Prof. Fanus Viljoen (Faculty of Science);

Indigenous Plant Use: Prof. Ben Erik van Wyk (Faculty of Science);

International Law: Prof. Hennie Strydom (Faculty of Law);

Social Change: Prof. Peter Alexander (Faculty of Humanities); and

Nanotechnology for Water: Prof. Vinod Gupta (Faculty of Science).

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