Creative Boundaries: Traveling between Urban and Rural Identities
Date and Start Time 29 June, 2017 at 14:00
How are exchanges between urban and rural spaces interwoven with traditions of cultural expression? This panel will illuminate how artists build, take part in, and experience networks of cultural production and meaning-making, focusing on changing perceptions of urban and rural identities.
This panel seeks to explore how processes of exchange between urban and rural spaces at the level of individuals, communities, and nations are interwoven with traditions of cultural expression. Whether in their practice or in trade, many African art forms simultaneously cross (spatially) and maintain (conceptually) the boundaries between urban and rural. As artists, collectors, and objects travel, and as images, songs and videos fly from phone to phone, rural spaces and urban zones become less differentiated while the mythologizing of the rural and its residents as a repository of traditional cultures seems to intensify.
At the same time, participation in arts activities furnishes, and often depends upon, opportunities to travel (tours, residencies, trainings, sales opportunities) with personal networks often facilitating such exchanges, so that dynamics of interpersonal exchange are bound up with larger trends such as Fair Trade, cultural/ethical tourism, and migration.
We are interested in papers that illuminate how artists and artisans build and experience networks of opportunity and meaning-making. What are the reciprocal impacts of urban and rural imaginaries on aesthetic activities and bodies of knowledge? How do actors (artists, marketers, organizations, governments) in the artistic sphere cultivate or resist these tropes?
Topics of contemporary or historical scope are invited; papers highlighting the roles of women or young people in creative activity are particularly welcome.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
SWOPA: Women Artists Defying Boundaries
Women artists in rural Sirigu, Ghana, defy notions of the isolated “traditional” artist. They revitalize local wall painting practices while also traveling to urban centers to paint restaurants, churches, and hotels, spreading knowledge of and appreciation for their indigenous artistry.
Women in northeastern Ghana traditionally beautify the walls of their homes with spectacular paintings that have historically been the area's most highly renowned and widely recognized art forms. Compositions include a large repertoire of red, black, and white motifs representing elements of daily life and traditional culture. Such artistry has long existed against a backdrop of persistent poverty resulting from factors such as historical underdevelopment, urban migration, and modernization. These and other factors have led to a decline in wall painting practices over the last half-century.
This paper highlights women artists in Sirigu, Ghana, who have successfully revitalized local artistic traditions—particularly wall painting—while also improving their financial circumstances by adapting to the global tourism market through their founding of the Sirigu Women's Organisation of Pottery and Art (SWOPA). SWOPA now welcomes visitors from all over the world, who come and stay in the organization's guesthouse, composed of rooms painted with symbolic designs. Members travel to cities such as Navrongo, Bolgatanga, and Accra to paint the walls of churches, restaurants, and hotels. The head art teacher, Ayambire Faustina, regularly travels back and forth between Sirigu and Accra, where she participates in festivals and urban painting projects, exhibits her work, and recently completed a fine arts degree. I will explore the ways in which Faustina and her senior colleagues defy notions of the isolated "traditional" rural artist while also demonstrating these women's agency in maintaining control of their artistry in the face of constantly shifting influences and circumstances.
The Joburg Connection - Migrant Labor/Artistic Labor
Migrant labor and rural 'homelands' formed the backbone of the South Africa apartheid economy. Rural women maintained traditions that became icons of ethnic divisions and pride. A new generation of Zulu ceramists are capitalizing on rural/urban nostalgias and creating a national design culture.
Migrant labor, and required return migration of workers to rural 'homelands,' formed the backbone of the South Africa apartheid economy. 'Homelands' and the apartheid system were justified by the reification and accentuation of ethnic divisions. In the rural areas, the Bantu Education system encouraged the maintenance of traditions of art and craft as icons of ethnic divisions, as well as cultural pride.
This paper focuses on a new migration to the greater Johannesburg metropolitan area by contemporary women, and sometimes men, who are capitalizing on rural/urban nostalgias and turning icons of rural identity into objects of national design culture. Cape Town is often seen as South Africa's art and design center by international audiences, with events such as the International Design Indaba and the new Cape Town Art Fair, but Johannesburg - Joburg or eGoli - is the more edgy meeting ground for young Zulu-speaking talent. Migratory paths to Joburg's mines drew in Zulu men of the apartheid era. Today the 'urban Zulu'-speaking eGoli is more approachable than the largely English speaking Cape Town, particularly for rural women from KwaZulu-Natal province, where more traditional Zulu is still spoken.
With the rise of international theoretical inquiry into and financial investment in design and 'new craft', ceramic artists are finding new ways to maintain and improvise upon notions of Zulu ceramic creativity. However, the limits of innovation on ceramic forms by rural women hearkens back to the containment of apartheid era cultural divisions. This paper points illuminates the finer points of this constraint.
Border-crossing: an exploration of beadwork as sites of exchange
This paper explores the ways in which contemporary South African artists who incorporate beadwork in their artworks challenge spatial and conceptual boundaries between urban and rural art making practices. I suggest that a re-examination of beadwork as a transgressive art making practice is needed.
Beadwork has been made in southern Africa for over 200 years. The artists, who are usually rural women, make adornments that are part of specific cultural ceremonies or that decorate the body. Far from being static, beadwork designs continually change as beadworks artists are influenced by each other, patterns from factory made fabrics, and increasing access to mass produced beads of various shapes and colours.
Contemporary urban-based South African artists such as Liza Lou, Pamela Phatismo Sunstrum and Wayne Barker make use of beadwork, sometimes made by rural beadwork artists, in their artworks. The artworks can be understood as multi-spatial and multi-temporal in their link to both rural and urban art making practices.
This paper explores the ways in which contemporary South African artists who incorporate beadwork in their artworks challenge spatial and conceptual boundaries between urban and rural art making practices.
With reference to historical and contemporary examples, I begin by exploring the ways in which southern African beadwork is continually changing due to various forms of exchange. Then I analyse contemporary South African artworks that incorporate beadwork to uncover the reciprocal impacts of urban and rural imaginaries on contemporary art and beadwork.
I argue that the selected artworks challenge dichotomies such as rural/ urban that are present in established artistic tropes. I conclude that the contemporary artworks are part of the process of continual reinvention and change characteristic of beadwork, and suggest that a re-examination of beadwork as a transgressive art making practice is needed.
Movement, Meaning, and Networks of Cloth in West Africa and Beyond
Dress and cloth are vital creative mediums connecting West Africans in far-flung communities. For Mande language speakers in urban settings in Senegal and France, networks open access to cosmopolitan fashions as well as ‘traditional’ or natural materials, both resonant in performances of identity.
In the interconnected fashion world of West Africa, technological and aesthetic changes occur in an ever more rapid cycle. In Dakar, Senegal, new materials from Europe and China flow in on container ships; new ideas and images circulate through popular and personal media; and new cloth decoration techniques flow out from Bamako, Mali.
Even for urban and diasporic West Africans, who can choose among many cosmopolitan fashions, certain cloths "can never be abandoned completely": cloths with medicinal or spiritual effects that are obligatory at certain key moments, for the execution of ceremonies, or the performance of identity. Increasingly, the means and knowledge for producing these cloths rests 'au village,' in rural or hinterland settings in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal. Urbanites therefore depend on networked knowledge and on traders, family members, or their own travels to maintain access to these important cloths. At the same time, the sources of such 'traditional' pieces also bring the most prestigious current fashion material, the sought-after Malian bazin, mostly made in Bamako.
Based on fieldwork with Mande language speakers in Senegal and France, this presentation will explore the networks of exchange that keep cloths circulating among dispersed communities. I argue that these ambiguous dress objects mediate the experience(s) of globalization and embody cultural concepts of 'modern' and 'traditional,' 'here' and 'there,' which are always in formation.
Visual artists: mapping alternative routes through temporal and spatial compression of imaginary forces
This paper discusses how artists are carefully mapping alternative routes that, while rejecting borders, compress spatial and temporal notions, without diluting them into a mumbo jumbo. Resisting globalization, they are having concepts dialogue, maintaining the imaginary forces to which they refer.
Didier Awadi, Senegalese rapper, proposes, through his work, collaborations of a particular kind in order to debunk the postcolonial imbalanced realities persisting into the 21st century. This is illustrated through his album Présidents d'Afrique where he travels through Africa and the Americas to speak about the importance of historical figures like Lumumba, Nkrumah, Mandela, Nasser, Malcolm X, Obama, carefully linking traditional music to rap compositions, combining temporal, spatial and artistic practices. This positioning is used by many visual artists and is a mode of resistance to globalization, giving voice to neglected concepts. In this paper, I will be showing how Safaa Erruas, Moroccan artist, intertwines ancient customs, such as that of tattoos, practiced by rural women to deflect evil forces, with contemporary concerns brought about by wars, discrimination, rejection. Kader Attia, Franco-Algerian, in Réfléchir la mémoire (2016) has us think about similar issues and shows how a repressed traumatic event can take on uncontrollable dimensions, impacting an entire population. Barthelemy Toguo, Cameroon, in his recent works, attracts our attention to the monumental/monstrous aspect of globalization (circulation of commodities and its invisible and unassailable essence), which impact the environment, to show us how it affects the individual's intimate relation to the world. Artists, while deconstructing national and continental barriers, rural and urban divisions, are astutely creating alliances to corrode the dominant forces at play, through artistic intertwinements, mapping alternative routes that above all compress spatial and temporal notions, in order to not dilute their creative potential into the "no-man's land" of globalization.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.