I too write late, but I hope we all understand that this has no connection to the interesting exercise these exchanges have, indeed, been. The limitations of the format are unsettling don’t you all think? This fact has returned to me again and again as I try to grapple with its flow. When compiled, it will read as if it were a conversation (one of those transcripts we have lately become used to). However, in the intervals that pass between posts, and in their irregular appearances, surely something is absent of the immediate dialogue for which it could, again as text on a page, be misunderstood. The challenge for Nka will be how to somehow visually time-stamp the ebb and flow, so that its particular artificiality might somehow be accessed by a keen reader. Enjoyable though our virtualities have been, and surely only a beginning of sorts, it would have been far more spirited, and suitably contentious even, had we actually been bodied round much more than a table. Its particular status as a kind of performance should not be forgotten. (Bear with me a moment, for this does have a relevance to the questino of textbooks and canons).
Late I am, but I do have a position on the question of images, textbooks, and canonicity. I am not sure I agree with John Peffer that we must run shy of ‘illustrating’ our positions with a couple of images. (It was John right? I would be sure if you'd uttered it to my face). Still, as long as the format for dissemination remains the hardcopy text, with all the risks attached to its uncanny stability, it seems a cop out to reject the choice of image for the reason one contributes to producing new canons. [Smiley face here]. The point surely is to make proposals, but to work against their achieving the kind of permanent, or almost permanent iconic status we have experienced with some images in the past. We can, I think guard against this by rejecting consensus (even the kind I sense, somewhat sadly, congealing around some of the positions we have expressed here so far), and by doing so repeatedly or as a matter of course. And if we do not, such icons and canons will fade into irrelevance in the onslaught of future internets and their own logics that we cannot even now imagine. (What does canon fodder mean? I'm serious). However, I will admit that my not being able to select two images does not come merely from having not made my own arguments, in our exchanges, around specific works (which I have been known to do on occasion). Rather it's because a certain recognition of one’s own actual ignorance (not even historical ignorance in the way Picton joked) in the face of any attention to contemporary art making on the continent, warns me off doing so right at this moment.
Given more time, and a few more images, I might have risked it. I might have bet on its relative longevity, on its lasting beyond the months, in other words, that it takes for a publication to get out.
A related matter attends to the textbook issue. I view the text book in any field as something with a rather short half-life (and no less dangerous than things that radiate). Even attempts to update textbooks, or rewrite them after an initial publication seems to me quite likely to miss the mark. I would therefore actually encourage the idea of a text book not because this need be the authority for all time, but in fact as a kind of historical document of how we got it wrong. I believe I am the only one who suggests that what we are involved in producing is something that will be wrong, sooner than we might wish for. I am not even sure why, given that we are all historians of one hue or another, this is a particularly difficult proposition or idea to accept. But I imagine a kind of wrongness that will have value for the future. Ethnographers knew they had it wrong, too, as any analysis of their confessional notes often suggests (Peter, this isn’t a response to your comment by the way). But it is also true that in the particular circumstance in which they mainly had to operate (ridiculously limited times in the field, not having the language, operating within a discipline in the act of institutionalization, being white [mainly] in a world in which whiteness read one into Colonial power itself) they actually did do a rather remarkable job. Of course we are in a position to have to struggle with it, hate it, and as we have all done once in a while, rave like the crazed against some of its ‘knowledge’ and tactics. Nevertheless, fact is that I would rather have it to spar with than be faced with a diffuse and dispersed sense of a reality. Rather, for the future, a concise view of a field or set of practices that we all, admit it or not, work with than no sense of what that view might in fact have been pressed to the wall. Not reckoning with such 'presing' produces its own kind of silence.
I'm not being contradictory in relation to what I have written here previously. Michel Leiris did not in my opinion cease to be an ethnographer, although he was one of ethnography's most vociferous early critics, and I bet you that Sidney Kasfir already wishes she didn't write her book (the closest thing to a textbook there might be). In regard to the textbook idea, then, we had better not prefer silence to a ’wrong’ful statement whose meaning might become, for better or for worse, an admission of the fact that we, too, are/were after all located within history.
Incidentally, I confess to not having taught undergraduates on the contemporary art of Africa. If it is called for, though, I am willing to share my graduate syllabus on the same topic. I recall one of us (not literally) dared to not so long ago in the pages of the Art Journal. Always narrow of course, and so not particularly textbooky, the last grad syllabus I assembled explored the similarities and differences between the practices of White artists (and the purchase skin color enabled or blocked) juxtaposed with the hardly always less problematic art produced by Black, Indian, or Arab artists at the same time (20th and 21st centuries). Although in this course the visual image remained crucial, I also did not particularly avoid literature, political pamphletting, oral performance, and the presidential self representations of those ubiquitous ‘moving images.’ We have probably all done similar things I think. That says something! Wish we had a textbook to jump all over.
Ikem Stanley Okoye, University of Delaware