Several points on several points – belatedly, for which i apologize (these past 10 days have taken me to so many places, i’m afraid i’m in that thoroughly silly space where you wake up and have to wrack your brain to remember what city you’re in …)
On the matter of pedagogical materials. In some 20 years of teaching, like most of us i have given courses at various levels. For my money – and in this i know i am not alone – the most demanding classes are the ones dispensed to undergraduates. Doctoral seminars may be more fun, and when the students are good they can be quite intense, but in the end there is nothing more challenging than getting across the fundamentals to young people engaging for the first time with a subject. When one happens to care deeply about the subject, it can be positively daunting. There’s no hiding behind big words (grins, Sidney). You can’t just say “postcolonial” – or “modern” or “contemporary” or, for the matter, “art” – and least of all “Africa.” Not if the undergrads in question are even remotely serious. Because they will call you to task. Definitions will be demanded and, if the class (or teaching generally) matters at all to you, you’re going to have to come up with some damn good ones.
So. What materials for teaching in such contexts? Well, obviously not textbooks. That’s not a horse (dying or dead) worth beating: we all agree on the point. (A more relevant query might be whether textbooks as a general matter – in any area, except possibly the hard sciences, and even there i am not convinced – really work as pedagogical tools.) Many of us create readers. That process, i find, is often very interesting. Well done, it’s arduous work that requires serious reflection not only about what is useful information, but also about how to balance, set off against each other and create dialogue between a variety of methods, stances and ways of writing. The reader approach is also ethically more viable: granted, students can complete all their assignments in the library, but, for those who would like copies of what they are reading, assigning what are mostly prohibitively expensive books is just unconscionable. As for the advantages, they are self-evident: what better way than via readers to create cross-disciplinary spaces for thinking through objects and issues?
One thing i’d love to see in this respect is a database of syllabi – undergrad and grad – with discussion fora running in parallel. This would make for terrific reader-compilation fodder. A nice start might be for a group of us – any takers? – to pitch in, each, with a suggested reading list around one artist or (body of) work.
A try, here, in this vein, with a work of particular interest to me: Faustin Linyekula’s “More More More Future” (2009). A first list of readings might include: a mix of chapters from Nzongola-Ntalaja’s and Gondola’s histories of Congo; a good, basic dose of Fanon ; Mbembe – on aesthetics of vulgarity in Postcolony* and “beauty” in Congolese music (in Nuttall), the latter balanced out by selections from Bob White’s Rumba Rules (Ch. 1 – “Popular Culture’s Politics”); some Spivak (preface to Critique of Post-Colonial Reason) and, alongside, Eagleton’s “Gaudy Spermarket”; some Sassen (Introduction to Globalization and its Discontents) and Comaroff(s) (Ch. 1 in Millenial Capitalism); more than a little Simone (For the City Yet to Come) and a few nice chunks of the African Cities Reader Vol. 1 (easy: PDF on the web); one of the following novels: Labou Tansi’s Anti-People, Kwahule’s Babyface, Kourouma’s Allah is Not Obliged; obviously enough, selections from special issues on contemporary dance/choreography/performance in the African world (Revue noire and Africultures, for instance), structured (obviously as well) by a framework of readings on contemporary art from the continent (i won’t be terribly original here: sourcing from Reading the Contemporary, Authentic/Ex-centric, Culture Game) and intersections between contemporary dance and politics (from one or more: Ann Albright, Jane Desmond, Randy Martin, Helen Thomas), leading up to a piece by Gottschild (The Black Dancing Body) on Linyekula (Walker Art Centre). To these – as i’ve said: a preliminary list** – i’d add reviews of “More More More” and other pieces by Linyekula*** that have appeared in various magazines/on the web and a healthy serving of video and audio: as might be expected, a couple of films on the artist and his Studios Kabako (by filmmaker Luli Barzman) and U-Tube material to complete these; a sampling of films/filmed performances that would likely make for interesting conversation with Linyekula (Bill T. Jones , Opiyo Okach, Robyn Orlin, Pina Bausch come to mind); several CDs of Ndombolo, some Franco for balance and, to keep everyone on their toes, a few shots of what’s really interesting in Congolese music right now: some Bebson de la Rue/Trionyx Raggambodi, a bit of late Kinshasa and Lubumbashi Hip-Hop and some electric guitar maestria from Flamme Kapaya (front and center in “More,” going part-Punk, part Hendrix at Linyekula’s behest) and Pytshens Kambilo. For context/comparison in the two Congos (i won’t go further afield here, but of course one would want to) i’d suggest a look at body politics engagement in photography and video – for a few examples: Sammy Baloji, Gulda El Magambo, Mowoso collective, Androa Mindre, Bill Kouélany, Patrice Félix-Tchikaya. And my start and my finish would be the artist himself, on himself:My dance will be an attempt to remember my name. I must have lost it somewhere along the dark alleys of Memory. I’ve been wandering ever since…
* * *
1974, just a minute after I was born, lines from a conversation with my fathers
My fathers: Here is a name for you, here’s your home.
I: (repeating after my fathers) my name is Linyekula, son of Mobutu, with pride I embrace thy glory, oh Zaire, immortal Land of my Ancestors.
Thus I was born in a land called Zaire, the most caring hand I could ever find under the sunlight. I grew up believing in this, until …
1997, lines from a conversation with History
Zaire was but a lie invented by Mobutu, a dead exiled land. Perhaps my name is Kabila; perhaps I’m a bastard son of King Leopold II and the Independent State of Congo. I’m a kid soldier scavenging through a heap of lies, raped virgins and cholera. Democratic Republic of Congo was my real name, rectified my fathers… My glorious legacy…
* * *
Where’s the truth? Is there a stone or owl or river or sorcerer out there to teach
“how to walk to myself
to my People
when my blood is on fire and my history in ruins”? (Adonis)
One possible answer: land of exile or native land, perhaps everywhere is but exile; perhaps my only true country is my body. I’ll thus survive like a song that’s never been written…
Another possible answer: now that we’ve met in this space, comrade, let’s stop for a while and sit side by side. I’ll tell you my name and sing my National Anthem or whatever I remember of it and you’ll tell me yours; then we’ll go our separate ways, leaving behind a fragile scent, our presences like shadows in dust…
* * *
Is this Art? Is this Dance? Is this Contemporary African Dance?
How will I know if this is art? Do you call Art one’s attempt to resist to the cycle of destruction by planting seeds of beauty/ seeds of dreams in a hopeless context? What then when this resistance is written in one’s body? The body as the last shield for freedom. Freedom to die of hunger and diseases…
Now I’m going round and round the same circles, I feel confused and lost, I guess I have to shut up now, enough of this futility, Contemporary African Art, my foot!… In any case I don’t give a damn about Africa. Whenever I write, it’s strictly “for myself, for a few friends and to appease the course of time”(Jorge Luis Borges). My time… Why the hell should I care about Africa? My portion of Africa doesn’t care about me. Years of war, raped women, epidemics, millions killed… That’s my legacy from my fathers; at best I’m left with some energy to survive on my heap of ruins… Independent State of Congo… Democratic Republic of Congo… Republic of Zaire… King Leopold II… Lumumba… Mobutu…
* * *
Going on stage: an attempt to remember my name. Trying to show a body that refuses to die. Scavenging through the ruins of what I thought was a house in search of clues: a poem by Rimbaud, Banyua rituals my grand-mother took me through, Ndombolo dance steps from a music video by Papa Wemba, Latin classes with Father Pierre Lommel… Whatever I find will be useful… Aesthetics of survival… Bundling together whatever comes my way to build a temporary shelter… I improvise… Improvisation here is not an aesthetic luxury, but a state of living, surviving: in such a hostile context, where one never really knows what tomorrow will be made of (another war? An epidemics?), one needs to know how to improvise to remain alive…
Fine if Africa doesn’t give a damn. All that matters is whether my grand-mother cares. For I know how strange an animal contemporary creation is. The question is: how can I create a sense of identification with such a weird medium? Could she ever say after seeing my dance: “Well… I don’t understand anything… yet I recognise it”?
* * *
My dance will be an attempt to cork up spaces of encounters… I must have lost my name somewhere in the dark alleys of History… And I’ve been wandering ever since… 1974… Kabako… King Leopold II… Legacy… 1997… Songs… Exiles… Adonis…
Closing with this (see Linyekula’s web site, kabako.org), i have a particular point in mind. Much was made, in later posts to the table, about where scholarship is being produced, by whom and how it makes its ways into our classrooms. A question that was left unaddressed is what constitutes “proper” scholarship and teaching – or what we are prepared to consider as such. One comes away from the table with the impression that it’s mostly a matter of texts published by anointed “specialists” in books and duly designated journals, mediated by these selfsame “specialists”. But surely our horizons are not quite as limited as that…Outside our university and museum ambits, classes are being taught differently, with different materials. If you happen to be at Goddy Leye’s Art Bakery, say, on the outskirts of Douala, attending a workshop on experimental video of the last 10 years, you may not have the latest issue of Nka or Third Text on hand, but you’re definitely reading Chimurenga, mixing it up with Fanon and having a heated debate about the influence of Nollywood on Bekolo’s “Saignantes.” Lionel Manga is in attendance: not an art historian, and not remotely interested in being one, but most certainly one of the most interesting voices on a contemporary African urban art scene anywhere these days (see his Ivresse du papillon, just out, and his regular column in Le Messager, in which art, global politics and quantum physics quite regularly rub shoulders). Linyekula might drop by if he’s in town, with a suggestion the workshop check out Gramsci or the politics of early Punk. So too might Hervé Yamguen – remarkable poet (multiple volumes, locally published and widely read, as a result, in part, of precisely these kinds of workshops) and avid reader of … yes … Mbembe (who also publishes, and is widely read, in Le Messager). Bill Kouélany could well turn up too and, if so, it’s likely that several evenings will be dedicated to exploring the nature(s) of autobiography in Fiston Mwanza’s essays and the novels of Sammy Tchak. Stay around long enough and the discussion will turn to Ouologuem, Rampolokeng and Mofokeng. An aspiring curator (Ruth Belinga), arts journal publisher (Achillekà Komguen, founder of Diartgonale) and cultural activist (Achille Atina) – all young, all Cameroonian and none of them particularly interested in acquiring a US, Brit or French-packaged Ph.D. – will have a great deal to say.
Classes, here, will matter. They will matter because they are not “just” about art or its histories, but also, and most importantly, about critique: critique of a social order and of the world system in which it exists, made possible by engagement with art. None of what happens here is – or has plans to be – a doctoral seminar and it ain’t African Contemporary Art History 101. What it is is one hell of a model.
-Dominique Malaquais, Centre d'Etudes des Mondes Africains