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Course Alias: 
Art and the Sociology of Popular Culture


  • Ari Sitas (wk1-4, 8-11)
  • Amrita Pande (5-7/11-12)


  • Mbongiseni Buthelezi
  • Mark Fleishman
  • Jay Pather
  • Omar Badsha
  • William Kentridge
  • Sumangala Damodaran
  • Mario Pissarra

Course Convener:

  • Ari Sitas (x 3510)

 The Course:

not found

Introduction (July 23): Theorising Signification and the Social (Sitas and Pande)

Part 1(July 30-August 6): The Voice and Poetry in Movements and Society (Sitas and Buthelezi)
Part 2 (August 13-August 27): Performance and the Theatres of Change (Pande, Fleishman, Pather)
Part 3 (September 10-September 17) The Eye and Popular Imagination (Sitas, Kentridge, Badsha,)
Part 4 (October 1-8-15)The Sounds of Music and Popular Culture (Sitas, Pande and Damodaran)
Part 5: (October 22-October 29th) The Eye and the Popular Imagination (Pissarra)

The Course Assessment:

  • An Essay (20%)
  • A Research Project (50%)
  • Seminar Presentations (10%)
  • 2 Seminar Submissions (20%)

Introduction: Theorising Signification and the Social (Ari Sitas, Amrita Pande)

Link Text with Freiburg

Ari Sitas(2012) Narrative, Allegory and Sociological Dialogue in a Globalising World, Cape Town/Freiburg

The Sociology of Art and Popular Culture

Vera Zolberg (1990), Constructing a Sociology of the Arts, Cambridge : New York Cambridge University Press 1990
Pierre Bourdieu (1987), Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste,Massachussets: the Harvard University Press, 1984, Introduction, Chapter 1, Postscript
Pierre Bourdieu, (1995) The Rules of Art, Stanford: the University Press, Chapter 1.
Rolena Adorno (ed) From Oral to Written Expression: Native Andean Chronicles of the Early Colonial Period (1982)

Rolena Adorno, GuamanPoma: Writing and Resistance in Colonial Peru (1986,2000)

(Mayakovsky: Pro Eto)

Part 1: The Voice and Poetry in Movements and Society (Ari Sitas) an the Powers of Orality (Mbongiseni Buthelezi)

1A: Poetry, from the Avant-Garde to Revolution: Paris-Moscow-Mexico City to Everywhere: We start our story with a case-study of public poetry and its travels. We start from Walter Benjamin’s Paris, its arcades and its avant-gardes. Modern poets like Rimbaud did not only fight on the barricades of the Paris Commune but came to create a poetic language and intensity that was at once transgressive and vivi and a poetry, that had repercussions everywhere. The competing fields of expression from the hyperbolic symbolism of Rimbaud to the cubist, surrealist and futurist currents of the grand city become important aesthetic constellations for the cultural explosion before and after the Russian Revolution. Here we move onto Mayakovsky and his milieu of revolutionary currents and dreams- of constructivism and proletkult and of a poetry that imagined itself as public, as part of the public spectacles of the day. We explore the reversal of all that with the canonization of socialist realism after Stalin’s (1932) "On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations". To understand the implications of that it has to be read parallel to his “On the National Question” which makes it appropriate for developing societies to recover their folkloric and cultural past whilst at the same time insisting on socialist realism. Whereas the communist international makes art an important political activity everywhere, it at the same time makes it a transmission belt of Soviet ideas. We therefore move from Rimbaud’s “Season in Hell” and “the Drunken Boat”, Mayakovsky’s “Cloud in Trousers” and “Pro Eto” to understand a new tension. What is “exported” to Mexico City and Bombay, Johannesburg and Beijing is a peculiar and contradictory constellation of practices during the Stalin era.

Our second take on poetry turns back to Paris and Moscow to tell another version of the relationship between word and society. It is how surrealism and hyper-symbolism provide a language for the poetry of the perceived non-West. With Elytis and Cesaire the Parisian experience of the 1930s is immediate; for, Neruda it is highly mediated. It involves an emotive “incendence” (not a “transcendence”) in their perceived ‘backwardness” and creates the voice of restoration and re-genesis: Elytis’s Axion Esti is a redrafting of creation, of the geomorphology of the Aegean, of the byzantine and the Hellenic. For Cesaire it is the redrafting of African-ness and Blackness through his “Return to My Native Land” and finally, for Neruda- after the experience of the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and his experience of the Mexican muralists, it involves the re-drafting of the Panamerican cosmogenesis of “Canto General”. For Cesaire and for Neruda as communists, the Stalin take on the national question makes them admire their magical pueblo but it leads to a poetry that is as distant to socialist realism as night is to day. Elytis’s work becomes an axiomatic Left text once Mikis Theodorakis (then a communist) turns it into an epic of popular music.

1B: The African/South African Voice:

Background Texts

Walter Benjamin (1968), “Paris the Capital of the 19th Century”, New Left Review, 1/48. (For the brave, a look into Benjamin’s (1999) The Arcades Project, Cambridge, Mass. :Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Richard Stites (1989) Utopian Vision and experimental life in the Russian Revolution, New York: Oxford University Press.
Desmond Rochfort (1993) Mexican Muralists: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, London: L.King
The Flight of the Gwala Gwala Bird: Durban
Klaus Segbers, et al (2007), The Making of Global City Regions, Johannesburg, Mumbai/Bombay, Sao Paolo and Shanghai, Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press

Background Introductions

Look up Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Negritude and Constructivism as Movements
Anything on Socialist Realism and if possible Stalin’s (1932) "On the Reconstruction of Literary and Art Organizations" and his “On the National Question”
Edward J. Brown (1988), Mayakovsky- the Poet in the Revolution, London: Paragon Books
Rolf Hellebust (1997) AlekseiGastev and the Metallization of the Revolutionary Body Slavic review, 56 no.3
Bowen-Struyk, Heather (2006): Introduction: Proletarian Arts in East Asia in Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, Volume 14, Number 2, pp. 251-278


Charles Baudelaire, Selection from Flowers of Evil, Florence Louie Friedman, London: Elek Books, 1962
Arthur Rimbaud, Season in Hell and Drunken Boat
Vladimir Mayakovsky, Cloud in Trousers and About This (Pro Eto)
AimeCesaire, Return to My Native land
Pablo Neruda, Canto General, Selections
Odysseus Elytis, TheAxionEsti, Selections
Wally Serote, Selection from Third World Express,
The Shembe and Luthuli praise Poems from Gunner and Gwala’s, Musho!

Part 2 (August 13-August 27): Performance and the Theatres of Change (Pande, Fleishman, Pather)



  • Bertold Brecht, Caucasian Chalk Circle
  • Jean Genet, The Blacks
  • Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
  • Peter Weiss, Marat Sade
  • AimeCesaire, A Season in the Congo
  • Anna Deveare Smith, Fires in the Mirror/Twilight:Los Angeles 

Popular Theatre and Performance

  • Augusto Boal (1979) The Theatre of the Oppressed, London: Pluto
  • Robert Kavannagh (1985) Theatre and Cultural Struggle in South Africa, London: Zed
  • Astrid Von Kotze (1986) Organise and Act, Durban: Culture and Working Life Publications
  • Ingrid Bjorkman (1989) Mother Sing For Me: People’s Theatre in Kenya, London: Zed Books
  • Erika Fischer-Lichte et al (1990) The Dramatic touch of difference: theatre, own and foreign, Gunter Narr Verlag, Section on Habib Thanvir
  • Mark Fleishman,(1991) Workshop Theatre in South Africa in the 1980s : a critical examination with specific reference to power, orality and the carnivalesque, Thesis (M.A. (Drama))--University of Cape Town, 1991
  • Orli Bass (2006) (D)urban identity : stories of an African city - Performing African Urbanity, PhD thesis; Thesis (Ph.D. (Environmental and Geographical Science))--University of Cape Town,
  • Sudhanva Deshpande (ed-2007), Arjun Ghosh, Jana Natya Mancha, Theatre of the Streets:the Jana Natya Manch Experience, Delhi.(Especially Janam comes of Age by Habib Thanvir)
  • Habib Tanvir: Agra Bazaar, You Tube
  • Paul Clark (2008) The Chinese Cultural Revolution: A History. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press
  • Gay Morris (2010) Own-made in the (post-)new South Africa : a study of theatre originating from selected townships in the vicinity of Cape Town, Thesis (Ph.D. (Drama))--University of Cape Town, 2010

Part 3: The Eye and Popular Imagination ( William Kentridge, Omar Badsha, Ari Sitas)

 3.1 The Epic and the Monumental

We have developed enough of a nuanced understanding of aesthetic acuity by focusing on the word and on sound to look at two inter-related but highly contrasting visual traditions of the first part of the 20th Century: the powerful imaginative and constructivist work of the Russian artists of the post Revolution period and the Mexican muralists. The former leads via-Alexander Rodchenko to documentary photography as well. The latter leads to a powerful current in public art that is vibrant everywhere to this day.

 Following Victor Magnolin’s take on the Soviet artists, The Struggle for Utopia- Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy- 1917-46, we can get a sense of the changing visual in architecture, installation, poster, graphic and painting that was involved in the pre- and the post-Stalinist era. The contrasts to Rivera, Orozco or Siqueiros are overwhelming. (Desmond Rochford, 1994, The Muralists: Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros)

It is the distance of scientific monism versus a folkloric pluralism; between the geometric, algebraic and mathematical to the vegetative and polymorphous. And we trace how both traditions reverberated beyond their borders.

 3.2 The Documentary Photography of South Africa

One of the strongest visual traditions in South Africa in its relation to society is around documentary photography. Although it starts as a tradition of “bearing witness” to Apartheid influenced by realist imagery, it begins to get imbued with the sense of texture, agency and social history where its evocative and story-telling possibilities come to the fore. Although the work of the 1950s to the 1970s was important it is the conjunction between the rise of social movements in the 1970s and the creation of photographic collectives that starts a brand new track- here work of Afrapix, as in the Broken Barricades collection; of Badsha (Imperial Ghetto), Nunn, Rajgopaul, Weinberg, Ledochowski and many more, will provide the backdrop for a reflection on the interconnections between the eye and history.

 3.3.1 and 3.3.2- the choice here is between Public and Urban Art of the 2000s in South Africa and Art and the Popular in Africa. The former will be looking at the public art of groups like Jay Pather’s Siwela Sonke in Durban and Cape Town and the work of collectives like Dala and how they are reconfiguring popular spaces and how they relate to sedentary communities or communities in transit. What is their relationship to the public art of the 1970s and 1980s for example the poster work described in the late Jon Berndt’s (2004) From Weapon to Ornament. Orli Bass (2006) An African City- Performing African Urbanity, PhD thesis;The second current will be looking at three African artists, Sam Ntiro, Malangatana and Pitika Ntuli to explore the relationship between art, history, tradition and contemporary experience.

 (Omar Badsha, 1986)

(Pitika Ntuli, 2011)

 The Visual

  •  Victor Magnolin (1991), The Struggle for Utopia- Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy- 1917-46,
  • Afrapix Collective/Omar Badsha (1984) Broken Barricades, Cape Town.
  • Omar Badsha Imperial Ghetto, Pretoria: Unisa Press
  •  Chris Ledochowski  (2003) Cape Flats Detail: Life and Culture in the Townships of Cape Town. Pretoria: South Africa History Online & UNISA Press.
  •  Jon Berndt’s (2004) From Weapon to Ornament. Cape Town
  •  Rike Sitas and Dean Henning, (2007) A City, KZNSA, Durban
  •  PitikaNtuli (2011) Scent of Invisible Footprints, Exhibition Catalogue, UNISA: the University Press

 Part 4: The Sounds of Music (Amrita Pande, Sumangala Damodaran, Ari Sitas)

 4.1 Traditions of the National and Beyond: From Verdi to Carnatic/Hindustani

Revivals and Tagore

The Opera’s link to “the” political needs little comment from Mozart’s, The Magic Flute to Verdi’s, Nabucco and Aida. The Egyptian “exotic” of Aida on the one hand and of the Babylonian “exotic” of Nabucco allowed Verdi to speak in subtle ways of Italian unification and liberation. But the orientalism of both texts is what animates most post-colonial work starting with Edward Said’s discussion of Aida in Culture and Imperialism. Music has had a peculiar relationship with Africa and the Orient- from the days of grand opera to Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado to the serious work of Kevin Volans’ Rimbaud in Ethiopia work and to Philip Glass’s Satyagraha. What has always remained invisible has been the relationship between anti-colonial nationalist movements and music. The choice of India as a case-study is because part of the response involved a revival and emphasis of the purity of the ragas of Hindustani and Carnatic music which became emblematic of integrity and also, its redrafting using elements beyond the ancient in Tagore’s work which defined the relationship between word, tonality and composition.

 4.2 Resistance and Music in India and South Africa

The rise of resistance and mobilisation in India and South Africa provides a powerful context for the relationship between music, words and innovation. Thanks to Sumangala Damodaran’s work on the IPTA tradition in India (Songs of Resistance 2011- Tulika, Press, Delhi), we have both an analytical and performative scale on the mutations that occurred and the political debates around the music, its authenticity and prowess. Influences from the Soviet Union and from other liberation struggles everywhere intermingle with the desire of poets to write lyrics and of composers to write music appropriate for the mobilised people. There is no parallel text yet, on the South African mobilisations but at least one song from India travelled to be sung in the Defiance campaigns. The musicological work of Veit Erlman and David Coplan has given some hints of the “political” in music- but the real explosion of it in South Africa is 20 years later. But the reasons why these are being revived in both countries in the 2000s has to be understood with a degree of subtlety.

 4.3.1 and 4.3.2 Here there is a choice once more: one current will explore The Slave Sublime? Afro-American and the Trans-Atlantic; the other will explore Radio Mali: The Arc of the Blues and the Heer. The first follows the music that slaves and freed slaves from Africa created to cope and to transform their horrendous experience. Following Gilroy’s enticing formulation of the “Slave Sublime” in his Black Atlantic but also extending it to Havana and to Bahia for example, we come to understand a music of profound desire and passion. Here, one of the most regrettable moments was Adorno’s take on Jazz as the aesthetic language of subordination and castration. We take the blues and jazz to their logical conclusion with an in-depth look at the revolutionary impact of John Coltrane and the African-American avant-garde and their immediate crossing over to Johannesburg, Bahia and Delhi. But there is a choice of looking at Mali as the place where the blues meets the heer (the voicings of the music of eastern lamentation that conjoins everything from the Sufi musics of the East to Flamenco in Southern Europe. And how works like Gerhard Kubik’s (1999). Africa and the Blues. (Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi) tells only 50% of the story. There is in the music of a Diabate, Toure and many others which if it will speak of new aesthetic constellations that resonate everywhere.

(The Mikado- Gilbert and Sullivan) 

 The Musical

  • Ibn Khaldun, The Craft of Singing (Available on Line)
  • Edward Said, The Imperial Spectacle, Grand Street, 1987
  • Paul Robinson- Is Aida an Orientalist Opera?-Cambridge Opera Journal
  • Theodor Adorno, Perennial Fashion-Jazz in Prisms, London: Garden City Press
  • Alan Beckett articles of the 1960s in the New Left Review
  • Paul Gilroy,(1991) The Black Atlantic, p.79-111
  • Kofsky-Black Nationalism and Music
  • Sumangala Damodaran, “The Radical Impulse” from her Manuscript of the Neglected Tradition andDamodaran, Sumangala (2008): Protest Through Music , No. 588, August  
  •  Donaldson,  Rachel Clare (2011): MUSIC FOR THE PEOPLE: THE FOLK MUSIC REVIVAL AND AMERICAN IDENTITY, 1930-1970, Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Vanderbilt University.
  •  Gerhard Kubik (1999). Africa and the Blues.(Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi)

(John Coltrane, 1967)


  • Rabindarath Tagore,
  • Giuseppe Verdi, Aida, slave song from Nabucco
  • Gilbert and Sullivan, Mikado
  • Phillip Glass Satyagraha
  • Kevin Volans, Rimbaud
  • MikisTheodorakis, The Canto General, (An Oratorio, words Pablo Neruda) either the studio 1974 version, Paris or the Piraeus live recording, 1975.
  • La Caita, Lament from Vengo, You Tube
  • Sabicas, Festival Gitana
  • Ravi Shankar, IPTA Film recordings Jaaga Desh Hamaara
  • Hemanga Biswas,  Selam Chacha
  • Cheeno Arab Hamaara , clip from Hindi film ‘Woh Subah Aayegi’
  • Sumangala Damodaran (2011), Somgs of Protest, Delhi, EMI
  • Iqbal Bano , Sings Faiz
  • Madhan Gopal Singh, Sufi Songs
  • Shakti (1976) A Handful of Beauty and Natural Elements
  • John Coltrane, Giant Steps
  • Don Cherry, (with Walcott and Vasconcellos)-Codona,
  • Charlie Mingus, New Tijuana Moods,
  • Music Liberation Orchestra, Music Liberation Orchestra
  • Ali FarkaToure- White Album
  • ToumaniDiabate, Mande Variations
  • Mankuku Winston Ngozi, Yakhal’Inkomo
  • Zim Ngqawana, Best of
  • Junction Avenue Theatre Company- Songs from the Plays
  • Virginia Rodrigues, Negra, Nos
  • The Buena Vista Social Club, Songs
  • The Insurrections Project, Insurrections

Part 5: The Eye and Popular Imagination (Mario Pissarra)

  •  African Art during Colonial and Post-colonial times- the struggle towards de-colonisation and the main visual languages of resistance and nation-building.


  •  Beier, Ulli (1993) “The right to claim the world: conversation with Ibrahim el Salahi” London, Third Text, 23-30
  • Court, Elsbeth (1995) “Art Colleges, universities and schools” in Deliss, Clementine (ed) Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa- Paris and New York: Flammarion; 291-5