UJ’s Prof Kim Berman explores the Transformative Power of Art

​Every artwork leads to a unique experience by the observer or participant, whether it be sensory, emotional, cognitive, interactive, or spiritual experience.

According to Kim Berman, a Professor in Visual Art at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Executive Director of Artist Proof Studio (APS), a community-based printmaking Centre in Newtown, Johannesburg, “Transformative Art uses art to create a shift in the way an individual or a community views and experiences an issue or themselves and because of that, artists have the potential to mobilise citizens to take more active roles in shaping positive futures.”

Every Artwork Leads To A Unique Experience By The Observer Or Pa

Professor Berman pointed out that when an artwork is successful, it increases people’s capacity to cooperate, to embrace difference and to directly challenge the legacies of colonialism that leaves in its wake socioeconomic class divisions. “So much can still be done to mobilise people through expressive and creative arts, amplifying the role of aesthetics in communities here and around the world, honing existing tools and creating new ones, she said when she delivered her professorial inauguration address, Art as Transformative Practice: Pathways to engaging change. Prof Berman’s inaugural took place in the University’s Council Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus on Monday, 03 June 2019.

Read the full speech here

Prof Berman explained that Transformative Art differs from Art Therapy in that it is practiced in a non-clinical, non-therapeutic environment. “As such it can be useful in many settings including working with individuals, families, community groups, schools, or businesses.”

The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers, and scientists has impoverished our culture in innumerable ways. Prof Berman therefore focused on three subjects including the theme of Leadership as the story of self; secondly, the challenge of decolonisation in higher education, as the story of us, and thirdly, the crisis of humanism in the age of the 4IR as the fierce urgency of now. In addressing these themes, she emphasised public scholarship as a means for the academy to further democracy.

In conclusion, Prof Berman argued for the idea that, as citizens, artists and educators, we need to be able to dream of different possibilities for our future and inspire others to join us in this journey. “Appadurai stresses the value of “futurity” as a cultural capacity, in his recognition that “by bringing the future back in. We are surely in a better position to understand how people actually navigate their social spaces. In this context, futurity is the ability to continually grow and change and is thus essentially about sustainability as a practical outcome of aspiration. I believe that creative practice is a core component of self-actualisation and should be widely accepted a fundamental pillar of freedom and democracy. South Africa is still a young democracy. It is pushing the limits and experiencing moments of chaos and threat. If meaningful change is to be sustained in order to achieve full expression of human rights and freedom, members of our society require complete participation in that freedom of expression. In a political climate of intolerance and fear, the arts can be harnessed to creatively and productively engage citizens to realise their own democratic future.”

“The arts have a role to play in building legitimate political leaders and institutions, harness productive resources for development, manage and negotiate conflict, assist in recovery from trauma, and enhance the agency of individuals and communities in tackling inequality and injustice. I pledge to use this hat and gown bestowed upon me today for academic activism and mentorship; and to continue developing curriculum and pedagogy to support and develop active citizenship skills in the service of social justice,” said Prof Berman.

Prof Kim Berman has held an NRF research rating of C2 since 2012 and received re-rating in 2019. She is the programme coordinator for the Master’s and BTech programmes in the Visual Art Department. Prof Berman has supervised 20 Masters students thus far, and has published over 20 peer reviewed journal articles since 2007. Prof Berman’s international profile as an academic, artist and community activist has included initiating and managing over 40 exchanges and linkages to academic and artistic programmes in the USA, Belgium, UK, Ireland, South America, Philippines, Japan, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Canada. These included introducing international student and artists exchange projects; arranging visiting experts in papermaking; and facilitating international residencies for my students.

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