Fulbright scholar engages the politics and poetics of space and place in Johannesburg

Levester Williams.

Levester Williams (M.F.A.’16/A) experienced racial profiling firsthand when police stopped him and a friend as they drove to Atlanta.

“They wanted to search the car, and they didn’t find anything,” said Williams, who received his M.F.A. from the VCU School of the Arts in 2016. “They didn’t find any traffic violations … they didn’t find any drugs. And my friend was like, ‘Well, you all just pulled us over because we’re black.’”

It’s easy to be undermined in such a situation, where others have control, Williams said.

“What agency did I have within the space? What rights or what capacity do I have to exist within that space?” he wondered. That question stayed with him and influenced his application for a Fulbright Student Scholarship to study in Johannesburg.

Since November, Williams has been creating sculptures and installations that engage with the politics and poetics of space and place in Johannesburg during its ongoing transformation into a post-apartheid city. He is exploring themes such as identity, memory and community in Johannesburg’s urban landscape.

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