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Dr Abigail Wiese

Dr Abigail Wiese is a mother to 3-year-old Jack, an interdisciplinary artist, theatre-maker, performer, lecturer/teacher and researcher. She obtained her doctoral degree from the University of the Western Cape in 2021. Her doctoral study centralised performance as a critical medium of enquiry in understanding how shame traffics in/through and affects the body. The study used an autoethnographic, practice-led methodology and the analysis was in a post-apartheid context. The study focused on four South African artists working in visual arts, performance art and theatre. Abigail is interested in affective atmospheres/economies and encounters that resonate firstly in the body. Her research focusses on shame and its intersection with discussions around the politics of feeling, performance studies and how the aesthetics of performance might be a helpful mode in better understanding shame. She currently holds a National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) post-doctoral research fellowship, co-hosted by the SARChI Chair: Identities and Social Cohesion in Africa (ISCIA) and the Department of Visual Arts at the Nelson Mandela University, South Africa.


Synopsis of Postdoctoral Study

Title: Askies'/’askiesie’: Articulating shame's affect in the post-apartheid landscape.

‘Askies’/’askiesie in the title refers to the everyday presence of the affects of shame in its idiosyncratic, often taken-for-granted folk or everyday use of the word ‘shame/sjeimpies, sjiem, sorry, askies, askiesie’ in its colloquial use in South Africa conversations. What makes this specific colloquial use of interest, is how the continual eclipsing of shame by our sympathetic/idiosyncratic ‘volk’ use of it to connect with the other, buries the truth of shame beneath language, perpetuating a damaging evolution of shame’s withdrawal. With the ever-increasing tensions and polarisations across South Africa, binary states such as race, class and sexual orientation appear as a reaction to years of socialised shaming through strategies that render shame invisible. During the protests that struck two economically strong provinces in South Africa, Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal, movements organised around polarised rhetoric. The resulting formations resembled militaristic and combatant structures that controlled, silenced and split the shamed other from the collective South Africa with the use of ‘calling out’ strategies. What the protests did was to demonstrate shame’s inordinate relevance in social and political movements “where the oppression of marginalised groups is often not the result of legislation or overt political manoeuvrings, but happens more invisibly through the cultural deployment of affects like shame” (Dolezal xv). I saw the truth of what shame theorist Gershen Kaufman’s recognises as “[t]he transfer of blame is fundamentally a transfer of shame” (98) outworked in how bodies assembled and protected what was theirs. There is an ever increasing blindness by South Africans to a tragedy that blazes ahead of us. "But we are tyrants too. We look, but we see nothing. Someone speaks to us, but we hear nothing. And we go on in our endlessly narcissistic self-justification, adding Facebook updates and posting on Instagram. Tragedy is about many things, but it is centrally concerned with the conditions for actually seeing and actually hearing. In making us blind, we might finally achieve insight, unblock our ears and stop the droning surf of the endless song of ourselves: me, me, me, this is all for me (really?) [...] The tyrant experiences no shame. But we also have no shame. We are also little, shameless tyrants [...]" (Critchley, Tragedy, The Greeks and Us, 15). I hope that the project will help position audiences to feel and in feeling see and hear in ways which transform and shift historic structures of shame.