How Deep Can We Go?: Ubuntu, Art and Reconciliation in South Africa

Artist Proof Studio: A Journey of Reconciliation by Kim Berman in partnership with Daniel Stompie Selibe

In this paper, artist and Artist Proof Studio (APS) co-founder Kim Berman documents the complexity of a community-based art institution's efforts to contribute to reconciliation in South Africa by not only espousing but also enacting, as its core organizational value, the traditional concept of ubuntu (roughly, interconnectedness). In an intimate, self-reflective tone, Kim describes the work that APS has done toward achieving this goal, including artistic endeavors and organizational re-structuring. She documents the ongoing struggle within the studio around questions of hierarchy, power, trust, and professionalism.

Kim reflects upon her own position as an educated white woman in a studio which was founded for the purpose of teaching printmaking skills to black and colored artists who otherwise might not have had access to such opportunities. This paper highlights the ways in which relationships in South Africa, even in a community that aims to be egalitarian or "non-racial," are inflected with the dynamics and the legacies of apartheid. The journey toward reconciliation is described here as a relentless one, marked by both advances and regressions, requiring transformations in self-awareness, interpersonal relationships, educational curricula, and institutional structures.

Art, Ubuntu, and Reconciliation by Daniel Stompie Selibe

Daniel Stompie Selibe's portfolio consists of three sections: "Dealing with Destruction," "Rebuilding and Reconciliation," and "Renewal." The titles of these sections inscribe and describe the recent history of Stompie's country and of the institution that he, as an artist and a peacebuilder, has called home. This portfolio documents how the artists and art students of Johannesburg's community-based Artist Proof Studio worked to rebuild their studio and their sense of community after a devastating and deadly fire burned the studio down in March 2003.

Stompie and the other APS staff established the goal of rebuilding the studio as an "ubuntu space," a space in which interconnectedness, humanity, respect, collaboration, and caring are the bases of human interactions. As part of this endeavor, APS students gathered stories about the meaning and experience of ubuntu from their own families and communities and then created images that expressed the ideas embedded in these stories. As artist, musician, and teacher, Stompie facilitated this and other processes, helping students to address and constructively cope with the painful experience of the fire and with the challenges of life in post-apartheid South Africa. This portfolio includes students' collages, linocuts, sketches, and journal entries as well as Stompie's descriptions of the delicate but powerful transformation that can occur when a community organizes around the principle of ubuntu.

About the Fellows

Kim Berman and Daniel Stompie Selibe work together to document a range of community outreach and development programs that use art processes as a medium for engaging social change in South Africa. The projects vary from education and training, income generating activities, AIDS awareness and responses to communities in trauma.

Kim BermanKim is a printmaker and educator who in 1991 founded the Artist Proof studio, a community-based Art Center for teaching printmaking skills to disadvantaged South Africans who otherwise would not have had access to such opportunities for learning. Artist Proof became the home for some 80 artists to gather, and attend workshops and classes in printmaking, photo processes, bookmaking, papermaking and other techniques. Kim also initiated a paper-making project that is currently sustaining 230 rural women who earn an income from paper products made from the natural biological resources of their regions. 

Daniel Stompie SelibeStompie, the primary facilitator and interviewer on the team, works as an artist, musician and teacher. He speaks seven African languages and has led workshops with people from all walks of life in South Africa. Their documentation explores the complexities of a community-based art institution's efforts to contribute to reconciliation in South Africa.