Joanne Bloch

Although, from my earliest days, I found myself in love with all things visual, my route to art-making was circuitous. A year or two after completing an Honours in Development Studies at Wits in 1983, I became frustrated by the limitations of working in the development sector, and turned instead to photography. I subsequently worked as a freelance photographer in Johannesburg and later in the darkrooms at IDAF, the Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa in London. During this period, I also produced mail art and comics under the pseudonym, ‘Wild Beast’. After returning to South Africa in the early 1990s, I took development-related photographs, worked as a journalist specialising in HIV, development and human rights related issues, studied through Unisa, and began making and exhibiting art. In 2004, I completed an MA in Fine Arts at Wits with distinction. Thereafter I continued to focus on my artwork, which was based on my ever-growing collections of small, trashy artefacts. I also wrote several books for children and teenagers, most of them aiming to challenge discrimination and build a culture of tolerance among young South Africans. For my PhD project, I am working with a small, somewhat quirky taxonomy-less colonial-era object collection based in the UCT Manuscript and Archives Department. My challenge to myself is to revivify these artefacts via a broad range of open-ended creative and curatorial responses, so that they are enabled to speak to contemporary audiences in fresh, unexpected ways, both individually and as a collection. As I have recently been faced with sudden sight loss, the project has also taken an unexpected new turn. It now incorporates my re-orientation towards the archive as a person with compromised sight, and the ways in which visual impairment shapes my access to the material I am engaging with, as well as my creative responses to it.