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Change the world


Conscious of the critical role artists can play in challenging and changing society, Nelson Mandela University set about transforming its entire visual arts curriculum. 

The result was its unique Bachelor of Visual Arts (BVA) degree – and on Saturday (21 April), the university will celebrated its very first BVA graduates, majoring in graphic design, fashion and textiles, photography and fine art.

In addition to the obvious skills and knowledge visual artists require, the BVA programme encompasses an understanding of culture and complexity in South Africa, the role of creative people as opinion formers and the importance of interdisciplinary development.

“Our students benefit from their experience of intensive studio tuition, coupled with a rigorous engagement with critical theory,” said David Jones, Director of the School of Music, Art and Design (SoMAD).

“They have emerged well equipped to make a meaningful contribution to society, both as thinking creatives and as active participants in the creative economy, both locally and further afield.

BVA (photography) graduate Amos Ragophala, who is completing his BVA honours studies this year, said: “The art degree course motivated a love for learning and creativity, and gave us the willingness to express and explore possibilities that never existed before.”

Another graduate Kelly Crouse – who specialised in painting and is also busy with her honours degree – said: “The course gave me a better understanding of conceptualising [art] and being able to interpret and argue from an informed platform. The highlight of this course is that they help you get your name out to the public by having exhibitions and allowing you to enter competitions such as the Sasol New Signatures Competition.”

What also makes the BVA degree unique in South Africa, is its generic first year programme, which gives students a taste of various art disciplines, including fine art, graphic design, photography, and fashion and textiles. They then specialise in one of these areas from second year onwards.

“The generic foundation year is the keystone that supports creative, intellectual and skill development while exposing students to a broad range of learning opportunities, sampled from the four discipline streams,” said Jones.  

BVA (graphic design) graduate honours student Thembelihle Buthelezi said: “The course gave me the chance to sample the four disciplines offered by the department, which opened my eyes to the many options and opportunities I had as a creative … This was a great opportunity for me, as I did not do art in school and being raised in a small town you are not exposed to careers such as these.

“My hope is to one day educate other young black girls about art and the art industry and that they can turn a hobby into a career.”

“Getting to know people from a variety of disciplines, as well learning from a variety of disciplines, has given me [a greater] set of skills than a Graphic Designer would [normally] have,” said fellow graduate and honours student, Alicia Ferrao.  

She said the course gave graduates “a well-rounded understanding of interdisciplinary studies in Visual Arts and [the ability] to critically think about academic situations”.

The BVA curriculum was created specifically to provide students with sound academic development, the building of vocational and crafting skills, and to allow for solid exposure to entrepreneurial practice.

“As a school, we subscribe to the view that the creative arts are both humanising and transformative, and that artists have the power and the responsibility to serve as agents of change in society, and as disrupters of complacency,” said Jones.

“But we are also highly realistic, and we understand that artists must be able to earn a living from their creative outputs. So we have seized every opportunity to promote art entrepreneurial opportunities for our students in the metro and beyond.”

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777