FIELD Issue 17 Editorial
Editorial | Winter 2021
I am very happy to introduce FIELD’s seventeenth issue, which focuses on recent developments in socially engaged art in Africa. The vicissitudes of COVID and ongoing political disruptions have forced us to delay our publication schedule considerably, and this issue was originally planned for October 2020. As a result, we’ll only be planning for two issues this year rather than three. Nevertheless, we persist! This issue has been guest edited by Nomusa Makhubu and Carlos Garrido Castellano. Nomusa and Carlos are two important scholars of socially engaged art, with a particular focus on Africa and the Caribbean. Nomusa is an associate professor in Art History and Deputy Dean of Transformation in Humanities at the University of Cape Town. She co-edited a Third Text Special Issue, ‘The Art of Change,’ in 2013. She also co-curated (with Nkule Mabaso) the international exhibition Fantastic in 2015 and The stronger we become in 2019 for the 58th Venice Biennale in Italy. She was the recipient of the Prix du Studio National des Arts Contemporain, Le Fresnoy in 2014 and was an African Studies Association (ASA) Presidential fellow in 2016. Carlos is a Lecturer of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, coordinator of the BA in Portuguese Studies and co-convenor of the Languages and Cultures MA at University College Cork. His books include Beyond Representation in Contemporary Caribbean Art: Space, Politics and the Public Sphere (2019), Art Activism for an Anticolonial Future (forthcoming 2021) and Literary Fictions of the Contemporary Art System (forthcoming 2022).
It is, of course, impossible to produce a single journal issue, or even book, that can provide any real sense of the richness and complexity of socially engaged art practice across the African continent. This issue intends, rather, to provide a sample of representative projects, which give us some indication of the broader thematics and strategies at work in recent practices. Nomusa and Carlos have brought together a remarkable range of writers, artists and curators, and we would like to express our sincere gratitude to all of them for their generosity, time and insight. This is one of the most important areas of new scholarship in socially engaged art history and theory, and FIELD is delighted to host this research. This issue also features an interview with Iranian artist Saba Zavarei, who has developed an innovative body of work that engages in critiques of gender, state surveillance and public space. Saba is guest editing an upcoming issue of FIELD that will focus on socially engaged art in Iran and the Iranian diaspora. We present her research here to provide some context for that issue and to introduce her important work to our readership. I want to give a special thanks to Bria Dinkins, our FIELD Editorial Intern during the past summer and fall, who did an amazing job with this interview, and was an enormous help with the current issue as well. We wish Bria all the best of luck as she finishes her thesis work at Swarthmore. We are also preparing a follow up issue to FIELD #11 (“Documenta 14: Learning from Athens”) guest edited by Elpida Rikou, Eleana Yalouri and Apostolos Lampropoulos. In this issue Elpida, Eleana and Apostolos will provide a series of essays and reports that examine the ongoing work of “Learning from documenta” (LfD), a two-year research project devoted to the analysis of the impact of documenta 14 on artistic, cultural and sociopolitical developments in Greece. I write this introduction in the wake of an organized assault by neo-fascists and white supremacists on the United States Capital building, as part of an abortive coup attempt by our current President. These are perilous times in many parts of the world, associated with profound shifts in the ideological construction of class difference, race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender. It is in the nature of transformative historical moments that they are defined by both peril and opportunity. We dedicate this issue to those artists and groups, across the globe, who continue to try to seize these opportunities with courage and creativity.