Research

  • Selling South Africa: Architecture, Tourism, and Identity in the Post-Apartheid Era
  • GRANTEE
    Michelle Moore Apotsos
    GRANT YEAR
    2017

Michelle Moore Apotsos, view of the African Village, Emoya Resort, 2015, Bloemfontein, South Africa.

In the two decades following its first democratic election, South Africa has undergone numerous transformations in its struggle to create a unified national identity in the face of the lingering remnants of apartheid. Part of this endeavor has been the creation of dedicated architectural sites that include museums, monuments, and memorials, which collectively promote an image of national cohesion and healing. However, the growing role of tourist spaces as unregulated sites of identity production has yet to be thoroughly parsed. Focusing on sites that use architectural vocabularies of trauma (townships), exoticism (cultural villages), primitivism (eco-lodges), and nostalgia (safari lodges), this project explores how such sites actually create a spectacle of "African-ness" for both residents and foreigners, which evokes South Africa's oppressive past and in doing so, participates in a subversive discourse about the role of trauma, nostalgia, and pre-modernity in contemporary conceptualizations of the "new" South Africa.

Michelle Moore Apotsos graduated from Stanford University in 2013 with a PhD in art history, specializing in African and Afro-Islamic architecture. She subsequently served as a research associate at the National Museum of African Art (Smithsonian Institute) before becoming assistant professor in the Art Department at Williams College in 2015. Apotsos is the author of Architecture, Islam, and Identity in West Africa: Lessons from Larabanga (Routledge Press, 2016) and has published in various journals, including African Arts and the International Journal of Islamic Architecture. Apotsos is also a research fellow in the Department of Economic and Management Sciences at University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa), and a member of the Global Architectural History Teaching Collaborative, based out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.