Negotiating Different Worlds and Diverse Cultural Legacies Through Applied Creative Practice in a Situated Learning Project: Hlakanyana 2022

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Sarah Roberts


Prism-like, the 2022 Hlakanyana project at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA) refracted both clear and shadowy issues embedded in arts, culture and pedagogy in a society grappling with decolonisation. Participation in the project indicated that transformation imperatives have been compounded by the socio-economic consequences of a two-year lockdown. On 8 March, some 300 masked second-year students, seated in Keorapetse William Kgositsile Theatre auditorium, were introduced to a project that has come to be known as Theatre 101. Daunted and uncertain, they, like similar groups before them, were confronting requirements of designing for an unfamiliar medium amplified by the logistical implications of group work at the start of returning to face-to-face learning. Initial responses at the briefing session indicated skepticism towards an undertaking in which multiplicities converged. My role throughout, as professional designer and academic, was that of participant–observer, and this reflexive report documents the spectrum of intertwined issues that emerged in the UJ initiative rather than pursing a single aspect for sustained interrogation.

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Author Biography

Sarah Roberts, University of the Witwatersrand

Sarah Roberts retired from the University of Witwatersrand in 2020 but remains an associate researcher at the Wits School of Arts, with an expanding publication profile. Teaching, research interests and publications straddle design and developing improvised skills of a performance ensemble. A multi-award-winning theatre designer, she has been associated with notable emergent local productions that have toured nationally and internationally. Career highlights include Nelson Mandela’s inauguration, Mbongeni Ngema’s Sarafina! on Broadway, and John Kani’s Nothing but the Truth.