The intention of this show is to address the lack of Islamic discourse within the Art World, particularly by Muslim women artists, as well as the non-existence of new media and performance art by filling in the gaps with artworks of this content and genre.
Although recent acquisitions by the UCT selection committee does represent a facet of current and relevant South African art, the concoction of traditional and contemporary art fails to include any pieces that function beyond the patriarchal and conventional frame or plinth. Why is there an absence of performance art and new media work when the UCT campus consists of a ready-made amphitheatre and audience, hungry to critically engage in multiparadigmatic discourses? Graeme Sullivan’s book, Art Practice as Research (2005) assists us in understanding art as a process and product of theoretical, practical, self, and social inquiry, charged with the capacity to induce the re-evaluation of assumptions. Considering the Academy is an institution of research and knowledge, the ultimate aim of its education being a transformative one, should it not seek to acquire art that practices research and contributes towards human knowledge? Instead, UCT shows us that not only does it have an extremely limited view of Fine Art, but that it’s predominantly mainstream collection cannot possibly keep the pace with the interrogative art theory and avante-garde practice that is presently being engaged at Michaelis and the History of Art department.
Harold Pearse’s paper, Brother, can you spare a paradigm? (1983: 158) looks at educational theorists and social scientists that use the word ‘paradigm’ to denote ways in which knowledge or behavior is structured. Pearse cites Gray (1982) who borrows the metaphor of ‘redcoatism’ which is the tendency to maintain the traditional, while the metaphor ‘coonskinnism’ is the sate of being new, flexible and relevant. As Gray points out, “when coonskinners are successful and have secured their territory, they tend to transform into redcoats and become less adaptive, trapped in their own brand of orthodoxy” (Pearse, 1983:160). The works in the collection are neatly packaged commodities, revealing that the paradigm in which the UCT art collection committee thinks and operates is predominantly production -orientated, with traces of work that is motivated by self and social inquiry. Notwithstanding, the collection represents only one manifestation of the intention to showcase art, and that is through the object, rendering the works that have a social purpose theme, hardly impactful due to their static existence.
Pearse highlights three orientations or forms of knowing which Aoki derives from the history of philosophy (Habermas): the Empirical-Analytic orientation, which values Technical Knowing, the Interpretive-Hermeneutic orientation, which values Situational Knowing, and the Critical-Theoretical orientation which values Critical Knowing. In Empirical-Analytic Knowing, the interest lies in the intellectual and technical control of the world and in efficiency, certainty and predictability, which Pearse declares as having been the dominant approach in educational research (1983: 159). He refers to the knowledge forms that inform this practice: facts, generalizations, theories and cause and effect laws. Interestingly, Pearse highlights that when researchers realize that the questions they are asking go beyond simple fact finding and quantification, and into complex areas of human interaction, the empirical-analytical paradigm has been stretched to its limits of usefulness (ibid). This exhibition attempts to align the unthinkable research that is being practiced at UCT with that of its art collection.
Bi-Discourse operates in the Critical Theoretic paradigm and therefore employs the most impactful and effective means possible for social purpose, that of performance art. The show seeks to create moments of change on campus by punctuating site specific spaces with two juxtaposed subjects delivering unexpected and dynamic art performances. Within the space, Bi-Discourse seeks to take the first step towards recovering ignored Islamic discourse within UCT’s art collection, and at the same time, launch a body of performance work that will reach a wider social context. In Bi-Discourse, the West’s archetypal Muslim women are involved in activities that subvert her stereotype. This show sets out to question non-Muslim’s assumptions that all veiled Muslim women are contained, boring, silent and invisible. By utilizing a tauter modality of communication, Bi-Discourse seeks to pull at the academic strings of a conventional and limited art collection.
It is most unfortunate that the orthodoxy of the committee has such considerable implications for the inquiry and practice not only in the art education department, but in the broader classroom at UCT, and beyond. Its influence could so powerfully orient and determine the nature and outcomes of transformative research or classroom practice, but instead, the integrity of this inquiring institution is being grossly undermined. Perhaps it is the narrow-mindedness of institutions like these that the academy of Fine Art has had to fight for recognition, as a discipline that engages in legitimate forms of research. If the Academy does not legitimate self inquiry, instead promoting critical inquiry, then why is its art collection not reflective of this? Do the UCT redcoats know where they are coming from? Do they know what their paradigms are? Do they even care?