Alexandra Dodd

I am an independent writer, researcher and editor working at the interface between visual and literary culture. I have worked on a vast range of projects, from newspapers and magazines, to novels, public art programmes, digital archives, mixed media installations, website content architecture and monograph essays.

I joined the student press at Rhodes University during the State of Emergency, and, after graduating with an Honours degree in Journalism and Media Studies, took up an an internship with the Mail & Guardian newspaper (where I later served as arts editor) in the turbulent historical period leading up to South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994. I went on to work a scriptwriter on Series One of Soul City, which was broadcast on community and commercial radio stations across nine provinces in 1994. I then moved to London, where I worked on the London Film Festival, based at the British Film Institute, followed by a few brilliant, precarious months in Dublin. In the year leading up to the change of millennium, I worked with the late Rory Doepel (Wits, Fine Art) to develop the public arts programme for Urban Futures 2000, a global gathering around urban questions, co-hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand and the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council, that took place in Johannesburg in 2000.

In 2001, I was awarded a Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship and completed my Master of Arts in Literature at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. When I returned to South Africa, I worked as books and features editor of ThisDay newspaper, as well as teaching writing courses in the Journalism and English Departments at the University of the Witwatersrand, and editing numerous novels, including Ishtiyaq Shukri’s Silent Minaret, Kirsten Miller’s All is Fish, and Barbara Adair’s End (all published by Jacana).

I have contributed texts to several books, including David Goldblatt: Photographs (Contrasto, 2006), Sam Nhlengethwa (Goodman Gallery Editions, 2006), The Fire Walker (Fourthwall, 2011), Hotel Yeoville (Fourthwall, 2013), and Uncertain Curature (Jacana, 2014), as well as to catalogues on the work of Hermann Niebuhr, Marco Cianfanelli, Frances Goodman, Ruan Hoffmann, Gabrielle Goliath, Kate Gottgens and others. I have also worked on digital archive projects, like the Sunday Times Heritage Project (in association with the South African History Archive) and, more recently, Humanitec, which involves the digitization of numerous special collections of art, photographs, music, audio-recordings, maps and other artefacts from a range of disciplines at UCT.

I joined the Archive & Public Culture research initiative as a doctoral research fellow in Literature in 2010. In my doctoral thesis, Secular Séance: Post-Victorian embodiment in contemporary South African art, I explore selected bodies of work by five contemporary South African artists that resuscitate nineteenth-century aesthetic tropes in ways that productively reimagine South Africa’s traumatic colonial inheritance. I investigate the aesthetic strategies and thematic concerns employed by Mary Sibande, Nicholas Hlobo, Mwenya Kabwe, Kathryn Smith and Santu Mofokeng, and argue that the common tactic of engagement is a focus on the body as the prime site of cognition and ‘the aesthetic as a form of embodiment, mode of being-in-the-world’ (Merleau-Ponty 123). I argue that these works perform a similar function to the nineteenth-century séance and to African ancestral rites and dialogue, putting viewers in touch with the most haunting aspects of our shared and separate histories as South Africans and as humans. I presented papers on my research at Love, Sex, Desire and the (Post)colonial, a conference hosted by the Department of English, Royal Holloway, in collaboration with the Brunel Centre for Contemporary Writing at the University of London in 2011, and at At Work in the Archive, hosted by the Sainsbury Art Institute at the University of Norwich in 2014.