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CONVERSATIONS

“Geographies of Imagination” at SAVVY Contemporary: on processes and technologies of “dis-othering”

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Antonia Alampi and Francesco Tenaglia in conversation

 

“How is power situated at the core of processes of othering, and how are these processes connected to forms of belonging that we could also relate to notions of territoriality and possession?” In this conversation, curators Antonia Alampi and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung discuss the origin of the collaborative project “Dis-Othering: Beyond Afropolitan and Other Labels”, highlighting the possible implications in the notion of “dis-othering”.

 

FRANCESCO TENAGLIA: Let’s begin with the core concepts behind the exhibition Geographies of Imagination, and how they relate to the wider Dis-Othering international project.

BONAVENTURE SOH BEJENG NDIKUNG: Yes, Geographies of Imagination was an exhibition within Dis-Othering: Beyond Afropolitan and Other Labels, a collaboration between SAVVY Contemporary (Berlin), BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts (Brussels), and Kulturen in Bewegung (Vienna) on the necessary deconstruction of othering practices in European cultural institutions. It consists of this exhibition, symposia, a festival, talks, performances, a residency program, mapping research, and a website, all manifesting in 2018 and 2019 in Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, and Warsaw. These different formats share the bringing together of artists, communities, thinkers, and people from all walks of life to reflect on contemporary processes and technologies of “dis-othering.”

Otherness as a phenomenon seems to have always existed in all societies; it is said to be inherent in identity formation for individuals and societies. Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies (1998) reiterates that “the existence of others is crucial in defining what is “normal” and in locating one’s own place in the world.”[1] That is to say, for an individual or a society to know or define itself, it needs to define another individual or society with regard to what it is not or doesn’t wish to be. Oftentimes, the other then becomes that projection surface for all sorts of unwanted identitarian characteristics. That is the thin line that separates the mere wish to other in order to find one’s own identity, and the othering that is discriminatory and segregational. But if one is the other, then who is another?

One is tempted to think that the “geographical specification-ing” projects so common in Western institutions are then vehicles through which such power gradients are defined, and through which binaries of norm and anomaly, or self and other, are defined. This of course applies to all sections to which majority and minority identities are defined and cultivated in relation to political, economic, and social power and how they come to define race, cultural, gender, and class identities, geographies, geopolitics, and economics.

Taking this into consideration, what could dis-othering possibly imply?

Maybe firstly, dis-othering starts with the recognition of the acts and processes of othering. With the revelation of the undercurrents that feed, justify, enable, and maintain acts and processes of othering. It is in this awareness of acts and processes of othering that one might be able to build resistance and protect oneself both from being othered and from the urge to other.

Secondly, dis-othering could imply any effort to resist the internalization of those constructs that are said to make one that other. The tendency is to see oneself through the prism of the constructor of otherness or the oppressor, which is to say that faced with the violence of continuous belittling or jammed in that space of the “savage slot” (to cite the academic and anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot) in which one has been thrust, the psyche of the othered forces that being to accept an existence within that marginal and liminal space.

Thirdly, complementary to point two, dis-othering must be a self-break, a self-resistance by the otherer. Social identity building is not made by projecting on the so-called other, but rather a projection toward the self. A self-reflection. A boomerang. Instead of looking for or deflecting one’s faults, fantasies, angst on some other, one could embody them and live them.

Fourthly, dis-othering has to do with the realization of what bell hooks calls the oppositional gaze, which is to say the possibility of interrogating the gaze of the otherer, but also the importance of looking back at and against the otherer, and looking at one another in that space of the othered.

Fifthly, dis-othering must be a deeply non-capitalist, non-exploitative, nonprofit act. If geopolitical, geo-economic, and neoliberal capitalist economic goals of “profit, come what may” are catalysts to acts and processes of othering, then dis-othering must mean a negation and exemption from relations based on such principles.

Sixthly, dis-othering is a pledge for a re-imagination, as much as a dismantling of cartographies of power, and a reinvention of geographies. Dis-othering is a recalibration of human and nonhuman, spatial, and social relations independent of the given powers, but based on an interdependency of all—animate and inanimate—that co-inhabit this world.

Seventhly, dis-othering is the practicing of what Sara Ahmed calls the “feminist killjoy,” which is to say the act of resisting taking part in the joy of laughing at or mocking or belittling or denigrating or othering someone. A refusal to accept the comfort of societal status quos in relation to misogyny, patriarchy, racism, classism, and genderism. Dis-othering will have to mean speaking up, pointing out, calling out inequities, as much as proposing alternative ways of being in and perceiving a world of justice and justness.

ANTONIA ALAMPI: In this sense the title of the exhibition is already an implied critique, precisely of the methods of geographical specification-isms practiced by cultural institutions, but also trying to give more context to this legacy. The title chosen for this exhibition is a direct reference to Trouillot’s writings[2] on false representations, of imaginary geographies essential to the West in the creation of its narrative empires and the reorganization of meaning used to legitimize its supremacy. These attempts run dialectically through much of the epistemological literature of the last two hundred years, and stand as the foundation of academic and museological disciplines such as anthropology. Narratives in which the white male is the subject, while other histories and identities are defined around the needs, the lifestyle, and the history of the subject. The other in this imagination is “the savage” that slides between heavenly and hellish extremes—an imaginary other that the West needed to legitimize its supremacy. A supremacy based on “reason and justice” precisely because the other is utopia or barbarism, one that justifies exploitation (of bodies, of land, of labor, of environment, et cetera) and dehumanization, offering to a community constructed on a false sense of whiteness the illusion of power.

In the essay “Race in the Modern World—The Problem of the Color Line” (2015), Kwame Anthony Appiah identifies different phases in processes of othering, particularly in the understanding of race.[3] If issues of racism could already be witnessed from ancient Egypt to Greece—or processes of othering based on what Appiah calls people-hood—then what we understand as race in the modern world had its beginning in the nineteenth century, with the idea of race as a biological fact. This conception in this particular historical period met the making of nations and the raising of nationalism, contributing to the construction of the notion of people biologically belonging to precise geographical locations. Hence a body can be attached to geography; a body is constituted by and through the history of the movement and migration of people. A body is politically important because essentially inherited differences come along with specific psychological, moral, and intellectual traits.

Here I would like to bring in an interesting reference that connects to Italy, given that Mousse is an Italian publication, and I am Italian myself. In 1872, Cesare Lombroso—a controversial figure of Italian history, a criminologist and para-physician, founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology—published one of his most famous books, L’Uomo Delinquente (The Criminal Man). Lombroso’s position was an evolutionary theory based on the belief that criminal behaviors are inherited, traceable via physical and congenital defects such as a specific conformation of the head, the brain, and some body parts, but also assuming that specific types of people belong to specific geographies.[4] Lombroso used as his archetype the skull of a Calabrian man, Giuseppe Villella. Alfredo Niceforo, one of Lombroso´s fellows, continued in this line in 1898, stating that Italy is composed of two parts constituted by two descents bearing different physical and psychological characteristics. One of those races populates the north and the center, the other the south and the islands.

These were years in which, as the southern Italian Antonio Gramsci observed, the prevailing idea among the working class of the north was that the south was hindering the country’s development, and that this problem was caused by natural destiny, by the human underdevelopment of the southern man: “The southern people are considered a biologically inferior species, semi-barbarians, or total barbarians, by natural destiny.” He mentioned this in an unfinished essay from 1926 titled “Alcuni temi della quistione miridionale,” literally translating to “some aspects of the southern question.” [5] Gramsci was convinced that one of the biggest challenges to civic Italian development was to overcome anti-southern prejudices and racism spread by the intellectual bourgeoisie, mostly in the north. So a core issue he identified was one of representation as a political problem—the false and entirely imaginary picture that the economic and political elite was creating to attract consensus from the mass of the northern working class to inspire and produce the illusion of superiority.

I agree with Appiah in thinking that the importance obviously doesn’t lie in defining ethnoracial groups but in understanding social and cultural processes, governmental and institutional laws and regulations, and the neoliberal agendas that are attached to their making. Othering, and the comfort of othering, is not about difference but about power; the subalternity that derives from othering acts is the effect of the exploitation of difference through many forms.

Ultimately, with this exhibition and research we have been trying to engage in a confabulation that builds connections between the varied and conflicting uses of imagination in constructing otherness, the role of geography as a tool of power, and the ways that power stands at the core of processes of othering. We asked how processes of othering are connected to forms of belonging that we could also relate to notions of territoriality and possession, and what role cultural practices play in all of this.

FT: It’s interesting how the tools of othering—cartography, classifications, et cetera—resonate with practices and techniques used, with a critical intention, in some of the works on view. Can you expand on the thinking process regarding the artists and works to include, and the installation itself?

AA: An important point of departure was precisely the shared belief in the strategic use of geography and cartography as instruments of power (tools, as you say, which are not inherently harmful), which we wanted to use for different purposes. The exhibition began with a timeline, which in an inevitable act of synthesis flew over the history of maps and of mapping. It started our journey directly with the lines drawn to divide and define the West from the East through a new global spatial order initiated with the “discovery” of the New World (we could point to the Spanish-Portuguese Treaty of Tordesillas and a few others). This was a convenient starting point for our confabulations, if we agree that since the end of fifteenth century and up until the twentieth, Christian and the becoming-capitalist Europe in this global order represented the “standard,” the “center,” the focal norm, and the “guiding and enlightening civilization,” one that understood the “New World” not as an enemy but as a “free space” to conquer. Within this concept of geography, Euro-powers adopted what Carl Schmitt defined as “global linear thinking,” that is, a relatively superficial understanding of space based on the equation of land and sea surfaces, drawn as soon as European powers had set their eyes on the Americas.[6] We could even trace back the origins of Europe’s approach in exploiting labor, land, resources predominantly outside of its borders precisely to these lines, made possible by the fact that legal, moral, and political values would change and shift depending on which side of these lines humans found themselves on (ever thought about the origins of the expression “beyond the line” in international law?). It was with the new spatial order based on states, on divisions in nations, that a new and relevant spatial thinking developed in the Western “empisphere” (we are suggesting this new coinage to express the violent mix of geographical spheres with empires) that “began in the eighteenth century, with American War of Independence and the application of Rousseau’s state of nature to those states freeing themselves from England and Europe.”[7]

“European pre-eminence in cartography and map-making determined what constitutes Africa, regardless of cultural history.”[8] This observation by Ali Mazrui is also reflected in Valentin-Yves Mudimbe’s The Invention of Africa (1988), which engages with the conceptualization of Africa and the continentalization of its identity through both African and non-African scholarly and literary texts, cartographic imaginations, and religious occupation. It highlights how it took precisely European cartography to turn Africa into a continent.[9]

At this point it was important to draw a historical cartographic line from the Berlin Conference (1884–85) through the notion of Eurafrica—a way to integrate African colonies in a federal European project that would constitute a third “power” together with Asia and the Americas—and up to the constitution of the European Union to understand how the relationship between Europe and Africa has been envisioned and constructed to provide Europe with the raw materials it lacked and needed. Thereby, so the hope, peace could be kept on the European continent by redistributing its extraction of resources.[10]

In conceiving Geographies of Imagination, we decided to start with a timeline, whose core researcher was Olani Ewunnet, that introduced the exhibition, hand drawn on one side of the entrance corridor by Boris Dewjatkin and Christopher Krause, visualizing research that examines cartographic power, rooted in our current locality here in Berlin, meaning that Berlin, Germany, and the heart of Europe represent a focal point from which and through which to draw these lines. We moved nonlinearly in an attempt to conceptually group and link ideas as they recur in cartographic history. From this body of research and archival material we were faced with the task of presenting a cartographic reflection that could bear witness to the twentieth century’s reclamations and divisions of cartographic space via anticolonial independence movements, through the multiplication of international, national, and intranational borders and the making of new alliances.

Concurrently, we found ourselves in the twenty-first century with varied ideations on technologies and practices rooted in cartographic scarification. These technologies—from artificial intelligence to geographic information systems (GIS) software—were called upon and activated precisely for their histories. Our own timeline then faced a series of excerpts and maps developed by the Chimurenga collective as an installation for this exhibition, mostly related to an issue of the Chimurenga Chronic from March 2015 titled “New Cartographies.” Taking as a starting point the role of cartography as a tool of imperialism, this edition asked, “What if maps were made by Africans for their own use, to understand and make visible their own realities or imaginaries? How does it shift the perception we have of ourselves and how we make life on this continent? We don’t have an easy answer, nor will we find one alone.” Together with the literary magazine Kwani? they invited writers and artists to produce this new language, in words and images. This edition appearing, was followed by subsequent issues focusing on specific regions, such as Muzmin (May 2015) and the invention of Zimbabwe (April 2018), acting as “an attempt to deconstruct a colonial parcelling that we internalised too easily—arab-north; black-equator; white-south with their Easts and Wests etc.”[11] The corridor culminated in Anna Binta Diallo’s video work Maps (2012), in which the rhythm of hands clapping punctuates a flow of images featuring materials from the artist’s own archive of photographs from her family in Canada and Senegal, a sequence of school maps, and stereotypical images of both countries. By juxtaposing these images, Maps offers a visual critique of the image the world’s patriarchy and racial capitalism have produced in order to control and oppress, and the failure of education to give us access to a multiplicity of histories.

The following space in the exhibition presented a kind of domesticity, with works by Anna Líndal and Dimitri Fagbohoun. Líndal presented BORDERS 2000 (1999–2000), four different videos shown simultaneously on televisions atop a simple IKEA shelf, “a symbol of the home as an institution in itself and a space of cultural conditioning.”[12] These relate to nature’s and culture’s invasion of the private sphere of the home. It is a piece about a search for a possible Icelandic identity through nature, science, and tradition, always with a deep view of the self in those physical or imaginary spaces. Fagbohoun presented a selection of bronze sculptures, part of Recollection, a series the artist has been working on since 2014, for which he collects and creates works grounded in a practice of world making and reflection, focused on inscribing in new narratives those African artworks existing—often misrepresented—within institutionalized segments of the art world. In the title, “re-“refers to that which already exists, a new journey after finishing an old one. “Re-” suggests a scenario in which every artwork exists without and beyond the artist, at the crossroads of myriad cultural, political, religious, and social influences [13].

The largest segment of the exhibition space addressed more directly the issue of the imaginary construction of identities as attached to bodies, as I addressed above.

Tanja Muravskaja presented a portrait series of male Nordic faces titled Estonian Race (2010–2011), an attempt at understanding the modern post-Soviet state, developing within a promoted and celebrated mono-ethnic concept of a nation and an understanding of the fact that there is no such thing as an Estonian race. These portraits, which also stood as a sort of imaginary construction of whiteness, faced photographs by Mahir Jahmal on the opposite wall addressing stereotypes projected on black men in Vienna. The series includes twelve manually distorted photographs, giving the impression that someone creased the works prior to framing. All of these speak about the power of stereotypes, understood as images through which we can’t see a real person. What we see instead are the main attributes by which we tend to define human beings.

In between these images of masculinity were various works by Oscar Murillo, somewhat floating between these two extremes. In one of them, the series of drawings titled flight (2016–ongoing), the artist brings the traditional earthbound space of the artist’s studio to the transitional air-bound space of an airplane. He uses the bird’s-eye view of privilege, the boundary-drawing and imperial gaze of the cartographer, to create a pungent commentary on human-imposed limitations on the movement of people. The drawings are made dually transparent and vulnerable—framed within Perspex and hung from the ceiling solely by individual fishing wires. Murillo makes them during his frequent air travels, tracing the movement of people and goods from one place to another, marking that space of transition where concepts of sovereignty and national borders dissolve (or do not strictly apply)[14].

In an inverse act, Rossella Biscotti’s textile piece 10×10 (Dead Minorities) (2014) was on the floor and against a red wall. The work is part of a series that interrelates data processing techniques, demographics, and textile manufacturing so as to question how statistics and quantitative analysis not only represent a given reality, but may also hide the cognitive basis implied in contemporary profiling methods. Finally, in the background, Saddie Choua installed various monitors, lights, and books related to Western media stereotypes, right-wing political speeches, images of racialized violence, racist and segregationist propaganda, and highly controversial characters of white feminist history such as Margaret Sanger, together with objects from her archive of books and elements from her own life as a Belgian Moroccan.

The next cluster of works, in yet another part of the exhibition space, related more to the notion of territory, its appropriation, and its representation. Sandra Schäfer’s multimedia installation examined power relations in a time of soft politics, and women’s struggles as exemplified in architecture, film, poetry, strikes, and settlements. It aimed to give visibility to a set of relations between Germany and Afghanistan by focusing on ties and narratives prior and subsequent to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Referencing and expanding upon early twentieth-century techno-utopian visions, Heba Y. Amin presented background research involving old maps, declassified CIA files, and images of different architectures (from the first model of the Statue of Liberty to the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana) related to her ongoing project Operation Sunken Sea_BE-9-18 (2018), which investigates all that is implied in a significant transformation of territorial constructs, and the impact on new geopolitical alliances and global politics and policies. By shifting the paradigm in a time of neo-fascist necro-politics, the project responds to the contemporary moment of political uncertainty in Europe, the unrest and collapse of nation-states in the Middle East, and the neoliberal failure of globalization in Africa [15]Salwa Aleryani brought us to observe minor and peripheral building phenomena. The sequence of her works included photographs and found objects in which we are unsure if we are looking at landscapes in the making, old stones, or surreal panoramas. We see dials labeled ORIENT and CITIZEN, and ponder both in terms of how they define how we live together. What is left of the citizens of Orient? Jackie Karuti made a video of a series of snapshots marking events highlighting milestones in exploration and innovation. They exalt men while also speaking of a history of technology and exploitation at a time of great anxiety and discovery. Following innovation and new technologies, lastly in this space we included the work Sandy Speaks (2017) by American Artist, which peers into the ongoing murderous racism of US law enforcement, especially against the African American population, using a mixed methodology of artificial intelligence and online archival research.

The last segment of the exhibition concluded with works putting in direct relation confronting gazes, or presenting new syncretic possible forms. Michele Ciacciofera brought together two interrelated works for this exhibition: the sounds of a boat crossing the Mediterranean Sea as a background sound—a mix of human voices, sea sounds, and onboard technology—and an installation of cardboard boxes becoming an amphitheater, in which humanoid metal structures hold together several pieces of traditional tapestries of Sardinian and Congolese origins, the first designed by the artist and the latter a part of his archive. Monumental Silences (2018) by Ibrahim Mahama engages with the racist and colonialist legacy of monuments still standing in public space in many cities around the globe. A highly controversial racist monument faces a possible new imagination of it. The two challenge one another, proposing that it is in this zone of contact, between gazes, that a process of healing, of mutual understanding, may be achieved. In a similar vein, The ABC of Racist Europe (2017) by Daniela Ortiz is an artwork that is also a children’s book in English taking the form of an alphabet in which different words, images, and phenomena are scrutinized and explained through their Eurocentric and white-centric interpretation, and anticolonial and antiracist alternatives are offered.

FT: It is interesting to note how the production of “otherness” is exceeding, on a political level, geography, traditional national-state imperialistic rhetoric (race, identity, culture, religion), and patriarchic normativity (gender, sexual orientation)—which are, of course, still firmly and dangerously on the rise—to a macroscopic societal fragmentation in which “everyone else” is conceptualized as dangerous. I’m thinking of the success of the “home invasion” horror genre in which a house is haunted by a foreign, generic outside/enemy as opposed to inhabited by ghosts; or lobbying for possession of private arms for self-defense in a traditionally gun-free Europe. The endgame would be complete atomization in which the infamous quote by Margaret Thatcher, “no such a thing as society,” seems even more relevant than when she formulated it in the 1980s, in a kind of constant semi-paranoid mind frame. I think this resonates a lot with your search for, as you phrased one of the motivations of the project, a sense of belonging that will encourage us to embrace all of the conditions of the world. How does your research suggest that the arts might play a role in producing this sense of belonging?

BSBN: Let me first go back to the notion of othering. If one, even with a minimum of sensitivity, takes a glance at some current political highlights, one is likely to hear the reverberations of discourses ranging from building walls between nations, to “bad hombres,” to the Islamization of the Occident. As Sasha Polakow-Suransky put it in “The Ruthlessly Effective Rebranding of Europe’s New Far Right” (2016): “They (the Right) have effectively claimed the progressive causes of the left—from gay rights to women’s equality and protecting Jews from antisemitism—as their own, by depicting Muslim immigrants as the primary threat to all three groups. As fear of Islam has spread, with their encouragement, they have presented themselves as the only true defenders of western identity and western liberties—the last bulwark protecting a besieged Judeo-Christian civilisation from the barbarians at the gates.”[16] This becomes interesting as one observes the efforts of the right to coopt certain historically othered within their political strategies, brewing new alliances and forging common denominators that were historically regarded as contradictory, while constructing other “others” on which long-cultivated angst, prejudices, and resentments can be projected. This process should be understood as a cannibalization of otherness and a subsequent regurgitation of otherness. For some historically othered, the only thing that has changed are the mechanisms and methodologies through which they are objectified and othered. So, in our sociopolitical contemporary, one can observe an intensification in the construction and cultivation of otherness, morphing old conceptions of the other to clothe new groups of people, while at the same time one can observe the appropriation of the other for purposes profitable to the privileged and powerful.

Another tendency, especially within the context of the culture industry, is the resurfacing of the aforementioned “geographical specification-ing,” that is, the need to put a spotlight on certain geographical regions. This is of course not a new phenomenon, especially among Western museums and other cultural infrastructures in which, based on certain cultural-political agendas or strategies, certain geographical regions are brought in and out of focus. Some see this practice as part of what is termed soft power, whereby culture is used as a means to gently exercise political power on certain cultural and social groups.

Take for example a museum or library in France that chooses to put a spotlight on Algeria, in the hope that it will appease the Algerian community and soothe or cleanse the wounds of its colonial past. Or look at the British Council, Goethe Institut, Institut Français, and so on opening cultural centers around the world to “promote culture.” Soft power. This “geographical specification-ing” is in no way bad per se. The long list of, for example, “African shows” or “Arab world shows” around the world do indeed do a great deal in presenting to the world what an African or Arab contemporary could be.[17] That said, one must ask: What does it mean to put together an “Africa exhibition” or an “Arab exhibition” today, as we see at the New Museum, MMK Frankfurt, BOZAR Brussels, Fondation Louis Vuitton, and many other museums in the West? What does it mean to make geography the subject matter rather than whatever other conceptual or philosophical discourses of relevance? What about issues of representation, if one really wishes to make a geographical exhibition? Meaning, how would one represent the fifty-four African countries, the thousands of African languages and communities, within such an exhibition?

These issues necessitate re-questioning and reconsidering. But what prompts this reflection now are the following suspicions: While “geographical specification-ing” might be well intentioned, one can’t avoid noting that the occasional presentation of an Africa, Arab, Asia, or similar show is another (and for that matter a reinforced) act of othering. This suspicion is brought about by the fact that institutions tend to content themselves with the fact that they have done an “Africa show” and therefore do not necessarily need to include other artists of African origin in their regular program. Such projects thus become a compensation for a lack of proper engagement with issues of diversity at the level of program, personnel, and public, and also tend to thrust the other they construct into the “savage slot,” as Trouillot put it.

Additionally, there is something about the rhetoric in which such “geographical specification-ing” projects are accommodated. By this I mean the rhetoric of “giving a voice to,” “giving space to,” “making visible,” “taking care of,” “making heard” the African, Asian, Arab, or whoever in question. These phenomena, which could be likened to paternalistic, infantilizing strategies, of course push us to think of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s pertinent question, “Can the subaltern speak?”But since Spivak, we have learned that the issue at stake is not whether the subaltern can speak, but rather the twist Seloua Luste Boulbina gave with her question, “Can the non-subaltern hear and read?”[18] Do these geosocial groups stereotypically put together in such shows, especially in Western museums, actually wish to be given a voice, space, or otherwise? And under whose terms? Don’t they already have their spaces and voices?

Again, the issue at stake is the agenda behind such rhetoric, and the fact that the rhetoric is indeed an important part of the process of constructing and cultivating otherness within a bubble—meaning, unnecessarily and unwantedly. Which is to say that the exclusive mechanism in relation to such projects marks a difference between a constructed “norm” and the constructed “anomaly,” which is the one-off, spaceship-like project that lands and then disappears. It is equally important to point out the capitalist economic model behind such “geographical specification-ing” projects. The use of slogans, captions, and simplifications is the epitome of neoliberal economic practice. This goes hand in hand with the concept of soft power, wherein culture is not only used for political aims, but also suits well as an entry into economic spheres. In the past years, we have heard from philosophers, economists, and politicians alike that the future of the world as we know it will be determined in Africa. This prompted reactions from the cultural sector taking the form of projects like “African Futures,” “Africa Is the Future” and various sorts of “Afrofuturisms” as tags and labels well packaged for easy sales. It all becomes a commodity. The commodification of the other and otherness.

Antonia: I hope this question is also somehow answered by displacement of normative conceptions of belonging that the artists’ works brought forward, as expressed in the answer above.

FT: One part of the Geographies of Imagination was “Invocations,” the name you wonderfully used to refer to the public programs, workshops, lectures, and performances at the end of the exhibition. How would you say that these integrated (or complemented) the initial nucleus of ideas regarding techniques of dis-othering?

AA: Through “Invocations” we tried to evoke, provoke, and conjure the spirits together with the speakers, creating an even more dialogical space than with the exhibition. For these “Invocations” we invited scholars, politicians, writers, directors of institutions, and performers doing important work in relation precisely to the notion of dis-othering as we understand it, even if not explicitly under this theoretical framework. Speakers included Nacira Guénif-Souilamas, Hamid Dabashi, Wayne Modest, Andrea Cusumano, Musa Okwonga, Protektorama [5.0–5.4.7], Discoteca Flaming Star, Drummers of Joy, and Hector Thami Manekehla, among others. For example, Andrea Cusumano presented the case study of the city of Palermo, with its long history of contaminations and cultural syncretism, which is clearly visible in its architecture, food, and intangible heritage. He addressed how the city has shifted its political and cultural agenda to fostering human international mobility rights and enhancing a culture of welcoming. Hamid Dabashi, with a keynote titled “The West and the Rest In Peace,” read dis-othering as a theoretical art and craft of liberation, seeking to dismantle the biopower of alienation and perforce the biopolitics of domination. He engaged in a genealogy of the connection between othering and the self, within the relation between the word “Europe” and the world. Europe here is understood as a kind of floating signifier, a signifier in motion. A world—Europe—created by constituting a self, while everybody else is deemed an-other. Dabashi discussed the need to look into the system that generates othering, and called for dismantling that system that makes the othering act possible. He suggested that we all are bound to the positionality of opting for perilous journeys rather than stable destinations as the modus operandi of our thinking, looking into how from the fragments of the old worlds we still cherish, the allegories of a new world are emerging[19].

Nacira Guénif-Souilamas argued in favor of acknowledging otherness and othering not as the land/mark of white hegemony, notably but not only in art and art institutions, but as the talkback experience rooted in ordinary objects and acts, including speech acts, subtracted from any attempt of artifact-ization if not piece-of-art-ization. If considered as such, those objects and acts become parts and parcels to be dis-covered and opened anew, and therefore they are part and parcel of an imaginary and a mode of existence inventing the after of Euramerica, through ramifications yet to be mapped[20]. Musa Okwonga examined, using examples drawn from the author’s own experience and by reading some of his poetry, effective techniques for making art as an “outsider”—that is to say, how to choose a voice and a style that can resonate, and how “outsiders” can avoid making art that, due to a host of cultural constraints, they are expected to. With Daniela Ortiz we organized an open workshop related to her piece The ABC of Racist Europe on the making of a children’s book in German to address antiracism and decolonial thinking. We believe that these important issues need to get out of the realm of adulthood and find ways to be translated and transmitted to children.

 

This text and its content is the outcome of a collective effort, in thinking, writing, and making, that is that of the SAVVY Contemporary team more broadly, but also specifically thanks to the group of people that worked on this project that includes Jasmina Al-Qaisi, Lynhan Balatbat-Helbock, Olani Ewunnet, Anna Jäger, Antonio Mendes, Lema Sikod and Lili Somogyi.

 

[1] Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies (Routledge: New York / London 1998), 6.
[2] In particular, I am referencing here: Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Anthropology and the Savage Slot: The Poetics and Politics of Otherness. In R.G. Fox (ed.) Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 1991), 17–44.
[3] Appiah Kwame Anthony, Race in the Modern World.Foreign Affairs, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2018. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2015-03-01/race-modern-world.
[4] Cesare Lombroso, L’uomo delinquente (Milan: Hoepli, 1876).
[5]  Antonio Gramsci, Some aspects of the southern question, text from Antonio Gramsci Selections from political writings (1921-1926), translated and edited by Quintin Hoare (London: Lawrence and Wishart,1978). Transcribed to the www with the kind permission of Quintin Hoare, https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/blogs.uoregon.edu/dist/f/6855/files/2014/03/gramsci-southern-question1926-2jf8c5x.pdf, 4.
[6] Carl Schmitt, Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of Jus Publicum Europaeum (New York: Telos, 2006), 87–90.
[7] Schmitt, Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of Jus Publicum Europaeum, 100.
[8] Ali Mazrui, The Africans: A Triple Heritage (London: BBC Publishing, 1986), 101.
[9] Valentin-Yves Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy and the Order of Knowledge (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).
[10] For more on the subject of Eurafrica see Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson, Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism (London / New York: Bloomsbury, 2014).
[11] Editorial “The Invention of Zimbabwe”, Chimurenga Chronic (April 2018).
[12]  Work description in exhibition handout: https://savvy-contemporary.com/site/assets/files/4099/handout_geographiesofimagination.pdf.
[13] As written in the exhibition hand-out, in a description of the work by the artist, written by him together with Lili Somogyi.
[14] As written in the exhibition hand-out, with a text by Olani Ewunnet.
[15] As the artist herself puts it in the exhibition handout.
[16] Sasha Polakow Suransky, “The Ruthlessly Effective Rebranding of Europe’s New Far Right,” The Guardian, November 1, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/01/the-ruthlessly-effective-rebranding-of-europes-new-far-right.
[17] For example: Contemporary African Art, Studio International, London and New York (1969); Contemporary African Art, Camden Arts Centre, London (1969); African Contemporary Art, The Gallery, Washington, DC (1977); Moderne Kunst aus Afrika, Horizonte Festival der Weltkulturen, Berlin (Nr. 1, 1979); Art pour l’Afrique: Exposition Internationale d’Art Contemporain, Musée National des Arts Africains et Océaniens, Paris (1988); Art Contemporain Arabe: Collection du Musée du l’Institut du Monde Arabe, Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris (1988); The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain, Hayward Gallery, London (1989); Contemporary Art from the Islamic World, Barbican Concourse Gallery, London (1989); Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art, Center for African Art, New York (1991); Fusion: West African Artists at the Venice Biennale, Museum for African Art, New York (1993); Seen/Unseen, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool (1994); Rencontres Africaines: Exposition d’Art Actuel, Institute du Monde Arabe, Paris (1994) Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa, Flammarion, New York (1995); An Inside Story: African Art of Our Time, The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan; Association of Art Museums, Tokyo (1995); New Visions: Recent Works by Six African Artists, Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, Eatonville (1995); Africana, Sala 1, Roma & Adriano Parise Editore, Verona (1996); Africa by Africa: A Photographic View, Barbican Centre, London (1999); Authentic/Ex-Centric, Forum For African Arts, Ithaca (NY) (2001); The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945–1994, Villa Stuck, Munich (2001) & Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2001) & Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2001)& P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center and The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2002); Fault Lines: Contemporary African Art Shifting Landscapes, inIVA, London (2003); Africa Remix, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf (2004) & Hayward Gallery, London (2005) & Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2005) & Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2006)…just to mention a few.
[18] Seloua Luste Boulbina, “Being Inside and Outside Simultaneously: Exile, Literature, and the Postcolony: On Assia Djebar,”Eurozine, February 11, 2007, https://www.eurozine.com/being-inside-and-outside-simultaneously/.
[19] Description based in part on Hamid Dabashi’s own description of the talk published on the handout oft he program.
[20] Description based in part on Nacira Guénif-Souilamas’s own description of the talk published on the handout of the program.

 

 

 

 

 

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