Critical Pedagogy Bites: Delivering a Decolonised Curriculum

Vikki Hill, Staff

In our four filmed interviews ‘Critical Pedagogy Bites’ (2018), we explore how we can decolonise our curriculum by using critical pedagogy as a means to address oppressive power relations within the learning and teaching space. Decolonisation of the classroom/lecture theatre/ studio involves not only what we learn and teach, but the way that we learn and teach.

Critical Pedagogy is most typically associated with the work of Paulo Freire, the Brazilian Educationalist, who was interested in raising literacy levels amongst peasants. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Freire criticised traditional rote learning methods that alienated the learner (and the teacher) and instead aimed to develop self-reflexivity in the learner and awaken a critical consciousness. Education is intimately linked to the production and reproduction of social relations, power and politics. Therefore, the critical pedagogue argues that questions of oppression, social justice and democracy are not distinct from the acts of learning and teaching.

In Critical Pedagogy #4, Gurnam expands on the importance of non-hierarchical dialogue and exchange to develop critical consciousness, to connect ideas to lived experience (and vice versa) and to affect change in the world. In practice, the pedagogical approaches that we, as both educators and students, can take forward would be to realise that creative teaching methods on their own are no guarantor of transformative learning but we should aim to deploy a broader canvas – visual, auditory, tactile, that can engage and stimulate.

In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes “I enter the classroom with the assumption that we must build “community” in order to create a climate of openness and intellectual rigor… It has been my experience that one way to build community in the classroom is to recognize the value of each individual voice.” (1994, p40)

By decolonising our pedagogy, the learner can create a new framework for negotiating the idea of intelligence that is both critical and action orientated leading from personal perspective transformation to social and political change.

This article was originally written and published in Decolonising the Arts Curriculum: Perspectives on Higher Education Zine 1 (2018).

Painting, A Decolonising Act

Jheni Arboine, Student/Staff

‘Sine, Co-sine, Index’ June 2015, Acrylic

Abstraction, geometrics and chromatics are the triadic signs of my painting practice, underpinned by semiotics of stripes, the rectilinear, Concrete Poetry and the dynamic tension of decolonisation. Mavis Pusey (1928-2019) her legacy, encourages me to pay attention and to stay committed to abstraction. I remember going to see an exhibition by a painter, a Cuban painter, a Black Cuban male painter, Wifredo Lam (1902-1982).

I was compelled to enter, because I could see myself reflected. It wasn’t his style of painting or the subject matter per se; but the most powerful part of the encounter, was what he said:

‘My painting is an act of decolonisation.’

This statement, this mission, this declaration, this claim, this thesis, this proclamation reverberated in me. It gave me confidence, agency, big-bout-yar; it energised my manifesto of resilience and made me tallawy. As a painter whose intersectionality is not white, male, European or middle class, I have the additional work of explanation and justification.

I am a painter, a black woman of Jamaican parentage. Frank Bowling’s (b.1934) indubitable stand on abstraction and being a painter first (2019), gives me some comfort and aesthetic alignment. There are allies too, Sean Scully (b.1945), a white Irish man recently mentioned, ‘the equal opportunity of abstraction’(2019).

Does my positionality pose a problematic for the discipline, for the normalised and for me? Therefore, by applying Wifredo Lam’s dictum to my studio practice, teaching and research, so as I paint/teach/research, I am decolonising, the more I paint/teach/research the more I am decolonising both painting/teaching/research and myself. Does my practice disturb and disrupt the normalisation? It is as though I am encroaching on a sacred territory that should not be mine. A type of trespass in the forbidden zone of normalisation.

Alma Woodie Thompson (1891-1978), Dr Esther Mahlangu (b.1935) and Althea McNish (b.1933), share a passion for abstract painting. They are giants to me, as black women they amplify the use of colours and geometric symbols as semiotic signs of happiness, resilience and joy as signifiers of antidotes to ‘inhumanity’ [a gentile code word for colonisation, empire and its associated violence and violation of the Prime Directive – my semiotic inference] and as a way of ensuring a place in the canon as it expands to include those that it had appropriated from and erased from memory.

Decolonising painting is also about a type of ‘habeas corpus’ to bring OUT the paintings by black artists and artists of colour, that are owned by museums and galleries. These institutions tend to keep the works detained in storage, in special collections, hidden from view.

Optimism can shine through with a Critical Pedagogy of painting. Where a diversity of teaching staff collaborates to ensure inclusivity and expansive curriculums that decolonise. Different ways of thinking, advocated by Claudia Rankine, research into women painters, Rebecca Fortnum and aligning painting and theory of signs by Isabella Graw. These three strands intersect in my research on a pedagogy of resilience and my own research methodology (Arboine, 2018).

I paint what I like
I stand my ground and
I paint no matter what anybody says
I use a semiotic painting language imbued with ‘prayer’, an Indexical interrogation of the city and its hidden histories/herstories.
I paint what I like
I stand my ground

This article was originally written and published in Decolonising the Arts Curriculum: Perspectives on Higher Education Zine 2 (2019).

Confessions of a Colonial Lecturer

Lucy Panesar, Staff

Ornate wallpaper featuring Queen Victoria in the centre, surrounded by images of animals in colonial settings.
Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Wallpaper, 1887 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I taught Contextual Studies on Foundation for over 10 years, and whilst it was my personal goal to instil in students a sense of social and environmental responsibility, in hindsight I could have done so much more if I had known then what I know now…

When I first started the job, I consulted the awarding body’s handbook on what content to cover, and saw that I was to begin with early Modernism and the Great Exhibition of 1851. I got on with the task, looking to Gombrich and the V&A website for reference, and soon developed a fascination with the Victorian era and the British Empire. I enjoyed telling students the story of Paxton’s Crystal Palace, the showcase for Queen Vic’s imperial treasures, and I showed examples of design from that time illustrating her power as Empress, like the wallpaper pictured here. I would point to the inset illustrations of ‘natives’ in loincloths, fighting amongst themselves in the colonial settings. I described this and while I was curious to know more and explain more I didn’t, as I’d need to quickly move onto the next example of European modernism: Pablo Picasso and the inspiration he gained from African masks.

Not long before leaving that role, I had started a Masters in Education, investigating racial inequalities, learning more about decolonisation and becoming increasingly conscious of the implications of what I was including and excluding in my lectures, recognising the power of a single image in perpetuating an ideal of racial superiority and inferiority. A covering for a wall with a repeated print of dark, naked ‘natives’ surrounding their colonial mother/ saviour/ oppressor (delete according to your view).

On reading Afua Hirsch’s book Brit(ish) I learn that a great majority of British people are, to this day, proud of Britain’s colonial history. I have never felt such pride. As a descendent of Punjabi Sikhs, who migrated to Kenya and then the UK as a result of British Imperial rule, I find the wallpaper now even more disturbing. Later in her book, Hirsh expresses something of what I feel when she writes:

One reason is that I didn’t know what Britain was. I didn’t know its true past, I was totally unaware of its secrets. And when it comes to race, Britain definitely has secrets. They lurk in the language, and the brickwork and the patterns of society, so that, for those who are silent or desperate enough to listen and search, clues gradually begin to reveal themselves. Some of these secrets relate to the days, turned years, turned centuries, in which British people mingled their destinies with the people and products of India, China, South East Asia and the Middle East for instance. Others would explain, if only we could hear them, why Britain and Africa are so closely linked. A link that was directly responsible for my existence‘ (2018, p.37).

I reflect on the mingling of my Indian and British parents, brought together by our Victorian Empress and what more I could have said in those lectures back then …

This article was originally written and published in Decolonising the Arts Curriculum: Perspectives on Higher Education Zine 1 (2018).