What work is good work?

Updated: 6 days ago

It’s a really hot day in Johannesburg. I’m at Melville library. I am sitting in these seminars at Michaelis for postgraduate presentations. On one hand its fascinating to see what other people are working on. And truly inspiring to see young people coming into the art world who come from all sorts of cultural backgrounds. Indeed, it seems that that’s the most exciting thing that happens in these meetings. Listening to people’s stories about how they grew up, how they operate and how these things can be incorporated into their work. And of course, some of these artists will become successful going by Michaelis’ track record. What bugs me is how over intellectualized some of the discourse around this work is. Of course, I understand that artists pick up this jargon because this is a requirement of the university. But I keep thinking back to what influenced me to want to become an artist. I love the history of art and I’m excited by how all those moments of the development of visual arts has led to this moment. But I’m less excited by where art might go given the current condition.

Most of the meetings I have been in whether it’s been as a lecturer, audience member or a student, has been to put it plainly quite tedious. I wonder how old masters would react if they could be flies on the wall. The artists that we admire today can’t have spent majority of their time academically pushing and pulling in all directions in order to try and justify their work. Sure, much of this discourse is informative and you do stumble across some quite radical and exciting thinkers like Shamil this afternoon who using the Undercommons by Moten and Harney, and I suspect supervision by George and Portia who are also my supervisors, really came at the status quo of these meetings in a refreshing way. He seemed to come into it with a slight sense of an inferiority complex which I recognize but champions the idea of the subversive intellectual which was picked up on by Nobukho Nqaba who’s politeness seems to place us back into the structure at which Shamil was directing his aggressions. This tension and the silence of the white lecturers who operate as gatekeepers since I myself was an undergrad, is palpable.

Again, his presentation which was made exciting because of his enthusiasm and freshness, was scrutinized and indeed coerced in the direction of everyone else. Placing him back in the subjugated position that he identified as problematic. He’s essentially told that the structures that he wants to challenge have already been challenged, but that he should then do what he’s told. I felt actual anger at this moment, because I have been in this position. This frustrated condition in which one feels as though the work they are making is deemed as not good enough. Yet it is work. One wakes up and works, rigorously, passionately but is told this is not good enough.

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