Culture, politics and identity in the visual art of Indian South African graduates from the University of Durban-Westville in KwaZulu-Natal, 1962-1999.
The purpose of this research is to document the visual art production of Indian South Africans who graduated from the University of Durban-Westville (UDW) with a degree in Fine Art, and provide an explanation of how and why their art works are so poorly documented within a post-Apartheid art historical narrative. When South African Apartheid society was designed to promote Black intellectual underdevelopment, this Indian university provided a space for young Indian intellectuals from all fields to engage with the struggle politic of the country to envision a strategy for a liberated and democratic future. While the visual art in this country has provided powerful social commentary throughout the Apartheid years, the voice of the Indian artist has remained silent. Some students managed to complete their degrees and find a little recognition as artists; the majority, however, relegated their art-making to a pastime. Little is known about this body of graduates; hence this research attempts a systematic study about how Indian Fine Art graduates fell into silence upon the completion of their degrees. The rationale of this study is to determine in what ways the constructs of culture, politics and identity, as key environmental factors at UDW, impacted on the virtual absence of Indian artists from South Africa’s art history. To this end, the social history of education of Indian South Africans since their arrival in this country has been provided. The influential and historical location of the University College for Indians (UNICOL) and later UDW as a cultural and political construct is explored against the art production of its Fine Art Department. Thus, the geopolitical space of this university as a site of struggle is contextualised. Against this background, the varied life stories of the forty-three graduates presented in this study are contextualised within the framework of separate and segregated education. These stories illuminate the unfolding dynamics that shaped the directions they subsequently took. The significance of this study lies in its contribution of knowledge to the existing literature on Indian history in South Africa as well as on the art production of this community as students of the Fine Art Department at UDW and subsequently as a small body of practising, but not always exhibiting, artists. Through this study I suggest that some of these graduates became internal exiles, which positioned them on the margins of the art-producing community in this country. This position of marginality impacted on their representation within the South African art historical archive. The study makes a number of recommendations to bring these and other South African Indian artists into the picture again.
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