Arts Research Africa 2022 Conference Proceedings - Full

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Arts Research Africa
In the two years which have elapsed between the first and second Arts Research Africa conferences, the recognition of creative practice as a research modality in South Africa has increased in leaps and bounds. The question of what to call this research modality, be it practice-based, or practice-led, or artistic research remains unresolved, but these two conferences have gathered together a stimulating array of approaches to this new mode of research, while raising the banner for ‘artistic research’. This second conference, with its focus on how artistic research has transformed pedagogy as well as art practice in Africa, recognises that many academic practitioners, who have themselves completed advanced degrees with a creative practice component, are now looking to pass these learnings to their students through a transformed pedagogy. The 2022 conference thus provides an opportunity to assess the pattern of this development, still largely limited in Africa to the South African arts and education environment. The first ARA Conference was held as a live event on Wits campus in February 2020.1 Unknown to the organisers or any of the participants, the world was on the brink of the Covid-19 epidemic, and the draconian responses to the crisis by national governments, which locked down most of the world for the rest of 2020 and 2021. As a live event, however, the 2020 conference gave the ARA organisers the opportunity to experiment with different formats of presentation, breaking with the conventional mode of paper presentations and instead offering space for workshops and what we called ‘lecture-performances or lecture-demonstrations’. The second conference, planned during the uncertainty that followed the waning of the pandemic in 2021/22, was initially envisaged as an entirely online event; but as the effects of the pandemic began to subside, we chose to offer the first two days as a purely online event to facilitate international engagement, and a third, final day, again on Wits campus, as a live face-to-face event. Sadly, as a result of this structure, the bulk of the 2022 conference presentations were conventional textual outputs, albeit often reporting on creative research that was embodied or performative in nature. The emergence of artistic, or practice-based research in South African universities has been propelled by two institutional vectors. The first vector has been the increasing pressure on all academics in South African universities, including those teaching the creative arts, to get advanced research degrees, usually the PhD. This development has been facilitated by the recognition of creative work as an acceptable part of the PhD submission at many South African universities. The nature of this creative work as research has usually been left quite open in the regulations for the PhD, and the relationship between such work and the written component of the submission has not often been defined with any exactitude. Rebekka Sandmeier, a professor of Music at the University of Cape Town, in her close reading of the university regulations governing doctoral study in music at South African universities, notes that they don’t “entirely support the requirement that research is embodied in the creative output of the degrees”(2020). Nevertheless this opening has created the opportunity for many academic teachers of the creative arts to get their PhD through what has increasingly been categorised as artistic or practice-led research. The other vector was the adoption in 2017 by the South African Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) of a policy that awarded research subsidy to what were deemed “creative outputs”.3 (Prior to this, South African government research subsidy was only granted to conventional textual research outputs limited to journal articles, scholarly books, or academic conference papers.) Although the policy was gazetted in November 2017, the first round of submissions were only accepted in late 2019, a few months prior to the first ARA Conference. The policy requires the research offices of South African universities to administer the initial stage of creative work submissions to the DHET, which created a pressure on the universities concerned to engage with creative work as a form of research.