The formation of contemporary visual artists in Africa: Revisiting residency programmes.
Kirumira, Namubiru Rose
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Appreciation of African visual artists’ background in artistic theory, its application and criticism, artists’ quality of experience and their level of artistic knowledge and competencies are critical factors in measuring the artists’ ability for self positioning internationally. This includes the role, position and impact they have on local and international artistic practice. Professional development to enable versatility requires that artists benefit from multiple avenues of education and that formation spaces provide for integrated approaches to learning including constructivist methods. Objectives of the study included: investigating the nature, content and structure of Triangle artists’ workshops, examining the function of their environment in directing the artists’ creative experience, and investigating ways in which and to what extent individual artists’ responses to these residencies redefine the formation of visual artists and art in Africa. The question raised was whether the artists’ residency has developed qualities that qualify it as a supportive learning space which can contribute to the development of African visual artists’ formation. The study focused on the evolving African visual art scene: activities, needs and role of the artists within their communities to establish whether the residency space can contribute to and redefine the formation process of artists in Africa. The findings contribute to the understanding and fostering of the African visual artists’ competence to deal with the creative transitions in the visual arts. The study employed qualitative case study and phenomenological approaches to art and design. Two cases of international artists’ residential workshops in Africa that are part of the Triangle International Artists Network, Thupelo in South Africa and Insaka in Zambia were studied, focusing on the period between 1985-2006 where significant global activities and contributions including artists’ residencies featured in the progress of African visual artists. An examination of the three-week working residential workshops, which host 25-30 national, African and international visual artists, was aimed at discovering their ability to engage the artists in the residency. Thus the residency was evaluated as a formation space for contemporary African visual artists: and how it affects their versatility. Three viable requirements were established which formation programmes need be aware of: the characteristics, performance and circumstances of contemporary African visual artists. The residency space was a case upon which the study built an understanding of the formation process and development of a multi-perspective framework to inform practice. It emerged that artists in the residency appreciated the opportunity to ‘contribute and benefit’ within the varied space by producing artworks, holding internal group discussions, exploring their working environment and the community. The case studies demonstrated the importance of networks as a support mechanism in the formation process illustrating the importance of peer participation and reference, the interrogation of ideas, methods and values in a formation space. African visual artist need new knowledge and competencies to combat challenges such as collating artistic knowledge and skills and accessing exposure during practice. Three issues were established that enhance the development of artists while they are experiencing the residency space. The first was accessing developments in technology, then establishment of artistic values for appreciation and application, and participation, and lastly, in valuing and appreciating African (their own) art the artists promote themselves and their art. Four benefits accruing from experiencing the residency space are proposed to be critical in the formation of contemporary African visual artists: self-confidence, self-discovery, competitiveness and networking. The four qualities are crucial, for example, if the artists are going to challenge existing boundaries in terms of philosophies and methods. Secondly, those qualities depend on a combination of several variables to enable versatility. However, by assuring socio-cultural and education diversity, peer interaction and productivity a network may act as a conduit for versatility. This research acknowledges that it is not an either/or discourse but which combination within formation maximizes knowledge and skills acquisition.