List of panels

(P066)

Art and social engagement: aesthetic articulations in African urban spaces

Location C5.01
Date and Start Time 29 June, 2013 at 14:30

Convenors

Fiona Siegenthaler (University of Basel) email
Till Förster (University of Basel ) email
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Short Abstract

African cities are both centres for artistic practice and hotspots of social encounter and conflict. The panel asks how artists negotiate these social and political aspects of urban life aesthetically, and how they interact with diverse audiences and the urban space.

Long Abstract

African cities are both centres for artistic practice and hotspots of social articulations from enriching encounter to violent conflict. On the one hand, they offer artists opportunities to study, establish networks, and interact with social, political, economic and aesthetic aspects of urban life. On the other hand, they offer the stage where artists negotiate these very topics, bringing attention to the materiality, sociality and politics of urban space. However, the artists' agency in the urban public and their modes of social as well as aesthetic interaction, vary to a great degree. They may search for social encounters through performances in public spaces; they may comment on urban planning through independent or commissioned design interventions, or they may pull the city into their studio or workshop by processing the materials found in the streets.

This panel asks: How do artists in African cities situate themselves in the public? How do their art practices relate to particular urban situations and topics? What are the dimensions of social engagement through creative practice, and how do they relate to the urban space as a social and public sphere? What audiences do creative practitioners address, and how do audiences actually emerge? What does artistic practice contribute to an understanding of "the public" in the diverse political and cultural urban settings?

The panel welcomes papers from a broad variety of disciplines including, but not limited to, art history, visual studies, anthropology, urban studies, performance studies, architecture, or design studies. Contributions by practicing artists are equally welcome.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Introduction: art and social engagement - aesthetic articulations in African urban spaces

Author: Fiona Siegenthaler (University of Basel)  email
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Short Abstract

This introduction to the panel "Art and Social Engagement: Aesthetic Articulations in African Urban Spaces" considers major theoretical questions and aspects of the topic and illustrates them with selected examples from the speakers’ recent and upcoming research.

Long Abstract

African cities are both centres for artistic practice and hotspots of social articulations from enriching encounter to violent conflict. On the one hand, they offer artists opportunities to study, establish networks, and interact with social, political, economic and aesthetic aspects of urban life. On the other hand, they offer the stage where artists negotiate these very topics, bringing attention to the materiality, sociality and politics of urban space. However, the artists' agency in the urban public and their modes of social as well as aesthetic interaction, vary to a great degree. They may search for social encounters through performances in public spaces; they may comment on urban planning through independent or commissioned design interventions, or they may pull the city into their studio or workshop by processing the materials found in the streets.

This panel asks: How do artists in African cities situate themselves in the public? How do their art practices relate to particular urban situations and topics? What are the dimensions of social engagement through creative practice, and how do they relate to the urban space as a social and public sphere? What audiences do creative practitioners address, and how do audiences actually emerge? What does artistic practice contribute to an understanding of "the public" in the diverse political and cultural urban settings?

Our introduction will consider these major questions and topics of interest on a theoretical level and will illustrate them with selected examples from our respective and joint research.

Creating social capital in Bamako: the Cinéma Numérique Ambulant

Author: Allison Moore (University of South Florida)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines the social engagement of the Cinéma Numérique Ambulant (CNA - Moving Digital Projection) in Bamako, Mali, in comparison to studio portraiture of the 1940s-50s by photographers like Seydou Keïta.

Long Abstract

In Bamako, the capital of Mali, the 1994 inauguration of the pan-African Rencontres Africaines de la photographie, or Bamako Photography Biennale, sparked varied forms of local photographic production. One of the most exciting, in terms of incorporating the larger population of Bamako, is the Cinéma Numérique Ambulant (CNA - Moving Digital Projection). CNA, a European organization, recruits local Bamakois photographers to enter a neighborhood and take digital photographs of residents during the day. Those images are then projected that same night on the side of a neighborhood building for a local audience. While the Biennale is largely an exclusive affair, catering to international artists, curators, and arts professionals, the CNA, which operates during the opening week of the Biennale, engages with the local urban population. The impromptu slideshow articulates the neighborhood's own importance for itself, reflecting images of residents in their urban spaces back to themselves in an act that surprises, delights, and potentially empowers.

The communal sharing of image production and viewing activated by the CNA creates a form of social capital not unlike the creation and circulation of studio portraits by photographers like Seydou Keïta in the 1940s-50s - the very photographs that inspired the founding of the Biennale. This paper compares the CNA's contemporary project with that historical precedent in order to flesh out the possibilities for agency and empowerment within contemporary photography in Bamako.

Taking offence with no offence: the audience's appreciation of time and place/space within Nigeria's stand-up comedy

Author: Izuu Nwankwo (Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam Campus)  email
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Short Abstract

Live performances exist in “time” and in a “place” which are known to both performers and audience. Within stand-up renditions, the comedian is given license to abuse and insult while the audience laughs. What do “time” and “place” possess inherently that make this possible?

Long Abstract

Stand-up comedy has become one of the most popular live performances in Nigeria since the 1990s. Its patronage has risen phenomenally even in the face of the dwindling fortunes of conventional theatre. This notwithsatnding, stand-up comedy has been largely ignored by recent studies in African theatre/performance. Hence, there exists a huge gap between its practice and reception, on the one hand, and its learned interrogation, on the other. This study examines the plenitudinous manifestations of "time" and "place/space" in stand-up performances from the perspective of the audience. Using Victor Turner's liminality, Alfred Radcliffe-Brown's "joking relationships" and Max Gluckmann's "ritual of rebellion" as basic frameworks, it identifies the unwritten pact between the performer and the audience which permits the former to insult the latter at will without repercussions. It the posits that the idea of time and place is a social construct whose establishment is by mutual consent; and that they are separated from other live performances because in stand-up comedy the performer is equally absolved from slander no matter what s/he says. Due to popularity and use of multiple performance mechanics akin to mimesis, Bright Okpocha (Basket Mouth) is selected for study. Data are acquired from commercially-available Video Compact Discs (VCDs) as well as the monitoring and recording of live events and these are appraised using performance analysis.

Dlala Indima 'play your part': park jams, participation, public art and popular culture in Phakamisa (South Africa)

Author: Rike Sitas (University of Cape Town)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will explore the disruptive, subversive and inclusionary potentialities of public art in a context where formal democratic processes falter by looking at the work of Dlala Indima, a Hip-hop collective working with graffiti in the Eastern Cape township of Phakamisa.

Long Abstract

It is largely uncontested that South African spaces are still fraught with inequality. This paper will explore the disruptive, subversive and inclusionary potentialities of public art in a context where formal democratic processes falter (Pieterse). This paper looks at the work of Dlala Indima, a Hip-hop collective working with graffiti in the Eastern Cape township of Phakamisa. This paper argues that the project is remarkable for four reasons. Firstly, unlike many public art projects that tend to involve urban, middle class artists working in so-called marginalised spaces, Dlala Indima were working in the neighbourhood they grew up in. Secondly, Hip-hop is arguably the most dominant global youth culture, and therefore the artists were working in a popular register that (especially young) people could relate to. Dlala Indima were not only replicating an existing Hip-hop vernacular, but were also experimenting across new ways of visual and verbal representation inspired by the local context that challenge the rural-urban divide. Thirdly, working with a small budget of a meager R150 000, they were able not only to decorate a range of public spaces to the community's pleasure, but also to renovate a dilapidated building into a functional community centre. Whereas cultural planning results in the delivery of (often defunct) community centres, and culture-led development strategies usually emerge from a state or private investors' desire for property development, this project demonstrates an interesting viable alternative. Finally, what this culminates in is new forms of collective cultural citizenship through insurgent practices and spaces.

Set setal and the 'will to power'

Author: Nomaduma Masilela (Columbia University)  email
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Short Abstract

Set setal was an urban movement which highlighted the complicated relationships between public art, public space, and the role of the artist in the face of a post-euphoric independent Senegal.

Long Abstract

In a limited-print monograph published at the start of the 1990s, ENDA Tiers Monde, a Dakar-based non-governmental organization posed an anxious question regarding the newly developing youth movement called set setal, asking if it were "the underlying expression of a new order?" This question expressed the uncertainty surrounding the development of the movement led by the disenfranchised youth of Dakar, whose reaction to the dire social, political and economic conditions of 1980s Dakar resulted in a nation-wide cleaning campaign and a cornucopia of murals and statues spreading messages of cleanliness and orderliness, then unprecedented in as public an arena as the city streets. Set setal was an urban movement which highlighted the complicated relationships between public art and space, individual rights to the city, the limits of official government, and of the role of the artist in the face of a post-euphoric independent Senegal. While it functioned to open up discourse on individual agency in public space, it was also a movement which reflected a 'will to power' which is often obfuscated in analyses of the beloved and well-memorialized movement.

Discussing aesthetics and presentation in the trans-African project

Author: Emeka Okereke (Invisible Borders Trans-African Photographers Organisation)  email
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Short Abstract

This article discusses the aesthetics of art creation and presentation as experienced during the Invisible borders Trans-African Road trip project, which involves a group of African artists travelling by road across African countries and creating works in the process.

Long Abstract

The Invisible Borders Trans-African Rod trip project annually assembles up to ten artists to embark on a road trip from one country in Africa to another, so far always taking off from Lagos Nigeria. During the Trip, the artists create works, network with indigenes and engage in workshops with local artists in major cities traversed. There have been four editions of the project since its inception in 2009. Over the years, the artists have gathered experiences, which have lead to raising questions as regards methods of art production while on the trip. There are many factors which come into play and therefore affect aesthetics. Here we look at the performative nature of the project - being a fiction the reality of those whose everyday existence we punctuate with this traversal.

We define the Public Space as a derivative of the intricate networks of events, perception, personalities embodied by the people within the space and every work that intends to exist or work with the public space must put into consideration or dialogue the everyday reality by which the physical space is a function.

This article equally discusses the core element of aesthetics in art creations in Africa and describes it as a radiation, that energy which runs through the continent like a continuous thread and manifest in the form of improvisation and spontaneity. These two elements are the driving force behind the aesthetics of African publics space today, but also an integral part of the personality of today's African artist

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.