Campus News

Cape Town Diary

Story posted July 03, 2001

In the summer of 2000, the CBB Off-Campus Study Programs sent the first group of Colby, Bates and Bowdoin students to Cape Town, South Africa. The students were deeply affected by their experiences in South Africa and by the people they met there. This month the third group of students arrives in South Africa. Julie McGee, of Bowdoin, and James Webb, of Colby, will be their teachers and mentors until they return to the United States in November. Throughout the semester, we will be posting reports from Cape Town so that other members of the Bowdoin community can share in this unique experience.

Cape Town Diary: Arriving in South Africa, Plans and Dreams
By Julie McGee

July 3, 2001

CBB Students arrive tomorrow, July 4th. Jim Webb and I have been busy trying to organize our courses and fit our hopes and dreams for the academic program into the life of Cape Town and the structure of the program. We both are ambitious, to say the least. We feel the pressure of time. The time we have to get ready and the time the students spend here seem terribly short to us now. We enter into the long-term, day-to-day lives of Cape Town folks ever so briefly. How can we become part of this life intrisincally, how can we learn from Cape Town and its citizens and at the same time reciprocate all that we are given? These are some of our pressing issues as faculty. We expect, too, that students will soon be facing these same issues.

For my part, I am teaching two courses: "Contemporary South African Art" and "Arts of Resistance." It would certainly be possible to teach these as though we were still in Maine provide a reading list and reserve shelf, set up a schedule of exams and research projects and meet regularly in our classrooms here. It would also be possible for every class to meet at a museum, gallery, community arts center or special exhibition in Cape Town (that is how lively this place is). Neither option is appealing to me; the former would fail to take advantage of being on site and would limit what we learn about the arts of South Africa to the printed word (particularly problematic for this area of study). The latter would risk creating a program more like long-term tourism. Our depth of seeing and understanding would be limited by one-stop shopping.

So, where am I after a week in Cape Town? I have met with artists and community arts organizers and hatched an idea.

Our hope is to have an exhibition at a community cultural centre in Langa, one of the black townships of Cape Town. Langa has a somewhat active arts community and the CBB program has developed a working relationship with the township, for it is one of the areas in which our students carry out their community service. Moreover, Langa is home to Guga S Thebe, a beautiful cultural centre that was funded in part by the city of Cape Town. Our hope is to mount an exhibition of art by established and emerging artists from the wider Cape Town area. Students would research the art and artists themselves, write a small catalogue and participate in curating the exhibition. The exhibition would provide a much needed venue and publicity for artists, and we hope other opportunities for community and collectivization. Our wish list includes much more for the artists themselves the greatest gift would be to have their work shown outside of Cape Town, in the USA for example. But for now, we are keeping our sights on attainable goals. This could all fall apart or it could be rearranged into something quite different, but for now I think I have a working solution to course structure: a few select museum and community art center visits during regular class time and a joint project for the CBB students and myself in conjunction with artists and community organizers of Cape Town.

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