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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


1st June 2015

CGHR Research Group Seminar

The art of justice and the justice of art

Eliza Garnsey (POLIS, University of Cambridge)

Discussant: Dr Duncan Bell (POLIS)

At the heart of this paper lies an urge to understand the relationship between visual art and transitional justice: how visual art encounters and affects transitional justice and vice versa. This relationship is explored in the context of ‘post-apartheid’ South African visual art, specifically looking at the art collection of the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg and the exhibition Imaginary Fact staged in the South African Pavilion at the 55th Venice Art Biennale, Italy. Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s idea of artworks as ‘constellations’ to conceptualise how artworks encounter, excavate, and effect justice within different spaces, the paper proposes a theoretical framework through which to understand the meeting point between transitional justice and visual art. At a normative level the paper argues that in order to comprehend and respond to the diverse claims of individuals and groups affected both directly and indirectly by conflict, transitional justice should include legal, social, and cultural mechanisms, within which visual art has an important role.

Eliza Garnsey is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge, where her doctoral research focuses on the relationship between transitional justice and visual art, specifically in the context of ‘post-apartheid’ South Africa.