List of panels
Revolution 3.0: iconographies of utopia in Africa and its diaspora
Date and Start Time 28 June, 2013 at 10:30
The main question guiding the panel is the emergence of images in the context of imaginations of futures. Images as seismographers of radical shifts within societies - especially the iconography of revolution as the epitome of social change - will be discussed from interdisciplinary perspectives; .
This panel investigates the emergence of images as imaginations of futures. As seismographers of radical shifts within societies, images often anticipate changes before they appear in the political and social discourse. Revolutions as epitomes of social change produce visual figurations in art, film and popular cultures.
Africa is rarely discussed with a perspective on revolution and utopia in the sense of positive powerful concepts of futures. We argue that the investigation of visual archives of African revolutions may provide knowledge about appearance and trajectories of dynamic icons and the 'agency' of images (Gell 1998). Their affiliations and clusters in different media provide a deeper understanding of projections of futures and their relation to the past. If revolutions aim at something new, a "concrete utopia" (Bloch 1985), this has to be reflected in images as well. New images, we argue, can only emerge in the field of aesthetics, where imaginations of utopian space and time (Rancière 2006) are possible. Art emerges not as a tool for propaganda, but as powerful element of social and aesthetic discourse.
We invite interdisciplinary perspectives from literature, cinema and art studies, visual anthropology and cultural studies. We ask for different projections of the future from Africa and how these imaginations are traceable in art, film, and popcultures. How are they related to historical moments: revolutions, independences and the aftermaths? How can they (re-)define historical events? How can new images, imaginations, concepts of future be generated? How do aesthetic practice and politics relate in situations of change?
Chair: Katharina Fink & Nadine Siegert
Discussant: Ulf Vierke
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Independence through the lens: Ruy Duarte de Carvalho's documentaries and the building of national identity(s)
My paper wants to discuss Ruy Duarte the Carvalho’s documentaries on the Independence process of Angola, and how it imagines a new, diversified nation, through the testimony of its citizens.
The Angolan writer Ruy Duarte de Carvalho is also the author of various documentaries. There is a group of films, directed from 1975 to 1982, that deal with the independence process in Angola, and the building of a national identity. Some depict the celebration of Independence (Uma Festa para Viver - A Party to be Lived), and how the citizens from Luanda (Angola's capital) felt towards the process and how they prepared for the festivities. Other films, like How it was, How it was not (Como foi, Como não foi), represent rural populations and voice their experience during the colonial rule, hitherto silenced. Others portray the Mumuila people, an Angolan ethnic group often underrepresented.
Independence was a central issue in the filming of these documentaries. As Carvalho notices in his book O Camarada e a Câmara: Para Além do Filme Etnográfico, the diversity of cultures and languages throughout the Angolan territory should be brought to light and discussed in the context of the independence process. Therefore, Carvalho's images want to build a multifarious national identity that encompasses the diversity of cultures and voices in the new country. In my paper I want to discuss how the director builds a discourse on national identity through the documentary film, and how it gives voice to the varied populations silenced by Portuguese colonialism, thus imagining a future for a new, independent Angola.
"Get some fresh air": colonial utopia in photographs of Mozambique (1929)
The "Álbuns Fotográficos e Descritivos da Colónia de Moçambique" suggests the reader an utopian view of Portuguese East Africa. Highlighting the Bath culture and other metropolitan practices, we demonstrate how these albums present images of a colonial Utopia in Africa.
After the paradigms crisis of the late 20th century, new approaches or utopias in the political culture have been rare in many countries, especially in Africa. However, some utopias were born in Africa during colonial and post-colonial periods. Some utopias failed. Other resulted in dystopias. To study images of an utopia - not as a chimera of a closed past, but as a projection of an open future - we must avoid the a posteriori rationality and get a historical perspective on what was possible to predict and even produce in terms of images.
During the 1920s and '30s, Mister José Rufino dos Santos was the owner of the bookstore The Portuguese, in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). As editor and photographer, his main work was a series of 10 volumes, published in 1929 and entitled Álbuns Fotográficos e Descritivos da Colónia de Moçambique. This is the most complete photographic collection of Portuguese East Africa before Salazar's Estado Novo. From the analysis of the clichés produced by Mr. J. R. dos Santos and his auxiliaries, amateur photographers H. Graumann and I. Piedade Pó, and texts written by Mario Costa, we can conclude that the images not only showed clippings of colonial reality, but also represented an utopian image of colonialism.
The focus on Bath culture and other metropolitan aspects, like holiday and sport, allow one to analysis the visual narrative in these albums, in which colonialism is legitimized through images of a colonial utopia.
Concrete utopias: Mozambican housing schemes between cooperative colonialism and Afrosocialism
This paper explores architectural projects in Mozambique from late colonialism to early independence. It investigates their materiality and visual representation in the media as images which made utopian, alternative futures conceivable.
While over the last decade the history of modernist architecture in Africa has become an increasingly popular subject of academic research (Elleh, Çelik, Wright) and artistic projects (Guy Tillim, Ângela Ferreira), only little attention has been paid to the phenomenon's postcolonial modalities (Uduku, Leroux). This paper aims at advancing this field by cross-reading the experimental character of both colonial and post-indepence architectural projects. Modernist housing schemes in Maputo figured as a material expression of and intervention in social engineering agendas. Through the innovative use of cement technology they attributed a literal meaning to Bloch's 'concrete utopia'.
My paper will analyse the utopian discourses inherent to two different projects. The cooperative housing estate COOP (1950s-1970s), inspired by Brazilian high-rise architecture and built with Swedish concrete technology gives insights into the ambivalent longing for a harmonious 'lusotropical', i.e. 'multiracial' cooperativism under colonial tutelage. The 1980's Bairro dos Cooperantes, on the other hand, designed by Luso-Mozambican architects and built with local prefab technology was designed for the housing of new cooperation partners from socialist states and stands for a short post-colonial policy aiming at technological autonomy and ecological building principles.
Based on a historical discourse analysis I ask how social utopias such as liberal cooperativism and revolutionary socialism got translated, hybridised, and appropriated in these two projects. Relating their history and their material legacy to their visual representation in the newspapers 'O cooperador de Moçambique' and 'Tempo', I investigate how these images once made unlikely blueprints for Mozambique's future imaginable.
Afro-futures: Africa and the Black Arts Movement
This paper explores how Africa played an important role in the revolutionary rhetoric of the American Black Arts Movement (BAM) during the 1960s-1970s. No longer framed in terms of ancestry, artists of BAM saw Africa as full of revolutionary potential and framed the continent as a future utopia.
This paper explores how Africa played an important role in the revolutionary rhetoric of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) in the United States during the 1960s-1970s. Larry Neal referred to BAM as the "aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power Concept." Indeed the artists of BAM sought to challenge white American hegemony through art and Africa was often at the center of this aesthetic revolution. The paper argues that, while previous African American artists understood their connection to Africa as situated in the past and framed in terms of ancestry, artists of BAM saw the continent as full of revolutionary potential and framed Africa as a future utopia. For example, in the art of Jeff Donaldson, Africa is often figured as an end-game in African American political and spiritual struggles. This concept is seen in painting like his 1971 Victory in the Valley of Esu, or in Majority from 1977. Yet, does this "Afro-furutism" reflect diasporic understandings of Africa as a place of return? Does this longing for an African future (that is also an idealized past) reflect what James Clifford referred to as diaspora's "antiteleological (sometimes messianic) temporality"? Further, how can this form of time shed light on the artistic and political exchanges between the continent and Africa in the 1960s and 1970s? The paper will end by exploring the ways in which Africa's role in the BAM resonate in later visual culture extending to today.
(Re)discovering alternative utopias: Mozambique as "the pearl of the Indian Ocean"
By underlining the diachronic evolution of the imaginary definition of Mozambique as "The Pearl of the Indian Ocean", I aim to problematize its articulation within the cultural context, emphasizing the apparent double bind that seems to characterize its use, meaning and agency.
The image of Mozambique as "The Pearl of the Indian Ocean" — A Pérola do Índico — represents one of the most common expressions used to define the country within the official — both political and cultural — discourse. Already in use during the Colonial era (Correia, 1953), the image survived to the independence and still represents an "iconographic metaphor" frequently employed to define the country, in a number of different situations, contexts and discourses, within the so called public space (Brito, 2010). At the same time, the very meaning, or better saying, the "agency" of this image seems to point to a number of ambiguities, particularly suggested by the claiming of the sea implied by the expression, thus pointing to a sort of "alternative national utopia" which will be examined in this paper via the consideration of different l representational practices. By underlining the diachronic evolution of this imaginary definition of Mozambique, I aim to problematize its articulation within the cultural context, emphasizing the apparent double bind that seems to characterize its use, meaning and agency.
Islands of images: revolutionary Zanzibar's visual aesthetic
This paper first explores the influence of images of revolution on Zanzibari nationalists traveling and studying overseas in the 1950s and 1960s. Second, it examines how they sought to create and sustain Zanzibar's revolution through the construction of a new visual aesthetic.
The images of other lands that a generation of Zanzibari nationalists acquired during their studies and travels overseas were instrumental in shaping their ideas of the meaning of such concepts as "revolution." As they visited and resided in such distant places as China, Cuba, the Soviet Union, Egypt and the United Kingdom, a cohort of young men were able to imagine and visualize the future of their islands. They then returned to Zanzibar, helped to instigate the revolution in 1964, and rapidly rose to positions of influence in a new, radical regime.
This paper not only discusses the influence in Zanzibar of exotic images of revolution taken from all over the world, it explores how, in response to such images, the islands' postcolonial regime sought to construct its own futurist aesthetic. It commissioned the painting of revolutionary murals. In particular, it orchestrated a series of annual festivals meant to be satisfying and educational for both audience and participants. Known as "halaiki" in Swahili, these visual spectacles were especially powerful because of their enactment and dramatization on a mass scale. Performed annually in Zanzibar's football stadiums, halaiki was meant to leave a series of indelible and didactic images and impressions. Through the power of such images, revolutionary elites hoped to convey the meaning of such concepts as revolution to a mass audience, and to encourage Zanzibaris to act out the future dramatically represented before their very eyes.
Flipping over: violence and comedy in Angolan kuduro dance
Kuduro, Angolan electronic music & dance, refers to violence in kinetic, verbal & musical material. Kuduro dancers flip over into iconic stupor like freeze where violence & comedy conflate. Deploying theories of humor a close reading of video stills examines this brutally funny icon of kuduro dance.
Kuduro, the electronic music and dance from Angola contains many references to violence. "Vai morrer gente" - ("people are going to die") or "Vou te matar" ("I am going to kill you") circulate in kuduro lyrics.
Kuduro dance moves have overt kinetic and nominal connections to Angola's recent four decades of war. The Kamorteiro move (named former UNITA general) dances a soldier withdrawing while watching out with weapon in hand. The backwards flip with landing on the buttocks or back is called "simate" ("kill yourself"). Kuduro dancers report having created especially drastic moves to entertain traumatized troops in the war-ridden provinces.
The moment when violence mimetically flashes up in kuduro performances is often also a comic moment. Foreseeable slapstick numbers, wordplay, sensuality, grotesque facial expressions, infantilizing movements blend with the violent aspects of kuduro dance. Performers flip into a stupor like posture that sticks out the bottom, arches the back in, tucks the arms in stiffly, bends the legs outwards and the pulls the face into a exaggerated expression where smile and terror are hard to tell apart.
This paper looks at this "flipping over" moment. Harking back to Astrid Kusser's work on the icon of the cakewalk, an icon of kuduro dance is isolated from video recordings. A close reading of these iconic snapshots in conjunction with theories of humor ask how the combination of violence and comedy in kuduro dance points into a future beyond suffering and confusion.
Manifestos against the white cube
In times of radical social change at the end of Apartheid, artisit Kendell Geers appropriated tools of the historical avant-gardes and their revolutionary heirs as a way to explore the limits and the possibilities what the notion of an artist from the African continent might encompass around 1990.
"A bomb has been hidden, somewhere within this exhibition, set to explode at a time known to the artist alone." This first sentence of a text-based artwork called By any means necessary (1995) by South African artist Kendell Geers (born 1968) sketches out some of the parameters within which this paper shall investigate his early oeuvre. Geers's work functions in the tradition of artist manifestos e.g., starting with Marinetti's Futurist version from 1912 to the letters claiming responsibility of (urban) guerrilla actions from the 1960s onward. Because Geers's objects, installations and interventions are embedded firmly within the art system, his work functions as something that "amounts to a terrorist attack", whose purpose is to cause "serious, if not structural damage to the Virginal White Cube".
Altogether, Geers attacks such constructs as the 'white cube' physically and intellectually by using strategies that draw upon traditions of the European avant-gardes of the early 20th century as well as their heirs of the 1960 by appropriating their aesthetic instruments. This paper will also shed light on forms of art production that could only emerge in moment of radical social change. Furthermore, this paper seeks to demonstrate how Geers's work not only draws strongly on iconographies of political revolution but also, through transposing them into the art system, unfolds their transgressive and utopian potential.
Falling radio towers and flying mausoleums: iconographies of revolution and utopia in the work of Ângela Ferreira and Kiluanji Kia Henda
This paper will discuss two works by Ângela Ferreira and Kiluanji Kia Henda as relevant contributions towards thinking about image, utopia, revolution and futurity within African contemporary artistic practice.
This paper will examine the non-linear temporalities and fictional narratives which emerge in the sculptural, video and text-based installation 'For Mozambique (Models no. 1, 2, 3 Celebrating a Post-Independence Utopia)' (2008) by Ângela Ferreira (b. Maputo, 1958) and the photographic, sculptural and text-based installation 'Icarus 13: The First Journey to the Sun' (2006-2008) by Kiluanji Kia Henda (b. Luanda, 1979). Despite the generational and geographical gap between Ferreira and Kia Henda, and their different approaches in terms of medium, these two works present similarities that should not pass unnoticed. Both artists have turned images pertaining to the colonial, anti- and post-colonial histories of the countries they come from - images of revolution, utopia and futurity - into critical strategies to think about the past, present and future not only of Mozambique and Angola but also of other geographies, in Africa and elsewhere. Fictions, narratives and myths, coming either from the past or the future, inhabit concrete, historical architectures - celebratory and falling radio towers; celebratory and flying mausoleums; both with Soviet and Cold War historical connections and pregnant of present-day political and critical meanings.
Pan-African utopia: le monument de la renaissance africaine
At the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Senegal’s independence, President Abdoulaye Wade inaugurated the Monument de la Renaissance Africaine. This paper examines this monument as the President's Pan-African Utopia, received by the population as a representation of postcolonial dystopia.
At the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Senegal's independence, President Abdoulaye Wade inaugurated the Monument de la Renaissance Africaine. Higher than the Statue of Liberty and hugely expensive, the monument has been subject to various controversies. While the monument can indeed easily be denounced as yet another white elephant, we propose to understand it as an expression of Pan-African Utopia. Composed of an eclectic range of references to European revolutionary and African nationalist iconography, the monument nonetheless expresses everything but an 'African' aesthetic. This aesthetic choice was only of the controversies it has generated so far, in which its formal attributes have become subject to a nation-wide debate on its moral (im)propriety. Short from concluding that the monument is indeed another fetish of the state, we acknowledge that the monument should be seen as an articulation of contested subjectivities. Whilst the President's monument expresses a belated Utopia, it has come to embody a postcolonial Dystopia for the majority of Senegal's population.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.