The project common life was conceived of by the ungovernable, an art and society project based in Johannesburg. It looks to learn from a number of arts initiatives around Africa that are dedicated to exploring the intersections between art practice and society - through amalgamating community life and artistic practice. Each arts initiative does this in very different ways, and deals with very different forms of creative practice, however they are all committed to a practice that is very grounded in its context, engages with African principles of ubuntu (or African humanism) and creativity. Overlayed in pink, over this summary, are some of the themes that have emerged across the project that tell us a bit about how some forms of contemporary creative practices are operating.
From the different experiences of these arts initiatives we are able to learn a few key things.
The first is the strong presence of collective practies where artists come together to work to achieve collective goals. These practices blur boundaries between disciplines, income models and organisational structures for greater sustainability and responsiveness to needs. The second is that more arts initiatives are increasingly merging the space of art and society, working in ways that recognise art as woven into the fabric of everyday life and playing a role in communities. This is informed by a recognition of arts role in enabling new imaginaries for better ways of living together. The third is that these collectives work to connect international artistic traditions and their African contexts, increasingly delving into local knowledges, traditional systems of community life and the expertise of community.
How this research will be used
This research is primarily oriented towards arts initiatives and artists working on the African continent and looks to enable a conversation between practitioners around the continent often working in ways that are isolated from each other. As such, the project has brought together those involved in the research on two occasions to enable greater collaboration and collective strategy sharing. The project remains an ongoing process with foreseen offshoots and ongoing knowledge making and sharing with other arts initiatives on the African continent.
For funders and others interested in the development of artistic practice from the African continent, this project introduces a kind of artistic practice that is highly modular, dynamic and committed to its context. They combine commercial and non-profit models for sustainability, they blur the lines between artists and community members and their mandate shifts according to what is most urgent for their context. This does not always align to stringent structures of international funding bodies, and as such, some of these organisations often operate outside of formal funder dynamics.