top of page


Disturbing Views:

Visual Culture and Nationalisms in the 20th and 21st Centuries

In the conclusion of his book Banal Nationalism (London: Sage, 1995, p. 177), Michael Billig writes: ‘If the future remains uncertain we know the past history of nationalism. And that should be sufficient to encourage a habit of watchful suspicion’. This warning has perhaps never been more relevant than in the second decade of the new millennium, which has seen a marked turn towards right-wing populism and nationalism.

How have art and visual culture been deployed to foster the interests of those who, in seeking to elicit support and power for only their own (perceived) nation or group, develop rhetoric and ideas underpinned by prejudice against groups conceptualized as outsiders? Alternatively, how has the visual domain served as a space for the critique and activist refusal of exclusionary nationalist interests and discourse? These two questions are explored in the conference.

Visit Our Online Exhibition

"If the future remains uncertain we know the past history of nationalism. And that should be sufficient to encourage a habit of watchful suspicion."

Michael Billig

Preparation of the CR Swart sculpture at the University of the Free State by Cigdem Aydemi

Participants and Presenters

Marion Arnold – Honorary Fellow in Art History and Visual Culture, Loughborough University, Loughborough, United Kingdom. 

Annemi Conradie – Director, Research Niche: Visual Narratives and Creative Outcomes (ViNCO), North-West University, Potchefstroom. 

Abri de Swardt – Artist and writer, Johannesburg, South Africa. 
Roxy do Rego – Part-time lecturer in the Education Faculty at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. 

Zohar Elmakias – PhD candidate, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University, New York, USA. 

Federico Freschi – Professor and Head of College of Art, Design & Architecture, Otego Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Sarita K. Heer – Lecturer of Art History, Fine and Performing Arts Department, Loyola University, Chicago, USA.
Philippa Hobbs – Postdoctoral research fellow, office of the SARChI Chair: South African Art and Visual Culture, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. 
Deléne Human – PhD candidate with the SARChI Chair: South African Art and Visual Culture, University of Johannesburg, and lecturer in the Faculty of Education, University of Pretoria.
Danielle M. Johnson – Independent scholar, Florida, USA.
Katharina Jörder – Post-doctoral researcher at the Department of African Arts, Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany.  Ariyuki Kondo – Professor of History of British Art and Architecture, Ferris University, Yokohama, Japan. 

Juliette Leeb-du Toit – Research Associate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Sanjeev Kumar – Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai, India.

Gail Levin – Distinguished Professor of Art History, American Studies and Women’s Studies at the Graduate Center and Baruch College of the City University of New York, USA. 
Staffan Löfving – Reader in Social Anthropology and Associate Professor in Intercultural Studies, Karlstad University, Sweden.
Ismail Mahomed – Director of the Centre for Creative Arts, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, Durban, South Africa. 

Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti – PhD candidate in Art History with SARChI Chair: Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa, Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa.
Ana Mehnert Pascoal – PhD candidate in Art History, ARTIS - Institute of Art History, University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal.
Horit Herman Peled – Media artist, fine arts and media culture researcher and teacher, Tel Aviv, Israel. 
Yoav Peled – Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Tel Aviv University, Israel. 
Deirdre Pretorius – Associate Professor, Graphic Design Department, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Elizabeth Rankin – Professor Emerita of Art History, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.

Brenda Schmahmann – Professor and SARChI Chair: South African Art and Visual Culture, University of Johannesburg, South Africa.
Stephen Symons – Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Pretoria, South Africa. 
Vineet Thakur – Lecturer in History, Leiden University, Netherlands. 
Sweety Tindde – Azim Premji Foundation, Uttarakhand, India. 
Benoit Vaillot – Research Associate at the Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin, Germany. 
Lize van Robbroeck – Professor, Visual Arts Department, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa. 
Peter Vale – Senior Research Fellow, Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria.

Paul Weinberg – Photographer, curator and research associate with the SARChI Chair: South African Art and Visual Culture, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. 
Erika Wolf – Professor at the School of Advanced Studies at the University of Tyumen, Siberia, Russia. 

Preparation of the CR Swart sculpture at the University of the Free State by Cigdem Aydemi

Preparation of the CR Swart sculpture at the University of the Free State by Cigdem Aydemir for Plastic Histories (2014). Photograph by Paul Mills.


15 November

9.45 – 10.00    Welcome


10.00-10.45     Paper 1                              

Sanjeev Kumar and Sweety Tindde

Democracy, Dissent and Nationalism: Narrative Through Cartoons Related to Gandhi

10.45 – 11.30  Paper 2

Stephen Symons

“Achtung Spitfeuer!”  How British war comics of the 60s,70s and 80s aided the formulation of a militarised state-of-mind among white English-speaking boys during apartheid.

11.30 – 12.15  Paper 3

Peter Vale

Cartoons, Intellectuals and the Construction of Afrikaner Nationalism

12.15 – 12.45  BREAK


15.00 – 15.45  Paper 4

Benoit Vaillot

Nationalising the Border through War Monuments: “Nationalist Landscape” at the French-German Border (1871-1918)

15.45 – 16.30  Paper 5

Erika Wolf

The Passport as a Symbolic Site for the Contestation and Performance of Citizenship across National Borders

16.30- 17:00    BREAK


17:00 – 17.45  Paper 6

Sarita K. Heer

Food for Thought: India, Postage Stamps and Banal Nationalism

16 November

9.15 – 10.15    Launch of Troubling Images: Visual Culture and the Politics of Afrikaner Nationalism, edited by Federico Freschi, Brenda Schmahmann and Lize van Robbroeck (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2020). Ismail Mahomed will introduce the volume and will conduct a discussion with the editors and participants.                  

10.15-10.45     BREAK         


10.45-11.30     Paper 7                           

Marion Arnold

“Courage Calls”: British Women Confronting Patriarchal Nationalism

11.30-12.15     Paper 8

Irene Bronner

“Your shadow blocks my sun”: Reading alternate histories in The New Parthenon and other films of Penny Siopis

12.15-13.00     Paper 9

Roxy Do Rego

Diane Victor’s Birth of a Nation (2008-2010): A Critique of Post-Apartheid Nationalism and Patriarchy

13.00-15.00     BREAK


15.00 – 15.45  Paper 10

Horit Herman Peled and Yoav Peled

Art, Religion and Jewish Nationalism in Israel

15.45 – 16.30  Paper 11

Zohar Elmakias

Between the Minefield and the Temple: Spatial Transformation and National Imaginaries in the Golan Heights and Jerusalem.

16.30-17.00     BREAK


17.00-17.45     Paper 12

Danielle M. Johnson

Otto Dix’s The War and MoMA: Art and Activism between the Two World Wars

17 November


10.30 - 11.15   Paper 13

Ariyuki Kondo

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s Resistance to Authoritarianism in Twentieth-Century Architecture: A Study of the Jerusalem Committee


11.15 – 12.00  Paper 14                     

Paul Weinberg

Shooting Back

12.00 – 12.45  Paper 15

Abri de Swardt

"Because this is the river of unmindfulness: On Alice Mertens, Ridder Thirst and the First River as historical witness" 

12.45 – 13.30  Paper 16

Staffan Löfving

Figurations of the Child in Bosnian Nationalisms

13.30 – 15.00  BREAK



15.00 – 15.45  Paper 17

Ana Mehnert Pascoal

Undiscussed heritage? Considerations on the mural paintings for the Noble Hall of the Palace of São Bento in Lisbon (1933-1947) and their present-day permanence

15.45 – 16.30  Paper 18

Gail Levin

Blinded by Nationalism: the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

16.30 – 17.15  Paper 19

Juliette Leeb-du Toit

Competing Zulu nationalisms in commissioned art for structures in Ulundi and “Zululand” in the 1970s

17.15-17.45     BREAK

17.45-18.30     Guided tour of the online exhibition “Family Dissemblance” by its curator, Annemi Conradie

18 November


9.00 – 9.45      Paper 20

Elizabeth Rankin

Paradox and politics in the Voortrekker Monument frieze

9.45-10.30       Paper 21

Katharina Jörder

Between Afrikaner Culture, Nationalism and Technopolitics. The Voortrekker Monument and the Hendrik Verwoerd Dam in Propaganda Photographs

10.30 – 11.15 Paper 22

Vineet Thakur, Brenda Schmahmann and Peter Vale

A Globe in the Veld: A Voortrekker Centenary Monument for Karel Landman

11.15-11.45     BREAK


11.45-12.30     Paper 23

Barnabas Ticha Muvhuti

Confronting selective amnesia in the supposedly collective memory of a nation through art: Owen Maseko’s Sibathonthisele                           

BREAK          12.30 – 15.00


15.00-15.45     Paper 24

Deléne Human

The anti-censorship campaigns and works by Walter Battiss in apartheid South Africa

15.45-16.30    Paper 25

Deirdre Pretorius

The Staffrider illustrations of Mzwakhe (Muziwakhe Nhlabatsi)

16.30-17.15   Paper 26

Philippa Hobbs

Tapestry, nationalism and counter voices in Southern Africa during apartheid



This conference was made possible through generous funding and support offered the SARChI Chair: South African Art and Visual Culture from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the National Research Foundation (NRF) and the University of Johannesburg.

bottom of page