University of Cape Town (UCT) scholars Nkule Mabaso and Associate Professor Nomusa Makhubu’s co-edited, handcrafted creative book There are Mechanisms in Place took the laurels for Best Visual Art Collection in the prestigious 2021 Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Awards: Book, Creative and Digital Contribution.
Nkule Mabaso, the curator of the Michaelis Galleries, and Nomusa Makhubu, associate professor (art history and visual culture) in the Michaelis School of Fine Art, were recently awarded the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) award for Best Creative Collections (Visual Art) in recognition of their handcrafted creative book There are Mechanisms in Place. This was the sixth edition in the series of annual awards presented under the auspices of the NIHSS.
Earlier this year, Mabaso and Makhubu won a 2020 UCT Creative Works Award for the exhibition The Stronger We Become, which encompassed painting, film, sketches, narrative – and the accompanying prize-winning book.
“It is invigorating to find both breadth and depth in the intellectual creativity of South Africa’s literary and arts landscape.”
Their collaborative creative publication is described by the Mail & Guardian as a “complex constellation of text, poetry and visual analysis”. It is “quite different from the usual catalogue [as it] deliberately centres and collaborates with black women cultural producers, responding to Sunstrum’s solo exhibition”.
There are Mechanisms in Place is a collection of edited creative responses to Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s solo exhibition of the same name, presented at Michaelis Galleries from 23 August to 21 September 2018. Designed by Simnikiwe Buhlungu and printed by Victoria Wigzell, the publication includes poetic interpretations by Makhosazana Xaba and Toni Stuart, as well as essays by interdisciplinary art practitioners Thulile Gamedze, Amie Soudien, Philiswa Lila, Bonolo Kavula and Refilwe Nkomo.
The title refers to a statement made by South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education and Training in October 2015. This was an official response to the student protests that rocked universities and colleges: “It is a challenge, but I wouldn’t call it a crisis,” the minister had said. “A crisis implies that the situation is so bad that there are no mechanisms to deal with it. There are mechanisms in place.”
After this speech, Sunstrum became interested in how this statement evoked the historical mechanisms that were established to “deal with” student uprising, and that they are still “in place”.
“We sought to reveal the layers of meaning-making and what happens when creative practitioners respond to each other’s work.”
“With this creative publication, we were aiming to explore the possibility of having a book that is multilingual, [and] includes sound, illustrations, poetry [and] visual essays alongside academic essays,” said the authors. “By doing this, we sought to reveal the layers of meaning-making and what happens when creative practitioners respond to each other’s work. We sought to critically experiment with form and format to push the perceived limits of our disciplines, and ultimately to place our disciplines into the fluidities of lived experience.”
They added: “We appreciate that there are platforms such as the NIHSS that enable innovative ways of thinking and support the integration of transformative scholarship in society.”
In her foreword to the 2021 awards catalogue, NIHSS chief executive officer, Professor Sarah Mosoetsa, wrote: “In an age where social media memes and reality television shows have become the order of the day, it is invigorating to find both breadth and depth in the intellectual creativity of South Africa’s literary and arts landscape. The entries for the 2021 Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Awards: Book, Creative and Digital Contribution are testimony to the dynamism of our country’s authors, artists, poets and performers.
“Most importantly, these works do not exist in splendid isolation at one end of a literary and artistic continuum, appealing only to a niche and ever-shrinking audience. Far from it. These are works with the potential to be appreciated by a wide and diverse range of readers, listeners and viewers – if only they were aware of the treasures awaiting their discovery.”
“In the HSS Awards, we deliberately and consciously make space for new stories, new voices and new narratives.”
Professor Mosoetsa added: “In the HSS Awards, we deliberately and consciously make space for new stories, new voices and new narratives. The nine categories of awards traverse the spectrum of creative expression – from various forms of the written word to the magic of music, timbre of voices, versatility of the human body and the transformative power of the visual arts, physical or virtual.”
Quoting Dr Blade Nzimande, the minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, she said that the institute looked to the country’s social scientists, philosophers, historians, artists and musicians to “help us to rebuild our sense of nationhood, our independence, and our ability to take our place proudly in the community of nations”.
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