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 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