The Politics of Ornament: Articulations of Identity in South African Architecture,

Federico Freschi

Executive Dean, Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture, University of Johannesburg

Friday, the 16 th  of October 2015, at 16:00,
Auditorium, Umeå School of Architecture

In this lecture, based on a body of published research conducted over the past decade, I focus on the 'official' imagining, in architectural terms, of the South African nation state at three significant moments in its history: the pro-British imperialist coalition government of the 1930s, the Afrikaner Nationalist republic of the 1960s, and the post-Apartheid government of the 1990s. In particular, I consider the extent to which the decorative programmes of significant public buildings associated with these various governments resonate with questions of national identity and the construction of an imaginary of national belonging. I thus make a case for the implicit 'politics of ornament'; that is, to show the importance of the decorative programmes of public buildings in expressing (or being a gauge for) nationalist sentiment, and their functions as a political instrument. I argue that a critical awareness of the implicit politics of ornament can significantly complicate our readings of the nature and function of public architecture and public spaces.

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 Fedrico Portrait

Prof Federico Freschi, PhD (Wits), BA Hons (UCT) BAFA (Wits)

Appointed Executive Dean and Full Professor in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture in January 2013, Prof Freschi has been involved in the arts and academia for most of his professional life.  He began his academic career as a lecturer in history of design at what was then the Cape Technikon (now the Cape Peninsula University of Technology), and taught subsequently at the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch, and the University of the Witwatersrand, where he was until recently an Associate Professor of history of art.  He has taken occasional breaks from academia to work briefly as a researcher and consultant in human resources, and more recently as Executive Manager and Senior Curator of the Goodman Gallery, Cape Town.

In his PhD thesis, Prof Freschi considered the political iconography of South African public buildings in the 1930s in relation to the political tensions between nationalism and imperialism at the time.  As an ongoing research project, the scope of this work has subsequently expanded to encompass post-Second World War as well as post-apartheid public architecture and the extent to which the decorative programmes of public buildings are imbricated in the construction of imaginaries of national belonging.  A secondary line of research has been into the construction of the canon of modern South African art, and more recently how the art market is implicated in this.  He has published a number of papers and book chapters on these and other subjects, and is frequently invited to speak as a guest lecturer and/or panelist in national and international forums, and to present conference papers locally and abroad.