CAA News Today

Judy Peter is head of the Department of Jewellery Design and Manufacture at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and a 2012 participant in the CAA-Getty International Program.

In 2012, I was one of twenty international art historians from developing countries who received a travel grant funded by the Getty Foundation to attend the CAA Annual Conference in Los Angeles. One of the objectives of the CAA-Getty International Program is to encourage and strengthen conversations between developing countries about the commonality, diversity, and parallel histories in the discursive field of visual culture. To this end, Cristian Nae, a participant from Romania, and I conceptualized the research project “Between Democracies 1989–2014: Remembering, Narrating, and Reimagining the Past in Eastern and Central Europe and Southern Africa” (EESA). This transnational collaboration brings together scholars and artists from Eastern and Central Europe and South Africa, and draws from their cultural and disciplinary diversities and cohesions to contribute to the generation of knowledge.

Over the past three years, the EESA project has expanded to include conveners, curators, and institutions. Ljiljana Kolesnik from the Institute of Art History in Zagreb, Croatia, collaborated on the project until May 2015; Karen von Veh, a 2013 CAA-Getty program alumnus from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, was included as a convener and curator for the project in 2013; and Richard Gregor, a 2013 CAA-Getty program participant from the Dom umenia/Kunsthalle Bratislava in the Slovak Republic, joined the project as a curator in 2013.


In 1994, new ideological and political shifts in South Africa were entrenched by a neoliberal democracy. Postapartheid South Africa was initially marked by nation-building strategies such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, idealistic notions of the Rainbow Nation, and the African Renaissance, all of which functioned as vehicles to grapple with the social constructions of identities in a new South Africa. These strategies reflected a rationalization of the postcolonial recovery with a sense of self and place, and they were premised on the assumptions of interchange, mixing, inter/transculturations, hybridity, and creolization. The realities of postcolonial negotiations eroded this naïve enthusiasm, however, and South African art is still located in unresolved identities and remains in search of a recovery of self. Many artists also continue their artistic practices of the “struggle years” by employing forms of activism or social commentary to highlight the ongoing inequalities that have not been erased with the removal of the old regime.

Regarding Eastern and Central Europe, Nae states: “East and Central Europe also emerged from a totalitarian regime twenty-five years ago with the demise of socialism. The collapse of the Berlin Wall prompted a reimagining of the formerly divided Europe on the grounds of different political imagined realities, economies, and bio-political regimes. Artists and curators revisited the logic of modernity and explored its unrealized possibilities, while at the same time questioning contested territorial marks and processes of un-belonging. In relation to temporality, issues of identity and reconstruction of the private and the collective selves became central themes in the recently unmarked and de-territorialised territorialized places of the ‘former East’. Thus, the question of coping with the socialist past and its heritage has been an important political issue in much of the art after 1989, overlapping issues of gender, ethnicity, class, and national belonging.”[1]

The EESA project consists of exhibitions, conferences, roundtable discussions, and peer-reviewed publications. Participants have presented, published, and curated texts and artworks, raising questions about how, why, and when the theoretical and artistic practices of these nations respond to the constructs of place and political disruption, memory and commemoration, transforming ideologies, and new contexts of acculturation. The project has considered to what extent an existing critical methodology, informed by postcolonial theory, psychoanalysis, and post-Marxist theory, contributes to understanding these discursive constructions. It also questions whether new interpretive principles should be envisioned in order to deal with a comparative perspective, with the internal disparities inhabiting these imaginary geographies.

At the 2016 CAA Annual Conference in Washington DC, Nae, von Veh, Gregor, and I will lead a roundtable discussion on these issues with the new group of CAA-Getty International Program participants. It will take place in advance of the EESA group’s second annual conference in September 2016 in Bratislava. Not only has this collaborative project enlarged our understanding of regional comparisons in a postcolonial world, but we hope it will provide a model for future cross-cultural projects among CAA members.

[1] Cristian Nae, email message to author, 2013.

Filed under: International