Art against apartheid: American and South African cultural activism and networks of solidarity
Weaver, Frankie Nicole
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During the second half of the twentieth century, various artists and activists sought to educate and influence the American public about the institutionalized oppressive system of segregationist policies and white supremacy that was practiced in South Africa. "Art against Apartheid" explores ways that artist-activists and their artworks contributed to anti-apartheid solidarity networks and activism in the United States from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. Special attention is paid to the ways that art, both its production and the artwork itself, fostered solidarity between transnational activist communities. Connections between Americans and South Africans, together struggling for liberation movements in South Africa, are traced and analyzed. Activist and artist memoirs, organizational documents, print media, popular culture materials, and various artworks reveal how anti-apartheid art contributed to alternative ideologies about Africa and black Africans; provided new cultural and political spaces for activists; helped to foster activist networks in an international arena; and inspired artists and activists to sustain activist efforts. The dissertation is based on the premise that scholars should study cultural production while examining the international struggle against apartheid because artists and activists deploying art helped to forge the necessary foundations and solidarity networks that made it possible for events in South Africa to resonate in the United States. The study argues that art proved a fruitful avenue for activists in at least two ways. First, art helped to make transformations possible by providing alternative images and narratives. Art, in other words, functioned as a tool for creating knowledge and public persuasion. Second, art helped build a movement, created solidarity networks, and sustained a movement culture. It also helped to create a supportive base and to foster solidarity in a transnational arena. Following the introductory chapter, this dissertation is divided into five chapters and a conclusion. The chapters are organized chronologically to illustrate the transformation of a movement within the United States which grew from a handful of concerned individuals to an outpouring of support. The first two chapters provide a foundation for the dissertation by focusing on discussion related to political and cultural context and the emergence of international anti-apartheid activism, including that which developed in the United States. The third, fourth, and fifth chapters examine the work of specific artist-activists and activists deploying art against apartheid during the late 1940s and into the 1960s. For instance, "Chapter Three" illustrates how Alan Paton's novel Cry, the Beloved Country (1948), acted as a precursor for the growth of anti-apartheid support and provided alternative ideologies about black South Africans. Furthermore, "Chapter Four" investigates the work of George Houser, Mary-Louise Hooper, and Lionel Rogosin, who went to South Africa during the era of the Treason Trial and returned to the U.S. with anti-apartheid messages. In chapter five, the work of exiled South Africans, including Miriam Makeba and Dennis Brutus, and their collaboration with American activists like Harry Belafonte and organizations such as the American Committee on Africa (ACOA) and the United Nations (UN) is examined. The conclusion discusses how early anti-apartheid artist-activists and activists inspired and connected by art built foundations making it possible for anti-apartheid activism in the United States to gain popular support.