DESIGNING APARTHEID Interrogating the relationship between design and apartheid, its origins, effects, and legacies

Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg, in partnership with the Apartheid Museum, Wednesday, 31 October 2018.

This is a call for papers for a one-day colloquium on the theme of ‘Designing Apartheid’. A selection of papers will be identified for further development into an edited volume and/or special edition of an accredited journal. The colloquium will take place at the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, and will be preceded by a cocktail event and keynote address at the Apartheid Museum (speaker to be confirmed).


As a highly deliberate system of institutionalized racism and segregation, apartheid permeated every aspect of South African political and cultural life, and its pernicious effects continue to inform the present, politically, socio economically, and culturally. While the origins, ideological bases, and sociological, psychological and political effects have, since 1994, been subject to a variety of ongoing multidisciplinary analyses, the question of apartheid’s manifestation in the realms of design and visual culture has to date not been the subject of focused scholarly investigation. This is despite the fact that environments and daily experiences of South Africans continue to be mediated by the longreaching and persistent consequences of design policies implemented by apartheid urban planners, industrial designers, technocrats, architects, and ideologues.

The effects of apartheid, whether petty or grand, were highly calculated, all-encompassing, and systematically designed. Examples abound: from the large-scale transformation of the demographic and geopolitical landscape through the creation of Bantustans, the Population Registration Act, the Pass laws, and the Group Areas Act, to the valorization of western culture at the expense of African cultural forms; the divisive use of print media and later television to disseminate propaganda (in turn embedded in its very structure, with channels segregated according to racially specific content); the design of the euphemistically named “Reference Book” (Pass book), with pages, spaces and lines against which police, employers and government officials stamped their ubiquitous presence in the

lives of black bodies; the ubiquitous “matchbox” house, and the all-male and all-female hostels; the re-design of District Six and Sophiatown; to the production of the infamous Casspir and Ratel police and military vehicles, whose design was intended to intimidate, surveil and frighten the civilian opposition. The inescapable, systemic inheritance of this continues insidiously to inform the postapartheid context, evading critique and hampering efforts at transformation and decolonization.

This long shadow of apartheid raises serious and long-overdue questions about the meaning of the design of apartheid, and its problematic legacy and effects. What was apartheid design? If, as Peters (2004) argues, the government required that South African architects give substance to apartheid ideology in their designs, what sort of designs were these and how did they impact society? How were buildings, objects, visual culture, and material culture implicated, and how do they continue to be implicated, with apartheid? What forms did apartheid design take? How are physical, designed forms, structures, spaces and artefacts implicated in obtaining and deploying power? This colloquium seeks papers that reflect on these and other questions, encouraging deeper contemplations of the concept of “apartheid design” and interrogation of the nature and meaning of “designing apartheid”.


A prospective presenter is invited to offer a 30-minute paper focusing on any aspect of apartheid design from any field of design. The emphasis should be on exploring the impact of apartheid ideology on the evolution, manifestation and function of the design, within the context and timeframe in which it was made, and/or its continuing legacy. Papers must be original material that has not been published previously. Presenters must be willing to develop the proposed paper into a publishable version of approximately 6000 words, should it be selected for inclusion in the publication that will be developed after the conference. Papers must bein English.

Please submit your proposal with “Designing Apartheid” in the subject line, and send it to the convenors, Farieda Nazier (, Federico Freschi ( Nyasha Mboti ( by 30 April 2018. Presenters will be notified of acceptance by 31 May 2018, and will be asked to submit an advanced draft of their final paper by 1 October 2018.

Please submit a single Word document including the following:

  1. a title for your paper;
  2. an abstract between 350 and 500 words in length for a 30-minute paper;
  3. a short biography, including your current institutional affiliation (about 200 words);
  4. your contact details.


Although presenters will need to arrange and pay for their own travel and accommodation costs, there will be no registration fee, and refreshments will be provided during the colloquium.