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Prof Elmarie Costandius honoured with TAU Fellows Award
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing (Hannelie Booyens)
Published: 22/09/2023

​One of the academics who has been instrumental in initiating Stellenbosch University's (SU) visual redress process over the past few years, Prof Elmarie Costandius of the Department of Visual Arts, has recently been unanimously selected for the Teaching Advancement at Universities (TAU) Fellows Award for 2023. 

The TAU Fellowship Programme is a nationwide intervention that was initiated in 2015. It aims to advance teaching quality and the professionalisation of teaching and learning in the public higher education sphere. 

TAU is funded through the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and endorsed by the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA). 

In a letter informing Costandius of the TAU award, she is commended for eloquently articulating her philosophical and theoretical orientations, which are informed by post-humanism, relational thinking, and embodied learning. “You are also commended for articulating your praxis, which is compelling, relevant, and embodied. You have moved beyond established theoretical traditions and use the work of African thinkers without dismissing traditional theorists. Through your approach of visual redress, you show commitment to addressing social justice, from a perspective of possibility and not a deficit perspective. Your work transcends your discipline, and, as a thought leader, you are quietly attempting to change the dominant discourse in higher education, particularly at your University." 

The recognition of her work is a huge honour, Costandius says. “I am proud of how my work developed from student projects on the Rooiplein, to the MA Visual Art (Art Education) course that focused on critical citizenship, and then to the visual redress project and now the embodied practices for the Shared Humanity co-curriculum learning experiences." 

The visual redress project developed from the critical citizenship master's course and student projects to create a welcoming learning space for students, Costandius explains. 

“I started to include critical citizenship into my course since 2010. I believe it is through the combination of theory and practice that new understandings and insights emerge. I believe that mind-body learning is the most effective way to learn." 

This approach further evolved in 2013 when she decided to move projects outside the studio to engage students and communities on and around campus in social justice-related projects. The concept of visual redress spontaneously developed when a group of students did a project on Women's Day in 2013 called “Eva, Sprout, Grow, Blossom", which addressed the absence of women statues on campus. After this project, the term “visual redress" became a concept that was used in various projects that aimed to decolonise spaces and make the campus a welcoming space for all students.  

The visual redress project is not only focused on physically transforming the space, but also on encouraging critical dialogue and awareness, Costandius emphasises. 

Spearheading visual redress initiatives at SU 

In 2017 Costandius wrote a Visual Redress Plan that was presented to the University management, and institutional funding was made available for the project. During the student protest in 2015/'16, she asked a master's student, with fellow students from the Open Stellenbosch movement, to conceptualise new artworks for the campus. The Circle sculptures of women on campus resulted from that request and was implemented in 2019 with institutional funding. Benches with welcoming messages in 16 South African languages and dialects were also added to the main square on the Rooiplein.

“I have personally grown a lot during the visual redress project through engaging with students and communities and learning about their needs, fears, and struggles. It is a wonderful experience to be part of a changing university," Costandius says.   

“During the last three years, while implementing the visual redress projects, I again realised that it is not enough to work on the visual aspects; it is important to also include learning experience. Instead of asking artists to create artworks on campus, I work with students, staff and community members using art-based methodologies to create artworks and work through processes to change the names of buildings and places on campus.  

“The creative process becomes a “boundary object" to enhance learning instead of only using direct verbal or written means of learning. Involving communities around the campus to collaboratively create and innovate also breaks down the historical and current divisions between participants. I moved the focus of the visual redress project to create artworks not only with community members for campus, but also with communities around campus, specifically areas such as Kayamandi, Cloetesville and Idas Valley." 

Costandius believes we can learn from indigenous practitioners when it comes to relational mind-body practices as well as contemporary new materialist perspectives on anti-Western worldviews of non-relational and dualist thinking. “Immersive embodied practices have the potential to assist in decolonising the body-mind, which could enhance teaching and learning practices. Social justice education does not happen through rote learning, and alternative educational practices need to be explored to further learning processes," Costandius stresses. 

Academic excellence 

Costandius studied information design at the University of Pretoria and later completed a master's degree in visual arts at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. She also holds a master's from the University of the Western Cape and in 2012 she earned her PhD in curriculum studies at SU.  

She has made significant contributions to academia, supervising a total of 51 master's and eight PhD students, with ongoing supervision of eight master's and four PhD students. She has an impressive publication record, with eight edited books, 13 book chapters, and 42 journal articles in both local and international journals. Additionally, she has been a prolific presenter at 71 conferences worldwide. 

Her dedication to academic service is evident through her 28 external examiner roles and 19 journal article reviews for local and international journals. She has managed 14 research projects, securing substantial funding amounting to R12 558 000. Importantly, her research funding has supported 23 students with bursaries totalling R3 725 000. 

She has received multiple teaching awards, and she chaired the Arts and Social Sciences Social Impact Committee for three years. She currently serves on the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Transformation and Institutional Visual Redress committees. Her extensive international research connections span institutions in Brazil, Italy, Belgium, Nigeria, Egypt, Cameroon, and Sweden, encompassing diverse fields such as visual redress, sustainable design, social impact, and critical citizenship.  

  • Costandius will receive the TAU Fellows Award at the HELTASA conference scheduled for October 24 to 26 October at the North-West University's  Vanderbijlpark Campus, where she will deliver a presentation on her work.