VIAD | The Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre


The Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre (VIAD) is an internationally respected research facility, dedicated to deepening research around the overarching thematic of identity construction through forms of visual practice, visual culture and visual representation, and specifically in relation to African and Afrodiasporic histories and experiences.

Taking its cue from emergent, transforming and evolving conceptions of individual and collective South African identities, as well as broader manifestations of politicised socio-economic-cultural individual and collective identity constructs, work done under VIAD’s auspices explores ways in which identities are visually conceptualised, imagined, expressed, performed, disseminated, received and ‘consumed’. This core thematic is focused on how, through multiple forms of art and design practice, the visual domain may function as an arena through which shifting notions of identity may be articulated, negotiated and produced in relation to particular temporal, geographic, socio-economic and political contexts. While emphasis is placed on the construction of visual identities in a contemporary South African context, this context is considered in relation to its positioning as part of the African continent and a broader diasporic framework.


Established in June 2007, VIAD is housed within the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (FADA), on the Bunting Road Campus. VIAD’s location within the urban metropolis of Johannesburg – the economic capital of Africa – is strategic. In correlation with UJ’s vision to be "an international University of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future" (University of Johannesburg 2017), research conducted in VIAD reflects UJ's engagement with the vibrancy and diversity of the Johannesburg metropolis,as well as the institution’s active nurturing of cultural and social diversity.

Given its commitment to practice-led research in visual practice, representation and culture, and its purposeful interlinking of textual, conversational and creative outputs, VIAD has little precedent in the South African academy; a strong point of differentiation is that it fosters critical and dialogical relationships between theory and practice, advancing a theoretically discursive research practice in combination with a strongly pracice-led approach. While textual outputs play a critical role in the development of VIAD’s academic capital, creative and curatorial research are recognised as occupying a central position in academic research processes within art and design discourses. Research produced in VIAD may take the form of written outputs (solo or co-authored scholarly books, academic journal articles, chapters in edited volumes, guest-edited special editions of journals); creative production (solo or curated exhibitions, installations, public art, collaborative projects, design and other visual artefacts); curatorial practices; and multiple platforms for knowledge dissemination and exchange (conferences, panel discussions, colloquia).

Research undertaken under VIAD’s auspices is aligned with the expanded socio-cultural-theoretical parameters of art, design and visual culture, and actively engages with and reflects these visual disciplines as they span the broader spectrum of visual representation. Although readings of identity constructs from a range of interdisciplinary theoretical fields across the Humanities are encouraged and actively sought, emphasis is placed on how these fields can be drawn on in application to visual practice and representation.

Source cited:

University of Johannesburg. 2017. About University of Johannesburg. [O]. Available: https://www.uj.ac.za/about


VIAD supports an international community of Visiting Professors, Research Associates (RAs) and Post-Docs, whose projects explore in differing but often overlapping ways the relation of visual culture (and other social processes and imaginaries) to practices of identity formation, subjectivity and agency in local, African and Afrodiasporic contexts (details can be viewed via the Research menu tab). Research work undertaken by VIAD's RAs, as well as other partners, are supported through the centre's cutting-edge programme of exhibitions, conferences, symposia, seminars, panel-discussions and reading groups. Projects are further supported through printed or digital publications, be it through edited volumes, exhibition catalogues or special edition journal publications. 


VIAD’s core aim is to continue to grow as a nationally and internationally renowned locus for art and design research focused on visual expressions of identity in local, African and Afrodiasporic contexts. This is realised through:

Developing a strong research ethos and culture around the core thematic of visual identities in representation, and their relation to local, African and Afrodiasporic histories and experiences;

- Identifying fresh, dynamic, and/or under-developed areas of relevant research relating to identity construction in all of the visual- art, design and culture disciplines;

Promoting research that consciously links theory and practice, as a source of creative and generative knowledge development;

- Crossing traditional boundaries with regard to how we think about and engage these disciplines, by promoting engagement that is both trans- and interdisciplinary, yet situates the visual at its core;

Generating trans-disciplinary production through textual, creative and/or curatorial outputs by artists, designers, theorists, thinkers and creative practitioners;

- Producing high-level research that significantly contributes to knowledge generation in the domain of visual identities;

- Developing and broadening a culture of critical enquiry and creativity in relation to Johannesburg, South Africa, the continent, and other afrodiasporic contexts;

- Fostering dynamic research that comes out of and speaks to the continent with relevance and urgency;

- Expanding dynamic, constructive and innovative links with other cultural producers and theorists on the continent and other afrodiasporic contexts;

- Working with partners who share and add value to our vision and who can assist in its realisation.


In the light of ongoing political and student activism in South Africa, and related academic and artistic engagements around questions of decolonisation and intersectionality, VIAD’s research objectives for the period 2014-2020 remain relevant and timely. Extending the overaching thematic of the centre (as outlined above), and its attendant focus areas (Cultural Identities; Bodily/Embodied Identities; Designing/Designed Identities), particular attention is being paid to research that falls under the rubric:

Personal addresses, creative agencies and political resistances in the post-colony

This thematic is read through emphasis on the concept of personal (intimate/informal/private) addresses as practiced through everyday lived-experience by cultural practitioners.

Using the critique of the colonial dichotomy of public and the private realms as a point of departure, work conducted under this thematic orientation develops theoretical insight in relation to empirical examples of lived-experience. Rather than starting from a set of assumptions about what constitutes the category of decoloniality (and decolonial politics), work begins from the everyday practices of address which may or may not be considered as acts of creative or decolonial agency, depending on the relational enactments in play.

Not unlike the way in which the visual domain can function as a forum for the articulation, negotiation, and production of identities, deployment of personal addresses in everyday practices may be considered as forms of expression that (intentionally or unintentionally) involve processes of identity making and remaking. Such forms of expression may be consciously or subconsciously enacted, and critically read as assertions of creative and subjective agency.

The multiple and diverse forms of personal addresses performed through everyday practices that are enacted and read as assertions of creative and decolonial agencies are usually positioned in relation to constructs of race, gender, sexuality and class, and the mechanisms of power that define and enable these constructs. Core questions in this thematic orientation revolve are around how personal addresses, performed through everyday practices, and constituted as forms of creative agency, may be considered as enactments of decolonial subjectivity, as well and how such practices might become problematically reinscribed, or solidified in ways that hierarchically reinforce mechanisms of power.


Prof Leora Farber (Director)

BA Fine Art, University of the Witwatersrand, 1985; MA Fine Art (cum laude), University of the Witwatersrand; DPhil Visual Art (Creative Production), University of Pretoria, 2013

James Macdonald (Curatorial & Research Manager)

PGDip, Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, 2011; MAFA (cum laude), Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, 2015

Amie Soudien (Curator & Researcher)

BA Fine Art, Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, 2014; MA, New Arts Journalism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2016

Mandisa Tshiqi (Administration Coordinator)

NDip in Drama Studies, Durban University of Technology, 2009; BA Hons in Drama & Performance Studies, UKZN, 2012