TELLING AND RE-TELLING by sdsdfqw21

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									Paper presented by Jeff and Judy a International Print Making Conference. A
Multi-Disciplinary Perspective. Bristol. United Kingdom. 1999.
Please not that Border Technikon is now Walter Sizulu University.



                    TELLING AND RE-TELLING
          Bringing Community Narratives into Printmaking
             _____________________________________


Jeff Rankin: School of Applied Art, Border Technikon, East London, South Africa
 Judy Rankin: Psychology Dept., Rhodes University, East London, South Africa


This paper represents a coming together of two people inhabiting many
stories.The one is a wife, the other a husband (they are married); the one an
artist and printmaker, the other a narrative psychologist; they are both lecturers
in different but relating institutions; they share the same geographical area, the
same sociopolitical context, and (notably) similar cultural stories that have
dominated and marginalised other cultural stories.

In her work as a psychologist, the wife has a focus on healing at an individual
and community level; the husband is an artist and teacher who believes that art,
including the print, is a powerful medium that can promote the negotiation of new
stories in the lives of individuals and communities. In both cases, the individuals
and communities are experiencing dislocation as their cultural stories no longer
"make sense" in a rapidly transforming society.

They both love stories.They see the power of stories as organizing, maintaining
and circulating knowledge of ourselves and our worlds as we try to make sense
of reality. The artist and the psychologist here speak - although in different forms
- the same language.

They both believe that:

       " Stories inform life. They hold us together and keep us apart. We inhabit
       the great stories of our culture. We live through stories. We are lived by
       the stories of our race and place."
       (Mair 1988, in Freedman and Combs: 31.)

The conversations we are now sharing across our different disciplines are
becoming enriching as we see the applicability of adopting postmodern,
narrative and social constructionist worldviews to our work. The focus of this
presentation within the visual arts (more specifically printmaking) will be the
louder voice but, as we attempt to make sense of our life and work, the
commonalities of our understanding remain.

The paper aims to:
            * Discuss the context within which these ideas arise and the project
              that has emerged from conversations across disciplines and
                      institutions;
            * Outline the theoretical basis, implications and motivations of
                     adopting a narrative approach to the work;
            * Discuss the use of metaphor as a liberating and creative focus;
            * Highlight a unique aspect of the story telling process
            * Present the specific prospects of storytelling-into-printmaking.

Context
The Eastern Cape is one of the largest and poorest provinces in newly
constituted South Africa. It covers a large, mainly rural area of the previously
known homelands of the Ciskei and Transkei, occupied predominantly by
Xhosa-speaking people. Despite the rural nature of the province, the people with
their economic links to the cities and the political predominance of the ANC, are
undergoing rapid social change. Cultural practices are dynamically responding
to the change but there is always a concern about what may get lost in this
process.

For the past three years people have listened and told stories of pain through
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Many have experienced healing and
re-conciliation during this process. But apart from these stories in South Africa
there are other cultural tales, religious narratives, family stories, personal stories
that give value and meaning to people's lives as they try to make sense of their
particular and 'experience-near' contexts. The contexts are changing and the
stories are potentially re-authored in this dynamic process.

The School of Applied Art at Border Technikon in the city of East London was
established in 1994, with the founding principle of access for previously
disadvantaged students and potential artists. The aim was to provide the
opportunity for an art education that did not exclude students because of their
inability to draw in the classical or Renaissance style, that did not label this as
an "inferior artistic ability". This exclusion comes from a dominant story within
the world of art and art education, a situation which I have viewed as yet another
colonization, another domination of one story and the marginalization of others.
As part of removing this exclusive approach, we have also ingaged in the
complex debate around standards (which will not be the focus of this paper).

At the School of Applied Art, by adopting a narrative approach and by
encouraging the teaching and expression of art as a narrative activity, staff and
students become freed
from the dictates of one dominant story of how art should be done, for who, and
for what purpose or end.

 Implications and motivations for adopting a narrative approach.
In South Africa the reality and the power of the domination of one story over
others is well known. The consequences of the story of Apartheid and its "truths"
remain and will remain for some time. By adopting a post modern and social
constructionist view in the form of a narrative approach, we are invited to close
down universally applicable interpretations, and to celebrate diverse
expressions and interpretations.
This "postmodern turn" from the modern approach to knowledge is occuring in
all academic disciplines, and art (in terms of theory, expression, structure, form,
interpretation and teaching ) has not escaped this trend. To review the
postmodern view of reality and the role of art - or the print - in this context, we
can note that:

1. Realities are socially constructed.
Rules of how art should be done, by whom and for whom, is a product of the
particular time and place in history. There is no absolute way to measure or
interpret a work of art. The relationship between viewer, the art viewed and the
original story of the artist can never be fixed or in fact "known". These realities
will always be negotiated: the sense we make of this process between viewer
and viewed will always be dynamic and never absolute.

2. Realites are constitued through language.
There is no fixed reality and the language we use, the metaphors we use, the
marks on paper, the stories that are told, create reality through those mediums
of language rather than constitute a representation of a reality.

3. Realities are organised and maintained through narrative.
Our reality is multi-storied and we select aspects of lived experience, ignoring
others. When we are told stories or see stories in a visual form, we select certain
aspects that make sense to us and fit into our dominant narrative about life and
its meaning. The artist is a powerful example of how we select and choose to
represent certain images to create certain realities. The metaphors the artist
uses will be meaningful to his or her cultural and personal story.

4. There are no essential truths.
The stories we see and hear always exist in the space between the viewer and
viewed, the speaker and listener. The story is always co-constructed and never
represents an absolute truth that can be interpreted if we "know more". Personal
and cultural narratives help us to make sense of our lived experience, but one
can never "know" the meaning of a visual or spoken story.
These four points are the core elements of adopting a social constructionist and
narrative approach to the teaching of both theory and practice in the art school.
The importance of this approach, within the diverse context of our workplace, is
both exciting and critical to ensure that the domination and marginalization of
stories never again becomes the problem-saturated story of the South African
reality.

The story telling direction - with "uMfanekiso" a major component - was
conceived in this context, where stories are viewed as an important mediation of
experience in the context of rapid social change. By encouraging story telling by
the facilitation of story telling events it is hoped that families and communities,
through tellings and re-tellings, may re-discover how the rich meanings
generated by their stories add a richer description to their lives.

Metaphor as a Liberating and Creative Focus
As a means of bridging this combined presentation, it is useful to consider two
visual mataphors which capture the core of the project we are describing,
including our struggle to understand and negotiate its context:

1. The first image is of the vast encompassing arms of Mother Africa, as she
gathers up the efforts of reconciliation and renewal in the knowledge that - some
time in the unrushed future - her arms will inevitably have the whole concoction
in their hold. With all our histories, we are squirming and pushing and daring to
touch, until that time when the shoving is done and we submit to her warmth.

2.The second, shown in a slide and adapted from a political cartoon done some
years ago by the writer, is that of a personified Africa, questioning the context of
Art: in other words, what will we as art educators do in order to adapt and
contribute to a transforming South Africa?
(Rankin in Andrew & Rankin, 1993, p5).

As part of a new and path-seeking Fine Art course, with a constituency of
students who tend to question every move for historically understandable
reasons, we have participated in many stumblings and re-directions over the
past 5 years.
It is important to re-emphasize that our course was established (in 1994, the
year of South Africa's first democratic elections) specifically to provide access to
those in the area who were and still would be excluded from the study of Art and
Design.

One of our early decisions was to establish a working relationship with the
publishing industry in South Africa. This effort has been hampered by various
factors: the self-imposed convention that treats Fine Art as untouchable; the
external impression that Fine Artists lack the ability to "apply themselves"; the
commercial sterility which can characterize publishing work; and the plight of
many publishing companies in South Africa, who tend to rely on government
education contracts for their bread and butter. This reliance has brought with it
many foldings and retrenchments.

In retrospect, we were blinkered by our obsession with an "industrial"
connection. The development of the story telling project has revealed the
importance of maintaining an educational integrity (although our title "School of
Applied Art" will continue as an indicator of our focus). The story telling direction
itself, including "uMfanekiso", has also encountered various stumbling-blocks -
so, a couple of years down the line we find ourselves re-assessing its direction
and, to an extent, starting again.

One of the most significant - and predictable - stumbling-blocks has been the
temptation to become literal in the visual re-telling process. Part of the solution
has been our emphasis on visual metaphor, but this is compounded by the fact
that, generally, our students come to this course with little or no previous
experience of the visual arts. Compared to the entrenched European tradition of
many affluent students who are able to attend long-established art schools in the
main centres (after equally stable art courses at secondary school), the majority
of our students arrive in a state of creative innocence. In a recent research
project the writer explored this gulf between students; one of the project's
respondents, a lecturing colleague, illustrates the need for a radical rethink by
staff and students in the transition of our educational system:

       "...whereas often with these primitive people ... I think he is playing with
       the idea of primitiveness ... I am not saying that he is not coming from a
       primitive background ... he is not trying very hard to make it right..."
       (The respondent "Lucy" in Rankin, 1997: 42)

This takes us back to the Mother Africa metaphor: the "squirming and pushing
and daring to touch" is part of our encounter with innocence as we burrow into
her arms. In this encounter we have so far had many brushes with the issue of
standards, and these have been learning experiences which richly inform the
story telling project. We are constantly re-negotiating our course direction and
that of the project itself, having to both shed and hold on to different parts of our
collective conventions. In terms of broad backgrounds Davidson (1991) opens
the way for this meeting of cultures when he refers to African art works:


       "... we are looking at the outcome of ancient and most elaborate
       traditions. These [works are] not points of departure, but points of
       arrival ..." (Davidson, 1991: 435).
Given this background, it has been essential to explore directions which
establish common ground for the "teacher" and the "learner". A former colleague
in the city of Durban provides further ground for this exploration:

      "Our present landscape is one of great diversity. The city centre with its
      high-rise ... squatter camps ... vast imbalances between rich and poor
      tend to haunt the mind ... However, the diversity and imbalances are not
      as important as the fact that these diverse peoples are interdependent
      economically, ecologically and culturally. There is a network of
      relationships that undergirds our communal lives..."
                                          (Andrew in Andrew & Rankin, 1993, p4)

Since 1994 and the founding of our course, we have been trying use the
printmaking and other studios as a base, as common ground, for exploiting this
"network of relationships". Through the narrative approach, the practical contact
of the story telling project, and a focus on visual metaphor, we are discovering
the value of shared experience and personal empowerment.

Smith (1997) adds a cautionary insight into building these relationships, with
specific reference to the fact that the network is one based on African soil. She
writes of a fundamental fear which persists among South Africans on opposite
sides of the spectrum (ie. a negative view of diversity): on the one hand are
those who fear the lack of meaningful change; on the other are those whose fear
denies such change. Our course's growth has included this struggle, and the
same writer gives positive direction by saying that as part of our search for a
hitherto unknown place, we must acknowledge Africa as the dominant context
(Smith 1997: pp20-21). The image of Mother Africa's warm arms comes back
into view. In our particular case, this means acknowledging the need to tell all of
our stories to make sense of our diverse context.

Rather than going further into the principles, a practical example illustrates our
progress: a story which forms part of the exhibition for this conference, the story
told by Nombulelo who was once a labourer on a pineapple farm in the Eastern
Cape. This story was given as subject matter for a group of 2nd-year
Printmaking students. The story was chosen because it embraces the diversity
being explored by the project: a personal narrative and contemporary experience
coupled with suggestions of rural traditional practices within the family. In the
telling of her story, Nombulelo clearly goes through a critical reflection of her
experiences and of the people who allowed these things to happen.

The story offers a powerfully symbolic and metaphoric exploration, and we were
to learn how quickly students would respond to this direction. With minimal
introduction we were soon looking at drawings which employed rich symbolic
language. From students who had previously produced laborious (and often
intriguing) literal detail, we were suddenly seeing a unique and exciting use of
visual metaphor. For example:

      *A selfish mother and aunt are seen perched on a rooftop, dislodging the
      ladder on which the story teller is trying to reach them.

      *The mother appears as a huge calf, suckling from the teat of a cow half
      its size, who represents the story-teller

      *In the tradition of rural Africa, the teller is walking to her work, but she
      walks across a bed of upturned nails.

There are many other examples of this dynamic turnaround in the students'
thinking. They all point to the liberating and creative influence of metaphor
through the story-telling project, among a group of students who are taking this
step at a remarkably early stage given their educational disadvantage. I have
concentrated on student development, but only because of the clarity of this
example. It is critical to recognize that the narrative approach embraces staff
and students alike, and that the content of the course-work (sampled in the
exhibition of prints which accompanies this paper) is the result of a shared
exploration. As we experience the development of the narrative approach, we
share the realisation of our relationship-network. There is of course a political
aspect to this sharing and negotiation which is inevitable, painful and an
essential part of the relationship.

 A Highlight from the Story Telling Process
"uMfanekiso", the title given to an important component project of this story
telling development, is a collaboration which allows our Printmaking students to
take advantage of pooled resources. The title translates literally as "a picture
that shows", but also refers indirectly to metaphor. Aside from the School of
Applied Art at Border Technikon (the South African equivalent of a Polytech),
uMfanekiso has 3 other partners: the Psychology Department at Rhodes
University (dealing with researching and archiving the story telling process), the
Small Projects Foundation (an NGO which provides a project base), and the
Regional Educare Council (an NGO which offers its vast network of villages and
schools in the Eastern Cape).

Typically, these partners will either identify - or be asked by - a community group
who is interested in holding a story-telling session. This may vary from a very
organised and formal event, to the type of informal get-together which provided
the story of the pineapple farm. uMfanekiso members see to the recording of the
session on video, assist with the flow of proceedings, and interview the story-
tellers for research purposes. Transcriptions and translations of the telling, as
well as the video recording, are provided for the art students as soon as possible
after the event.
It was an event of the more formal type, at a community hall near the town of
Peddie, which revealed a fascinating aspect of the process, and one which may
be of particular significance for the printed image. After several hours of the
telling of only 3 stories (interspersed with dramatic re-enactments and silky
harmonies by a local male ensemble called the "Red Mambazo"), we returned to
home base where 2nd- and 3rd-year students produced many different
responses to the tales of ritual circumcision, forced marriage and the like.

About three months later, we returned as promised to the same venue near
Peddie, where the 3rd-year students, each in turn, displayed and spoke about
their visual work. This is the point where we realized the value of the project:
viewing the visual re-telling of their stories and listening to the artists'
descriptions, community members launched into a quite frantic addition to the
detail. On one piece, two hilltops in a landscape were seen as the traditional
barrier between home-family and marriage-family (with no prospect of return); on
another, the abduction of a young women for marriage brought back painful
memories of real experience, and so on.

The presentation of images gave people the confidence to speak out, to relate
their own pain or memory, and to take the telling process a step further. In the
case of the print, which as yet we have not taken to this point, there is clearly the
advantage of the multiple edition in terms of distribution and appreciation of the
print as a unique form of image-making. The distribution answers our primary
need for feedback and re-telling; the appreciation deals with the valuable by-
product of visual literacy (in the fine print and fine art context)

The exhibition which accompanies this paper shows more recent responses to
the narrative direction in general, and to storytelling-into-printmaking in
particular. The language of voice, the rich oral tradition of the Eastern Cape
province, now sees the development of its visual counterpart through the print.
And in the visual form, we are emphasizing symbol and metaphor as a vital part
of the language.



Story Telling Into Printmaking: The Prospects
We have only scratched at the surface, so to speak, of this particular application
of the fine print. There is of course, a rich history of the print being a vehicle for
people's stories. We could question the relevance of this aged tradition given
that we speak in the last year of the millenium, at the threshold of the 21st
century; but the question would be incomplete if we don't locate it
geographically. When this context is added, the challenge of electronic media
and global communication takes second place to the need for access to cultural
celebration, and to the rich visual language of the fine print. In South Africa and
the continent as a whole, the visual arts is one of the lifelines which is being
used to enrich the process of cultural renewal. In this context printmaking is an
important player, and as part of this story telling project it promises to play a
pivotal role.

We have seen students, at the earliest level of their course, take the easy step
from drawing to lino, wood, etching or lithograph. What has helped with this is
the fact that they are negotiating their way with their own stories. Part of the
"ease" seems to be that the changing character of the mark (depending on the
medium of choice) adds to the richness of the narrative. The results at this early
stage, and the promise of this project in the future, reflect the magic of the
stories we are hearing and seeing.
.
  _______________________________________________________________
                                          _



References:

Andrew, R. & Rankin, J. S. 1993: The Bridge ... 5 Years Later.(Paper presented
at the Conference: "Design Education for Developing Countries") Design
Institute: Durban.

Davidson, B. 1991: African Civilization Revisited. Africa World Press: New
Jersey.

Freedman, J. & Combs, G. 1996: Narrative Therapy. The social construction of
preferred realities. Norton and Company: New York, London

Rankin, J. S. 1997: Contextualising Evaluation - A Case for Transition in Art and
Design Education in a Contemporary South African Context. Master's Research
Thesis, University of Stellenbosch.

Smith, C. 1997: " 'All-embracing Africanism' not a contradiction in terms".
Weekly Mail & Guardian. Johannesburg: July 4 to 10.
Core elements of adopting a social constructionist and narrative
approach to the teaching of both theory and practice in the art
school:


1. Realities are socially constructed.
             Rules of how art should be done, by whom and for whom, is a
product of              the particular time and place in history. There is no
absolute way to              measure or interpret a work of art. The relationship
between viewer, the               art viewed and the original story of the artist
can never be fixed or in fact                   "known". These realities will
always be negotiated: the sense we make of                     this process
between viewer and viewed will always be dynamic and never
      absolute.

2. Realites are constitued through language.
              There is no fixed reality and the language we use, the metaphors
we use,                   the marks on paper, the stories that are told, create
reality through those              mediums of language rather than constitute a
representation of a reality.

3. Realities are organised and maintained through
narrative.
               Our reality is multi-storied and we select aspects of lived
experience,                ignoring others. When we are told stories or see stories
in a visual form,             we select certain aspects that make sense to us and
fit into our                  dominant narrative about life and its meaning. The
artist is a powerful          example of how we select and choose to represent
certain images to             create certain realities. The metaphors the artist uses
will be meaningful            to his or her cultural and personal story.

4. There are no essential truths.
               The stories we see and hear always exist in the space between the
viewer               and viewed, the speaker and listener. The story is always
co-constructed               and never represents an absolute truth that can be
interpreted if we
               "know more". Personal and cultural narratives help us to make
sense of                  our lived experience, but one can never "know" the
meaning of a visual or      spoken story.

								
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