Artist, academic Pippa Skotnes joins Buffett as Visiting Professor of International Studies

March 10, 2017

Headshot of Pippa SkotnesSouth African artist and academic Pippa Skotnes joins the Buffett Institute and Northwestern community in the spring as the Roberta Buffett Visiting Professor of International Studies.

Skotnes is the Michaelis Professor of Fine Art and the founding director of the Centre for Curating the Archive at the University of Capetown.

Her work explores themes based in South African history. Many of her projects have centered on the Bleek and Lloyd archive, an unparalleled preservation of the |xam peoples’ story as chronicled by two colonial scholars in the 1870s as it faced cultural extinction and the death of their language.

“In her visual and written work, she deeply engages South Africa's complex racial history and colonial experience and considers the varied memorial practices through which a society brings its past into the present,” says Buffett Institute Director Bruce G. Carruthers.

Sample of her works

  • Miscast: negotiating the presence of Bushmen (1996) – exhibition and catalog that explored historical and contemporary representations of the |xam people
  • Civilised off the face of the earth: museum display and the silencing of the |xam (2001) – Even as “coloured” people in the Cape began to reclaim their pre-colonial identities after apartheid, Skotnes explains the challenges to this process for the |xam, which was complicated by their depiction in museum exhibits and displays as “living fossils,” alienated from history and culture
  • Made in translation (2010-2012) – the exhibition, curated by Skotnes, explored ways in which translations from the landscape have been made, and in so doing, place images of rock art in the context of other forms of translation 

After a protracted court case about artists’ books and legal deposit in South Africa, she became interested in the nature of the book itself: 

“In 1993 I found myself in the Cape Town magistrates court, sued under the Legal Deposit Act by the South African Library, for a copy of a book I had made in 1991 [Sound from the thinking strings] which contained within it a number of original prints. On one of the days of the case during a testing discussion about the discipline of printmaking, the attorney for the plaintiff battled to come to terms with the idea of an ‘original’ print. How, he argued, can a print-an etching or a lithograph-be ‘original’ when there is more than one of them? And if you can make exact copies of these ‘original’ prints, how then could you tell the difference between the original and the copy?”

From Skotnes' Lamb of God (exhibition, 2004)Since then, she has produced several volumes inscribed on the bones of horses, leopards, eland, and blue cranes. In a recent fellowship in Berlin, she began making an artist’s book written on the bones of two giraffes, and continues to work on this alongside an interest in the historical capture and expatriation of African animals.

Learn more about her publications, projects and curations.

While at Northwestern, Skotnes will teach two courses: one that enables students to engage with primary sources and think about the effect the making of an archive has on the histories it is able to generate; the other that examines the artist's book and the way in which composition reflects a human view of the world.

“Her visit to Northwestern offers a unique opportunity for students to learn from someone who combines art, history, politics and curatorship in new ways,” Carruthers says.

Save the date for the annual Buffett Visiting Professor Lecture on May 8, when Skotnes will give a public lecture to the University, followed by a reception.

About her spring 2017 courses

AFST 390-0-23; HISTORY 392-0-40: Other Histories and the Limits of Archive

In many colonial contexts, the pre-colonial has been cast as outside of history, yet there are places where individuals and their lives have survived the oblivion of history and where something of their lived experience can be recovered.

This course will focus specifically on an archive assembled in the 1870s and 1880s in colonial South Africa, comprising thousands of pages of interviews with several prisoners described at the time as indigenous hunter-gatherers, or "Cape Bushmen" (now known as |xam or San), and four young displaced boys from northern Namibia. 

The course will give students the opportunity to work with primary sources – including photographs, maps, genealogies and drawings, as well as stories of origin, of conflict with settlers and relationships with animals, of murder, hunting, personal histories, and of times stretching into the pre-colonial past – to consider visual and object sources, and to think about the effect the making of an archive has on the histories it is able to generate. 

AFST 390-0-22; ART390-0-20 "Framing the World and the Book"

This course will engage with the artist's book and the way in which composition reflects a human view of the world. Through making, discussions, and lectures, it will examine the ways in which the rectangle has been the most powerful and pervasive device for the visual representation of the world and our multiple relationships within it.

Since the beginnings of architecture, and later entrenched by the development first of the codex, and finally the camera, the rectangle frames what we see from our windows, on digital screens, in books, and our cell phones. It shapes long traditions of painting, it creates composition. In this course we will be looking specifically at the way in which the medium of the artist's book can potentially disrupt conventions of both composition and reading and produce creative work that does not take for granted received forms of representation.

The course will include a site visit (to the Field Museum) and the making of an artist's book.

Registration for both courses is still open.

About the Buffett Visiting Professorship in International Studies

Roberta “Bertie” Buffett Elliott endowed the Buffett Visiting Professorship in International Studies, which brings to campus leading scholars from around the world to build international relationships and provide educational opportunities for Northwestern students. Learn about our past visiting professors.

Africa, Human Rights