Jill Magid
Gerald Raunig
Stephen Hobbs
Dr Achille Mbembe

The value of 'socially engaged' art

This session questions the role of art in the social context and where its limitations and its responsibilities might feasibly exist. The term ‘socially engaged art' here is used in a provocatively ill-defined manner, with the intention to seek out the subtler nuances of such artistic practice. A trend in art funding from public bodies in recent times has shifted towards favouring projects of a social engaged and public nature, placing emphasis on social development, inclusivity and social worthiness. This is a trend not just in South Africa but in many other countries where governments find the need to cut back on public funding and social services and in the process transfer some of this responsibility to the role of artists in society. This discussion looks at the positive and negative consequences for art and artists in such a situation. Should a case be made for public funding which supports art which is not politically correct or subversive? In which cases do art projects play a dynamic role in the progress of a society and in which cases are they condescending to the viewer? A criticism sometimes made of art made in South Africa is that its significance often lies too heavily in the gravity of its content and insufficiently in the creative decisions of the artist. The discussion questions the role of the artist's subjectivity in this kind of art-making. When is the relationship of the artist to his or her material voyeuristic or exploitative? The discussion also seeks to question the notion of an audience or constituency - to what extent is an artwork justified by the number of viewers or participants present?

An interesting development in South African art has been the recent trend of events which blur the boundaries between art, party culture and commercialisation. The discussion will examine the success of such initiatives and the consequences of mass commercialisation on artistic endeavours.


discussion runs from 16 February- 2 March 2006.

See full google group here.

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