That is the title of a captivating exhibition on show at BRASS Cultural Centre, here in Brussels* and which I had the opportunity to visit three weeks ago. The exhibition presents the work of 17 young contemporary Artists from 11 southern and eastern African countries. This is, in itself, a great opportunity, as it is not often that one can see contemporary African art in museums in Europe (although luckily this is becoming more and more common).
Furthermore the curator, Marie-Ann Yemsi, has done a great job by both making a brilliant selection of artists and creating a clear theme for the show, whose message is relevant beyond the art world. The exhibition has the past and the present as two poles between which the artists move, with their pieces reflecting at the same time contemporary reality and how the historical experience shapes the present.
Yemsi herself writes, in the introduction to the show, that Odysées Africaines is conceived as a polyphonic space which:
“involves a multiplicity of viewpoints and positions, and shows that unique ability of artists to play on several registers as they revitalis, update or fictionalise their various symbolic heritages to build unprecedented structures, produce prolific hybridisation or even create new utopias.”
*Indeed, one of the (few) positive aspects of living here is the big presence of African diasporas (not only from DRC, but also Rwanda and Burundi, former Belgian colonies as well, and from French-speaking Africa generally…) and – related to this – the large number of cultural events linked to the African continent.
Over at The Big Rountable, Shaun Raviv weaves a fascinating (real) story part-True Detective, part- portrait of the Kingdom of Swaziland.
It’s a gripping narrative that brings together murders, witchcraft, the AIDS epidemic in the country and the social and political context in which this takes place alongside the voices of those directly touched by this horrific story.
Brussels-based artist Badi has just released a new song called ‘Belgicain’ in which he speaks of his experiences as Belgican, or an Afropean living in Belgium.
The video is filmed on the streets of Matonge, the popular African neighbourhood in Brussels.
Here is the video:
This week I attended a speed-reading course. One of the exercises required us to pick a book we had not read but wanted to, and spend 30 min speed-reading it to get as much info as possible from it.
I picked Séverine Autesserre’s “The trouble with the Congo” and it looks like this:
This is clearly not the same as carefully reading something, but it is definitely a good way to become acqainted with a book to see if it is worth reading it entirely.
Which is precisely the case for Autesserre’s book, since her writing is extremely good and the wealth of information (330 in depth interviews!) makes it a brilliant research piece. I was able nonetheless to get a general understanding of the book thesis:
that the international intervention in eastern DRC has largely failed to promote durable peace due to the dominant peace-building culture. This culture is focussed on the national and international contexts and thus has prevented the local conflicts that cause much of the violence from being sufficiently acknowledged or adequately addressed. Autesserre’s recommendation is thus to give a much greater role to local peace-building initiatives.
This is an extremely insightful thesis, valid also for other conflicts outside eastern DRC or the African continent.
Whilst doing some research for this post, I have seen that Autesserre recently recorded a TED talk explaining the thesis of her book.
She does a much better job that I can explains it much better than I can ever do, so please, watch it below (incidentally, also a new – and possibly more effective way – to learn about this very much recommended book!)
When earlier this year I wrote about taking up blogging again (after a break of two and a half years), I mentioned that there would be changes in the content and the format of On Africa. Since then, I have thought more about this new direction, and I think it will be a significant change. Things will take a while to get going, and in the meanwhile I will continue to update the blog more or less regularly.
I bring all this up because I would like the new On Africa to have a clear “editorial” line behind it, a “vision” for what it wants to achieve. I do not want to simply write about what is happening, but to try to build certain coherence in what I write, or ask people to contribute (I am hoping this will be another novelty too!). In any case, this “mission statement” is still being developed but I have already certain guiding references. One of the most important ones, are the ideas of Achille Mbembe (whom I consider Africa’s most interesting and relevant intellectual at present).
Achille Mbembe (Africultures)
Mbembe has recently published his new book, “Critique de la raison nègre“, and given various interviews. A recent one has been included in Le Monde special on Africa that was published last week. Some excerpts of this have been posted online today. The interview is very much recommended if you can read French.
Below I translate a few paragraphs that I find extremely interesting. They constitute a central element of the vision that On Africa will try to contribute to:
On Africa’s future
“All in all, Africa is evolving simultaneously in various directions. Which ones, among the many centrifugal and centripetal forces, will be victorious? The outcome will depend on the shape which the social struggles will take. It is in the interest of our world that Africa becomes her own centre and she constitutes herself as a vast space of circulation. This is an essential condition for its future, and for the future of our world”
On Africa’s relation to Europe
“What strikes me is that Europe herself is also ‘provincialising’. She makes things easier for us. We don’t need to turn our back her, she turns her back on us herself. I have the impression that it is a profound movement, that feeds on the myth of the community without foreigners. A desire for apartheid at a global scale. Europe is about to turn her back to the kantian moment that will have founded her modernity and attractiveness.
Africa mustn’t turn her back to no one. She must open herself, open her borders and become a land of migration. We need to reflect at this point on how to include Chinese migrants among us. We have to open Africa! Welcome all of those that come, integrate them. Retake the role that Europe has played. Those educated people who don’t find jobs in United States or in Europe, those floating brains, they should come to Africa. Come to us!”
If you happen to be in Brussels this Saturday, please be sure to check out the Afropeans + festival at BOZAR (I will most certainly do so!):
Along the lines of the artist Pitcho Womba Konga’s Congolisation project, Afropean+ highlights the added value of the African diaspora in the European cultural landscape. Taking place within the context of the Belgian launch of the European Year for Development, this project affirms the interdependence between North and South, and promotes freedom, diversity, creation and solidarity as driving forces for our future.
More info and complete programme of debates, projections and concerts here.
That’s why I chose to use this rather new word that was born in the early ‘90s when these musical mixtures were being born. Afropean is a term that I felt reflected new identities on the continent and seemed appropriate for a number of reasons. Firstly it hints at cultural influence, rather than simply racial identification, and secondly, for the first time in my life it is a word I’ve been able to use to describe myself that sounds cohesive and whole — isn’t mixed this or half that or hyphenated in any way. Rather, it’s a portmanteau — something whole but born of duality.
Pitts is a photographer and one of the founders of Afropean:
an online multimedia, multidisciplinary journal exploring the social, cultural and aesthetic interplay of black and European cultures, and the synergy of styles and ideas brought about because of this union.
We hope to fill the void left by Erik Kambel’s Afro-Europe blog, which closed down in 2013, and, under Erik’s guidance we will continue to shed light on art, music, literature, news and events from the Afro-European diaspora, as well as produce and commission original essays and projects.
2015 began with the sad news of the passing of Terence Ranger (85) – one of the most reputed scholars of Zimbabwean and African history.
Ranger’s is perhaps best-known for the volume on “The Invention of Tradition” (1983) which he co-edited with Eric Hobsbawn (another towering figure in academia). Ranger’s essay in the book: “The Invention of tradition in colonial Africa” generated and intense academic debate – and Ranger himself revisited these arguments a decade later.
Ranger began his career as lecturer of Medieval and Modern History in the University College of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1957. In 1962, following the country’s unilateral declaration of independence, Ranger was deported from Rhodesia and he established himself in newly independent Tanzania, where he directed the University of Dar es Salaam’s History Department. There he assembled a stellar academic line-up that included John Iliffe and Walter Rodney.
In many ways, the origins of the modern African history scolarship can be traced back to those ‘Dar es Salaam school’ days and to Terence Ranger.
One of the many things for which he will be remembered.
PS You can read a very extensive and extremely interesting inverview with Ranger done by Diana Jeater in 2009 here.