A groundbreaking book that offers a reflective account of a pertinent aspect of institutional transformation at Stellenbosch University (SU) was launched during a webinar on Tuesday (27 July 2021).
The book entitled Evoking transformation: Visual redress at Stellenbosch University was co-edited by Prof Aslam Fataar, a research professor in SU’s Transformation Office, and Prof Elmarie Costandius, an associate professor in Visual Arts at SU. It contains chapters by a number of stakeholders who have been doing important work in the area of visual redress at the University, including Dr Leslie van Rooi, senior director of Social Impact and Transformation, and Prof Nico Koopman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel.
In the book, “visual redress” refers to processes involving changes in SU’s visual environment and culture to promote restitution, inclusivity and institutional cohesion. “Visual culture”, in turn, relates to activities undertaken to change SU’s symbols, names, statues and institutional spaces. It also refers to the development of new visual symbols and icons that represent the “zeitgeist of democratic change” on the University’s campuses.
At the launch, Fataar, who is also a professor in SU’s Department of Education Policy Studies, said the book specifically focused on the period 2015 to 2021, which “witnessed the institutionalisation of visual redress” at SU. “We argue that the visual redress on our campuses during this period holds lessons for a praxis of visual culture activity, and that such a praxis is the outcome of inclusive and, at times, very difficult yet deliberate and constructive dialogue,” he said.
Prof Wim de Villiers, Rector and Vice-Chancellor at SU, said the book was a timely and very necessary publication that offered broad insight into and reflections on how we engage with the physical spaces we occupy. “It is important to remember that visual transformation and related activities in the visual culture domain of the University take place against the backdrop of an institutional history of more than 150 years, which depicted an Afrikaner identity founded on a history of colonial segregation and apartheid.
“And that is why the title of the book – Evoking transformation – is so interesting. The definition of ‘evoke’ is to recall a feeling, memory or image to the conscious mind. Once you are consciously thinking about something, it means you can act on it. It doesn’t just happen by means of good intentions. It requires action. And this publication, I believe, tracks those actions; it creates a context for the history of how our University campuses have developed, and reflects on the pertinent aspect of institutional transformation.”
De Villiers said restitution was a major component of the University’s strategy and had been explicitly included in its Vision 2040 and Strategic Framework 2019–2024, which acknowledges SU’s “inextricable connection with generations past, present and future”. “In our centenary year in 2018, the University celebrated its many successes and achievements, but simultaneously also acknowledged its contribution to the injustices of the past. We apologised unreservedly to the communities and individuals who were excluded from historical privileges, and we honoured the critical voices of the time who would not be silenced. We also acknowledged our responsibility to current and future generations, and committed ourselves unconditionally to the ideal of an inclusive world-class university in and for Africa. Visual redress forms a significant part of that commitment to inclusivity, and this publication is proof of how far we’ve come, but also how far we still need to go.”
Dr Bernadette Judith Johnson, director of the Transformation and Employment Equity Office at the University of the Witwatersrand, described Evoking transformation as a seminal book on reflective praxis. “As I read through the book, I realised that it helped me to reflect on the work of transformation, and what I and others in the higher education sector should be doing in relation to transformation. We must learn from this as we continuously engage with our praxis,” she said.
Evoking Transformation: Visual Redress at Stellenbosch University is published by African Sun Media.