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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