The Master of Arts in Visual Arts

This qualification comprises several discipline streams that students may register for:

Master of Arts in Fashion Design MA (Fashion Design)        Qualification Code: 15076

Master of Arts in Fine Art            MA (Fine Art)                  Qualification Code: 15077

Master of Arts in Graphic Design MA (Graphic Design)        Qualification Code: 15078

Master of Arts in Photography     MA (Photography)            Qualification Code: 15080

Master of Arts in Textile Design   MA (Textile Design)          Qualification Code: 15076


What is the nature of the MA (Visual Arts)?

The MA in Visual Arts allows for students to explore the Faculty of Arts’ research theme of Social Cohesion. Transculturality and Creative Practice, the sub-themes in the School of Music, Art and Design will question the role that the visual arts and design disciplines have in South African society and comment on how they engage with social, cultural, economic, environmental and political contexts.

The nature of postgraduate research in the visual arts assumes the integration of theoretical and practical components into a single research output. How these two components of the research project are weighted is determined during the initial stages of developing the research question, through the proposal, or as the practice unfolds. The MA Visual Arts that may be by dissertation only, or by an exhibition of creative works and a research report.


How is teaching and learning in the MA (Visual Arts) conducted?

The theoretical component:

This Master’s qualification is largely based on independent study that leads to the development of a research proposal; the subsequent writing of a dissertation for a theoretical or empirical study (with a body of 80-120 pages excluding addenda), or research report for a practice-based study (with a body of 40 pages excluding addenda), according to the research topic, and the production of a creative output where relevant. To achieve this a series of lectures are conducted that explain the nature of research, at this level, and guide the student through the research process, including; defining the research question, selection of research frameworks, methodologies; academic norms, form and responsibilities, researcher roles, ethics issues and dissertation (or research report) writing. These lectures are only conducted with students in their first year of registration for the qualification. The Faculty of Arts guidelines for postgraduate research are also introduced to the students at this point.

Consultations with research supervisors occur on a weekly basis to discuss and problem-solve the unfolding research study. This is supported by seminars and presentations that occur on a regular basis, engaging the body of Master’s students from the various visual arts streams, as a group, encouraging exchange and discussion. Independently a postgraduate forum provides peer support among students.

The practical component:

Creative production is largely self-driven and is informed by the theoretical findings. As individuals or in a group, practical creative outputs are critiqued (by supervisors, discipline specialists and experts) according to the research trajectory and the relationship with the theoretical component of the research. There are two ways in which such research may be conducted.

Firstly, the outputs may be practice-based; where the outcome of the research results in a creative artefact or portfolio (the focus is on what is made) and the final results are presented in a formal exhibition environment that is managed by the student.

The other is practice-led; where the nature of creative practice is explored and knowledge of said practice is advanced (here the focus is on how the artefact is made).  A creative output may result from this approach but it may equally be fully described in a text form – a combination of both could demonstrate how the mechanism of the practice is applied to generating an artefact.


How will the MA (Visual Studies) be assessed?

Depending upon the agreed upon structure of the research project as clarified above, the examination may be according to one of the following permutations:


  • A full theoretical or empirical study that results in a 120-page written dissertation that contributes to 100% of the assessment mark;
  • A practice-led study that results in a 120-page written dissertation that contributes to 100% of the assessment mark;
  • A practice-led study that explores the mechanism of a creative practice and then applies it to the making of an artefact or artefacts. In cases such as this the 80-page dissertation is 50% of the mark and the creative output is 50% of the assessment mark;
  • A largely practice-based, practical creative output as exhibition that is accompanied by a 40-page research report and comprehensive artist’s statement. In this case the practical submission carries 80% of the assessment mark and the research report 20%


Admission requirements:

Academic qualification: BVA Hons or equivalent Honours degree, professional four-year degree or equivalent, or Recognition of Prior Learning according to Nelson Mandela University policy.

Candidates who have passed the examinations on the grounds that they will be awarded the relevant degree by the University or on the grounds that the required status may later be granted to them, or who have in any other manner (e.g. RPL) attained a level of competence required for the purpose of postgraduate studies or research at Master’s level, may be accepted as candidates for the MA (Visual Studies).

All applicants must make an appointment to meet with the Programme Leader to discuss their area of expertise and the intended research project. Apart from the general admission requirements, and depending upon the nature of the proposed research, a candidate may be required to fulfill further requirements.

These include the following:

  • Submit a portfolio of creative work, that shows a suitable level of conceptual and technical competency, for review by a panel of experts
  • Provide evidence of an ability to write academically. This may include published books and articles, book reviews, conference proceedings, speeches and presentations. The School’s panel for advanced degrees will review the writing.
  • Undertake an oral before a panel of experts to determine the candidate’s tacit knowledge.

Should these assessments yield a positive outcome, the candidate will be invited to an interview with the Programme Leader and/or Head of Department.

The Head of Department must approve all applications before registration can take place. 


Duration of Study

1 year full-time, 2 years part-time



As per Nelson Mandela University re-admission policy


MODULE CODE       MODULE NAME                                                                         CREDITS

KMF500                   Research Project and Dissertation (Fashion Design)                         180

KFA500                   Research Project and Dissertation (Fine Art)                                    180

KMG500                  Research Project and Dissertation (Graphic Design)                          180

KPH500                   Research Project and Dissertation (Photography)                             180

KMC510                  Research Project and Dissertation (Textile Design)                           180



To allow students to engage with theoretical and studio-based research, on a relevant visual arts problem, that results in appropriate critical discourse and/or and fine art production with academic, educational or industry-linked merit.



On completion of this module the student will be able to:

  • Present a research proposal to a forum of peers and specialists for criticism.
  • Address the research question in the proposal and apply the methodology to a research project.
  • Conduct self-driven, independent research according to the parameters established by the proposal.  
  • Produce a dissertation of an advanced conceptual and technical level.
  • Arrange a professional exhibition of the studio product in the case of a practice-based research project with report or catalogue.
  • Write an article suitable for publication on an aspect of the research topic.



  • Research methodology and academic writing.
  • Supervised independent research project.
  • Research discussion forum.



The written component of the research; dissertation or research report, must be submitted for examination on the first Friday of December for Autumn graduation or the first Friday of August for Summer graduation. The submission of portfolio work or the exhibition of creative outputs may be conducted at the timeous discretion of the supervisor within the allotted examination period or before the next registration cycle begins. The assessment thereof must be concluded, and internal examiner/s and the external examiner’s reports submitted, by the closing date published by the Examinations office.  The examination mark counts 100%. The final mark is weighted according to the theory/practical submission mix.

  • A full theoretical or empirical study with written dissertation: 100% of the assessment mark;
  • A practice-led study with written dissertation: 100% of the assessment mark;
  • A practice-led study with 80-page dissertation and creative output is 50% assessment mark for each component;
  • A practice-based, practical creative output as exhibition and 40-page research report with comprehensive artist’s statement. The practical submission carries 80% of the assessment mark and the research report 20%




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Contact information
Professor Vulindlela Nyoni
Associate Professor
Tel: 041 504 1059

Ms Buyelwa Gxido
Acting Secretary
Tel: 0415043247