This paper seeks to describe changes made to the Visual Studies course at the Nelson Mandela University in light of calls for the decolonisation of curricula, and to assess the impact of these changes by reviewing student responses to the revised curriculum. Using this course as a case study, the paper reflects on students’ experiences of attempts at decolonisation, and seeks to contribute directions for further change.
Following requests from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in 2009/2010, the Art and Design National Diploma and B.Tech programmes in the School of Music, Art and Design were re-curriculated. The first year of the new Bachelor of Visual Arts (BVA) degree ran in 2015. Fine Art and Applied Design history and theory subjects were combined in the new degree to form Visual Studies, which spans Photography, Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Fashion and Textiles.
In addition to the need to become interdisciplinary, the planning of the Visual Studies curriculum was influenced by socio-political and educational imperatives, including the University’s Vision 2020 policy; #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall in 2015 and 2016, and the 2016 Decolonising Working Group forum at our school. As a start, the re-visioning of the Visual Studies course involved an attempt to focus on African and South African content, and to shift from a timeline-based to a thematic structure, foregrounding overlapping critical cultural concepts such as race, gender, nationhood, theories of identity, the ideology of capitalism and consumerism, environmental concerns, and the impact of technology and social media.
This study used anonymous feedback questionnaires, adapted from the University’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, to elicit written responses from students to the changes to content, and mode of delivery within Visual Studies.
By means of student feedback and critical self-reflection, we identify the further action needed to create an authentically affirmative and empowering educational experience.