Art History provides humanity with evidence of its triumphs and follies; the latter always in hindsight and full of violence, suffering, and pain. From the antebellum plantation mansions looming upon laboring slaves in the Deep South to the internment camps in Auschwitz that gassed Jews, architecture stands as a concrete witness to our collective loss, shame, and ignorance. This is also the case in South Africa whose system of racial segregation from 1948 to the 1990s called apartheid was instituted by those in power (i.e., minority white population) upon the Black Africans, colored people, and Asian South Africans, engendering political, economic, and social division and inequity, as well as death through its oppressive policies. Rather than occurring overnight like the erection of the Berlin Wall, apartheid’s wheels were set in motion under Dutch and then British rule. By the early and late 20th century, the incarceration of Indian civil rights activist Mahatma Gandhi and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela, among others, at the military fort and prison-turned-museum in Johannesburg was inevitable. This architecture of brutality presents itself as a mirror for all, the raison d’etre of the Global Engagement Travel Grant 2018-2019 that Dr. Pearlie Rose S. Baluyut (Art Department) received from the SUNY Oneonta Global Engagement Office directed by Dr. Vernon Larson.
Designed to broaden students’ global perspectives, increase student engagement, strengthen student-faculty international research and creative activities, and promote and support global connectedness at SUNY Oneonta, Dr. Baluyut took four of her Art History students to an all-expense-paid trip to Johannesburg, South Africa during Spring Break from March 3 to 10, 2019. With the expert facilitation of Dr. Alison Kearney—host faculty and collaborator who previously visited SUNY Oneonta to give a Curator Talk in Dr. Baluyut’s ARTH 218 (Art of the 20th Century) course in Fall 2018—at the University of Witwatersrand (or Wits University) where Mandela once studied, this travel provided the students with a critical and humbling view of a global landscape filled with lessons and opportunities.
Working closely with the Wits University host students Boitumelo Molalugi, Kundai Moyo, and Lesole Tauatswala, SUNY Oneonta student Xavier Neal-Carson, Quwabe Rose, Kaitlin Scott, and Laressa Tuch were able to develop a greater understanding of identity politics, social justice, and human rights through art and creative research and applied-service learning activities at the Wits University, Wits Art Museum, and Play Africa, a non-profit community organization that serves families and children from disadvantage backgrounds. Moreover, the students visited the Apartheid Museum and were taken on a behind-the-scene curatorial tour of Constitution Hill (the court, prison cells, and art gallery), both of which preserve the ‘architecture of brutality’ and, at the same time, aspire towards South Africa’s rebuilding on a stronger democratic foundation through adaptive reuse. With first-hand knowledge and an unforgettable international experience, the American and South African students are in a better position to serve as advocates of mutual cooperation and catalysts of global (ex)change to ensure a kinder future for themselves and the generations to come.