Tuesday, 30 October 2018

A visitor from Bloemfontein in Uppsala

Wanda Verster

Today I attended a seminar at the Department of Art History, Uppsala University. This is definitely not my field. The reason for my participation was an e-mail from one of the faculty members, Associate Professor Eva Sandgren. She invited me, because the department had a visiting scholar from the University of the Free State (UFS). Her name is Wanda Verster. I had never met her before, but since UFS is the University where I earned my PhD, I very much wanted to attend this seminar. The theme was:
Institutional Thresholds as Design Engagement. 
University Campus as Catalyst for Transformative Design

I really enjoyed listening to Wanda Verster. I have been a student at the Campus she spoke about. I know the dynamics and even the physical spaces she was referring to.

Not so welcoming, after all.
It was interesting to learn how the students had worked with a project around thresholds and boundaries. Wanda explained how the campus has become more and more closed over the years. Today one can access the campus through four main access points. If I understood it correctly that means if you come by car. There are also a number of smaller gates, where pedestrians can enter. You need a card to be able to enter and all gates are guarded by security personnel. The task of the students was to work with architectural ways of breaching the boundaries or making use of the edges in order to open up for communication between the university and its context. But also installations around other different phenomena such as the old statue in from of the Main Building. It is a statue of one of the founders of the University, President Martinus Theunis Steyn, who was the president of the Orange Free State 1896-1902.

The whole idea of statues I have written about before. That time it was about the Cecil John Rhodes-statue in front of the Main Building of the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the hashtag
After some googling I also found #steynmustfall on the internet. Especially a youtube video where a group called Boer Republic defend the specific statue.

Yes, there is an ongoing conversation in South Africa with clear postcolonial aspects. Sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent. Wanda also mentioned the 2016 #feesmustfall campaign. If I understood her correctly the protests at UFS were less violent than in other parts of the country. I have also blogged about this.

What I also find interesting is the fact that the gates and the fences around campus serve a mere symbolic purpose. I also remember this from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. If I had forgotten my card I could ask somebody to let me in or even talk with the security guards. They very seldom argued about that. So, at a very high cost, the universities put fences around the campuses. What does this do with a University when it comes to openness and creativity?

I told a colleague at Church of Sweden headquarters about the seminar and he directly said that it is the same with our head office. Our motto is
Openness, presence and hope
But to enter the office you need a card. Visitors need to wait in the reception to be let in. Even in the School where I teach, no one can just enter. When we celebrate Eucharist every Monday and Wednesday the worship is in theory open to any visitor. But in practice only card holderscan get in. 

It is enlightening to engage with another academic discipline. One can always learn something. About one's own context.

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