Youthful agency, art practices and the right to the city
Date and Start Time 01 July, 2017 at 09:00
How do young artists in African cities articulate and imagine their societies' present and future? How do they claim the right to the city? How do they find ways for self-expression and social recognition? We invite contributions that explore artistic practices in their socio-political context.
Discourses on arts in African cities tend to depict artists as forerunners of change, creatively imagining new futures of the city and society at large. While we do not deny the possibility of this, we would like to inquire into the sociological foundations of this conviction. If art has the capacity to transform society, then we must be able to trace its impact by carefully situating artistic practices in their socio-political context.
We invite contributions that explore the potential of artistic practices to shape the urban social spaces they address. Papers should show awareness of the relations of force underlying the discursive realm: be it in the form of state violence, intergenerational conflicts, media censorship, or other, milder forms of parochialism.
Focusing on youths allows us to concentrate on the majority of the population in African cities among which feelings about economic and social marginalization are usually most pressing. How do youths artistically push their agenda and articulate their right to the city, how do they find ways for self-expression and social recognition?
If artists do imagine and articulate a future of their societies, which are the images of the social at stake, through which media and genres are they expressed, and how does urban society react to these expressions?
Because of the frequent precariousness of such settings, we are also interested in transitory, unfinished, or sabotaged projects, which have not found its desired public, but may open our eyes for the ordinariness of African cities and their (im)possibilities to change.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Claiming place through art in the South African city: Questions around creative activism
Since the early 2000s, South African cities experienced new waves of protest, and gave site to new forms of resistance. Through conversations with participants of three different creative initiatives, the paper discusses the contested politics of art in relation to the public in South Africa today.
Whereas creative practices had featured prominently in the anti-apartheid struggle, and conceptions of political art from that period remain influential to this day, new forms and waves of protest emerging since the early to mid-2000s shed new light on the exclusionary and oppressive spatial order of South African cities and the work of art in sustaining and/or disrupting and transfiguring that order. Gaining a particularly strong impetus from the most recent waves of nation-wide student protests and the demands for decolonization at the heart of most university shutdowns, contestations of socio-spatial exclusion have reinvigorated creative practices that challenge the relationship between art and the public - both as the collective political subject and as places of community. Through a series of conversations with curators, contributors, and participants of two creative projects and a political initiative, this paper will discuss how artist-activists (or artists and activists) conceptualize the relationship between art and public spaces; what are its limits and/or how might it introduce openings to the political-aesthetic imagination? Via dialogues with Cape Town based collectives involved in the Instagram project "The Real City of Cape Town", the artistic-educational project called Harare Academy of Inspiration, and the initiative to cover up potentially offensive artwork at the University of Cape Town, these issues will be assessed from multiple angles, offering insights into the work of art in urban resistance today.
"Houmanarchie". Rap music and the neighbourhood imaginary in Tunisia
The paper analyzes the narrative of disadvantaged neighbourhoods elaborated by Tunisian rap music. By glorifying and criticizing the hardship of those neighbourhoods, rappers manipulated and reinvented the idioms of social difference and the understanding of the urban space in Tunisia.
The paper examines the role of rap music in reimagining the urban and social structure in Tunisia after its 2010/2011 revolution. Before the revolution, the Ben Ali regime imposed a narrative of Tunisian society as mainly middle class; beneath this narrative, the Tunisian folklore hosted multiple markers of social distinction that classified people through their perceived lifestyles: residence, language habits, consumption patterns, religious attitudes. Disadvantaged neighbourhoods were obliterated by the official narrative, and condemned to social spite by the unofficial ones. After the revolution, the success of rap came to 'represent' those quarters and the youth that inhabited them: rappers sang the hoods by criticizing their hard conditions and, at the same time, glorifying the hoods themselves. The vagueness of the social narratives in the country allowed rap musicians to manipulate both the image of the poor neighbourhoods and the idioms of social difference circulating in Tunisia: through this manipulation, they provided a new dignity to the most marginalized sectors of Tunisian society. At the same time, by representing the hoods, rappers could claim social capital and credibility as the 'true' narrators of the new Tunisia. But the reimagination of social narratives and the poetics of the urban space had only a limited success in improving the conditions of disadvantaged youth and the hoods they inhabited.
The rise and fall of an art-inspired youth movement in Kisumu, Kenya
My paper considers the demise of a youth movement in Kisumu, Western Kenya, geared towards peace during elections. The apparent "failure" of the movement to become more institutionalized in the long-term, allows to highlight challenges such initiatives regularly experience.
My paper considers the case of a youth movement in Kisumu, Western Kenya, that originated in 2012, in the wake of the general elections which succeeded the elections of 2007, that saw a nation-wide wave of ethnic violence.
The name of the movement, "Sitarusha Mawe Tena", translates from Swahili as "I won't throw stones again", referring to the use of stones as fighting tools in Kisumu during that time.
The movement had been founded partly with government support, partly with support by international peace organizations, and at one point even attempted to become a movement with nation-wide ramifications.
Through analysis of the dense photo and video documentation of the movement's activities, and through data gathered during field research in 2015 and 2016, I intend to depict the activities and work of the initiator of the movement, Boniface Ogutu, as well as his movement's recent disintegration.
I will explore the tensions which community activist like Ogutu regularly experience, juggling between a genuine desire for change, hand-to-mouth survivalism and highly unpredictable donor funding patterns.
The apparent "failure" of the movement allows to draw important lessons for our understanding of everyday politics in Kenya and its (im)possibilities for change.
Maneuvering the Barbed Wire
In the last years, despite the tensed security situation and repression, young artists in Khartoum/Sudan have made attempts to claiming back (public) space and making themselves and their art visible against all odds.
This paper looks into the different ways and art practices young artists in Sudan used to bring back art into the public space, thereby directly or cryptically articulating their discontent with the political and social situation in Sudan.
The art practices, ranging from murals to street theater, Reggae music and fashion, all have in common that they express deviance while their levels of direct critique range widely. However, the most powerful critique does not need to be plain-spoken in order to be understood by the audience addressed. Indeed, making art public and making oneself visible as an artist in a context like Sudan, needs courage, since it not only may not be understood and the person be called `crazy artist´, but given the repressive political situation, making oneself visible also carries the risk of falling under intensified surveillance by security agents. Hence, making art public and visible, is an act of protest in which the artist needs to balance critique and visibility, carefully weighing up what can be said and done, and what cannot - artists need to know how to maneuver the barbed wire.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.