Ernst van der Wal

25 April 2016 - 11 June 2016


Ernst van der Wal (PhD) is a senior lecturer in Visual Studies at Stellenbosch University (South Africa), where his teaching and research expertise is geared towards interdisciplinary forms of visual, auditory and historical recollection and curatorship. Speaking to both academic and grassroots environments, his work is specifically concerned with how outsider subjectivities function in the current South African context – that is, how they are visualised, conceptualised and lived.

His doctoral research and current writing projects are focused on the manner in which the photographic archives of trans subjects function as sites of intersubjective recollection and impacts on contemporary understandings of, inter alia, gender identity. This research suggests ways of identifying and understanding those discursive and visual practices that human subjects who find themselves at odds with hetero- and cisnormative conventions use to negotiate a sense of self. In all, such projects address the radical erasure of local queer histories within South Africa, and seek ways to conceptualise such histories in relation to a larger global context – a subject van der Wal has published on widely.

During his research stay at the Centre for Area Studies, Leipzig University, he will expand on the above work by focusing on the intersection of nationalism with queer subjectivities. This project is concerned with the nationalisation of non-normative gender identities and sexual orientations; that is, the way within which citizenship is negotiated from an lbgti (lesbian, bisexual, gay, trans and intersex) and/or queer perspective. Drawing on both the South African and German contexts, this project posits that, while lbgti subjects are increasingly encompassed in a national rhetoric of belonging (which is, at least, discursively supported, albeit not always physically upheld), queer manifestations of subjectivity are often met with severe scorn and violence, specifically because such manifestations reject the ideas of locality, singularity and stability that national citizenship requires of a subject. As such, the very idea of ‘the nation’ runs counter to queer subjectivities, which are not always invested in the concept of ‘belonging’, or ascribing to, a set of normative ideals. Queer, as a means (or idea and desire) to ‘shift’, relocate or even dislocate identity from a given space, body or institution, is thus at odds with a liberal democratic call for lbgti subjects to ‘belong’ (insofar as belonging is read as embedded within or arising from a given locality). The complex issues arising from this tension between belonging and disidentifying will be the point of departure for his research paper.