The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has been awarded a total of approximately R9.3 Million Rand (US$657 000) in grants by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for two Projects in the College of Humanities.
The first institutional project, in the category of International Higher Education and Strategic Projects (IHESP) entitled Humanizing Space: Towards an African Spatial Humanities, was awarded US$ 599,000 (R8.5 Million). This project on spatial mapping will be implemented over a five year period.
The Principal Investigator (PI) of the Project is Academic Leader of Research in the School of Social Sciences, Professor Maheshvari Naidu (Anthropology) while the Co-PI is Professor Ernest Khalema, the Dean and Head of the School of Built Environment and Development Studies.
The second project with a grant value of $58 000 (R830 000), entitled Promoting African Scholarship through Arts, will be implemented over a three year period to support artists in residencies. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation sent out a general call for artists in residencies programme. UKZN applied and won the grant for its submission.
The Principal Investigator of the second project is Professor Nobuhle Hlongwa, the interim Dean of the School of Arts. She will be assisted by Co-PI Professor Nogwaja Zulu, also in the School of Arts. The two grant winning research proposals were coordinated by Professor Stephen Mutula, former acting DVC for the College, who served as team leader for the various research teams working on the Mellon grant calls in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
The project by Naidu and Khalema on spatial mapping, will bring together humanistic and geo-science scholars to engage in a robust interdisciplinary approach using quantitative geographic data. The Project aligns to the UKZN institutional research Flagships of ‘Social Cohesion’ and ‘African Cities’.
It brings together scholars from the disciplines of Anthropology, Architecture, Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Music/Drama, Philosophy and Sociology as well as external collaborators. In this project, Geo-spatial data of selected urban sites will be captured, analysed and, accessed via open source interactive digital maps that are simultaneously qualitatively narrativized.
The Project capitalizes on a ‘digital present’ where the critical use of spatial methodologies and technologies is linked to virtual (and real) dimensions of social, economic, political, and spatial realities, as well as cultural and artistic narratives. ‘Besides, digital innovations offer new ways of modelling the way we relate to others and to the world as virtual entities in a digitized context. We are immensely excited by this opportunity to engage in new and innovative work that will signal a step change and break new ground in the Humanities,’ said Naidu.
The Project will facilitate the creation of a Spatial Humanities ‘Hub’ at UKZN, for the establishment of a dynamic cohort of inter-disciplinary Spatial Humanities Researchers, Post-Doctoral Fellows and Post Graduate students. Part of the work of the Project will be to inaugurate a new Masters and Doctoral Specialisation in Spatial Humanities, alongside doing active research in GIS and digital mapping and creating an archive of cultural atlases of the sites selected.
The researchers envisage Spatial Humanities, with a focus on African context, will become part of the intellectual branding of UKZN and act to attract a cohort of postgraduates looking to work in new and pioneering methodologies in the Humanities involving big data and GIS technologies.
The second project by Hlongwa and Zulu sees African cultures as occupying a geo-political space that gives expressions to art forms of different identities, but being equally dynamic. It aims to transform the colonial history of art forms that once essentialised around colonial race, class, ethnic and gender identities. The project counters these colonial identities by creating alternative art forms that are transformative and thus empower students, staff and community.
The project also envisages the “Artist in Residency” programme as a way for UKZN to extend knowledge production outside of the boundaries and limitations of historical understanding of scholarship as researchers move into contemporary praxis-led research, and growing the understating that critical arts production is/can be scholarship.
It will provide opportunities for artists at universities, to strengthen relations between universities and the arts as well as between the arts and cultural institutions. The project, will support black African artists in residence, to interact academically and socially on campus with lecturers and students of the arts at the University.
Professors Naidu, Khalema, Hlongwa and Zulu acknowledged that the Grant award was made possible by the leadership of Mutula and the respective dedicated teams on the two projects. The University Management expressed its appreciation to the Mellon Foundation and pledged its ‘full support to the current and prospective projects’.