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Title: The political house of art : the South African National Gallery, 1930-2009
Author: Hahn, Catherine Neville
ISNI:       0000 0004 5993 4772
Awarding Body: Goldsmiths, University of London
Current Institution: Goldsmiths College (University of London)
Date of Award: 2016
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The thesis analyses modes of representation in the South African National Gallery (SANG) between 1930 and 2009. Built in 1930, for the larger part of its history SANG was situated in a white state that disenfranchised the black populace. Whiteness, as citizenship, was normalised and glorified in the state’s museums. Analysis of evidence collected from the archive, décor, art collection, exhibitions, attendance of walking tours and semi-structured interviews with staff demonstrates that SANG’s historic practice does not fit neatly within the dominant theoretical understanding of the art museum, namely a sacred space in which power has been obscured through the ‘art for art’s sake’ model. Instead, the thesis finds at SANG invisible symbolic capital resided alongside the more muscular capital of the colony, which derived its strength from an overt relationship with commerce, politics and race. The thesis further finds that SANG developed a close relationship with its white audience through its construction as a ‘homely space’. As a consequence, I argue SANG developed museological conventions that better fit the analogy of the political house than the temple. Taking new museum ethics into consideration, the thesis examines how SANG’s distinctive heritage impacted on its ability to be inclusive. My fieldwork on recent representational practice at SANG reveals strategies congruent with the post-museum, including performative political exhibitions, diversification of the collection and active dialogue with the communities it seeks to serve. At the same time embedded modes of white cultural representation were identified that restricted its capacity to ‘move-on’. The thesis contributes to the field of museum studies by drawing attention to the significance of the individual histories of art institutions in determining their ability to make change. The thesis also contributes to the field of visual sociology by presenting images and ‘map-making’ as an integral feature of the research design.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral