06 October 2023 | Story Anthony Mthembu | Photo Stephen Collet
Prof Petersen and Prof Helene Strauss
Prof Francis Petersen, Vice Chancellor and Principal of the UFS hands over the award to Prof Helene Strauss.

Prof Helene Strauss, a distinguished professor in the Department of English at the University of the Free State (UFS), was awarded the prestigious 2022 UFS Book Prize for Distinguished Scholarship during the annual UFS Research Awards. The award ceremony, graced by academic luminaries, took place on 26 September 2023 at the Wynand Mouton Theatre on the UFS Bloemfontein Campus. Prof Strauss was bestowed with a certificate of honour and a monetary prize, fitting tributes in this category.

Her award-winning book 

Prof Strauss emerged victorious amidst a formidable field of nominees, clinching the award for her remarkable book titled ‘Wayward Feeling: Audio-Visual Culture and Aesthetic Activism in Post-Rainbow South Africa’, which was officially launched in 2022. Reflecting on her work Prof Strauss said, ‘’The book explores my long-standing interest in the emotional afterlives of historical injustice in South Africa, and in the many messy ways in which this history has settled into our bodies and our ways of relating to one another.’’ The book delves into ‘’how various forms of aesthetic activism have been harnessing the embodied sensorium of South African publics in recent years, aspiring to relationally redirect the flow of our bodily energies towards visions of greater social justice.’’ Prof Crain Soudien, one of the esteemed reviewers, commended Prof Strauss’s contribution, affirming that her work encapsulated the full spectrum and breadth of her scholarly endeavours.

Prof Strauss gratefully acknowledges the influence of renowned South African creatives Berni Searle, Zanele Muholi, Rehad Desai and Gabrielle Goliath in shaping her book. She emphasises that their work in the book provides a thorough analysis of the intersectionality of aesthetics and politics in contemporary South African public culture. 

Intended impact of the book

The book references significant political moments in recent South African history, aiming to be an invaluable guide for scholars and students striving to unravel the emotional complexities arising from South Africa’s history of racial capitalism. Prof Strauss further expressed her hope, stating, “Readers will draw inspiration from the many imaginative means, by which South African artists and audio-visual activists have refused to relinquish their dreams of a better future.” 

Future endeavours

Despite the recent accolade, Prof Strauss is already immersed in other noteworthy projects. She is currently working on a new book focusing on the adverse chemical and atmospheric ramifications stemming from South African histories of extraction. In addition, she is actively engaged in a collaborative international project on the decolonial work of reckoning, repairing, and reworlding necessitated by the planetary climate crisis. This project includes a forthcoming special issue of the journal ‘Studies in Social Justice’

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