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Reviewed by:
  • Finding Voice: a Visual Arts Approach to Engaging Social Change by Kim S. Berman
  • Andrew Kettler
Berman, Kim S. 2017. FINDING VOICE: A VISUAL ARTS APPROACH TO ENGAGING SOCIAL CHANGE. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Finding Voice: A Visual Arts Approach to Engaging Social Change concentrates on pedagogies that promote democracy in South Africa. Kim S. Berman’s autobiographical analysis of political influence through visual aesthetics argues for elevating practice within critical theory discussions, specifically desiring a deeper engagement between academics and South African populations, especially in the wake of the Fallist protests of 2015, which filled the streets with demonstrations for free education. Reading broadly from Paolo Freire, Arjun Appadurai, and Marshall Ganz, Berman suggests that activists can more adeptly create democratic change when they pay attention to local customs. Finding Voice is therefore an important contribution for those hoping to understand arts education in local communities.

Berman offers fresh pathways for applying arts education to political discourse throughout the Global South. With expansive goals, Berman examines the remarkable resilience of South African women artists as a telling example of engaging broader debates on the role of local arts in advancing critical theory. Berman critiques academics who often rely on theory in their analyses of democratic progress while rarely examining the failures of models due to unforeseen interactions with local customs. Following Paul Feyerabend in Against Method (1993), Berman consequently suggests that scholars and activists retain spaces for adaptation in the space between theory and practice.

Berman’s personal efforts in South Africa began in 1991, when with Nhlanhla Xaba she established Artist Proof Studio (APS). In the wake of apartheid, the South African political structure was eager to offer funding to expand democracy within the public sphere. The collaborative goals of APS meant expanding these forms of democracy by appealing to the inherent reciprocity and interconnectedness of aesthetic work. Closely linked with numerous arts organizations around Johannesburg, APS rose to prominence by following South African traditions of ubuntu, or humaneness. For twenty-seven years of postapartheid South Africa, APS has been supporting local arts communities.

Finding Voice explores the generative power of death through an analysis of how APS changed after a 2003 fire destroyed its original home and took Xaba’s life. In the wake of this disaster, Berman describes how the organization created new models for appealing to the government. These models [End Page 106] included the often gendered importance of sending artists into communities to create webs of influence through critical workshops. The new models were applied to navigate through the often collage-like funding, research, and pedagogical strategies that Berman and her organization applied in the later creation of Phumani Paper, a locally motivated arts organization focused on AIDS education.

Phumani Paper, linking APS further with the University of Johannesburg and the South African government, expanded out of the idea of paper prayers as similar to the AIDS quilt in the United States, offering emotional content to help overcome the stigma associated with AIDS disclosures. To explore the efficacy of APS and Phumani Paper, Berman offers microhistorical examples of individual artists’ successes and failures. Out of the difficulties that Phumani Paper has met in working with the South African government, Berman displays how agency can emerge from the survival mechanisms that arise out of forced adaptability. Through a brief systems-theory analysis of Phumani Paper, she shows the positives and negatives of arts education by focusing on questions of sustainability and culture, whereby the conditions of local communities are vital to understanding the survival of artistic institutions. These summaries provide a way to engage questions of poverty alleviation, as the organization uses different forms of rural waste in making paper products.

Berman’s work expands on the importance of finding spaces for arts education related to the role of women in developing countries. Where unemployment is high, especially for women in rural communities, arts education can help instill pride in individuals. Berman reads these forms of expanding individualism through different phases of the establishment of Cultural Action for Change, a four-year research program that focused on mixed-media personal messaging for educators in establishing Phumani Paper workshops. Finding Voice highlights...


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pp. 106-107
Launched on MUSE
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