INCUBATOR FOR A PAN-AFRICAN ROAMING BIENNIAL

archive: first published 20/11/2010

The Incubator for a Pan-African Roaming Biennial is a one-year-long project developed by a task force consisting of Khadija El Bennaoui, Art Moves Africa (AMA), Mia Jankowicz, of Contemporary Image Collective (CIC), Cairo; Gabi Ngcobo, of the Center for Historical Reenactments (CHR) Johannesburg and Jimmy Ogonga, of the Center for Contemporary Art of East Africa (CCAEA) Nairobi. The Incubator is formed in response to a proposal by two of Manifesta 8’s curators, Bassam El Baroni and Jeremy Beaudry of Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum (ACAF), as an extension to the political issues raised and the intellectual territories covered in their general curatorial contribution to Manifesta 8 entitled ‘OVERSCORE.’ The concept of the Incubator comes primarily as a response to Manifesta 8 and the region of Murcia’s framing of Manifesta 8 as a project “in dialogue with northern Africa”.

The Incubator for a Pan-African Roaming Biennial is a project initiated in the framework of Manifesta 8, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art and is co-organized by the Manifesta Foundation (Amsterdam).

Jeremy Beaudry and Bassam El Baroni auctioning curatorial concepts during the Manifesta Coffee Break held in Murcia in Dec 2009. Photo: eye.on.art.

The Incubator for a Pan-African Roaming Biennial exists to facilitate the articulation of critical positions regarding the notion of a Pan-African Roaming Biennial. The Incubator will avoid assumptions or simple assessments of what a biennial looks like, what context it is ‘for’, what effect it has, and whether it can be done. The Incubator will identify and bring together perspectives from curators, artists, cultural producers, and those active in dialogue and funding, whose current activities give evidence of autonomy and progressive experimentation within their respective contexts.

These articulations should bring together a set of historically and politically informed, perspectives and arguments, which also demonstrate a pragmatic infrastructure. These will be through: the symposium at the opening of Manifesta 8; developing a website; a workshop in April 2011 in an African city yet to be identified; the appointment of key voices as planners, and the production of a publication in September 2011. The Incubator and its platforms should register these positions as a(n uneven) landscape upon which others may imagine a biennial, a roaming biennial, an alternative structure, or a model responding to different priorities entirely.

Dak’Art 2010 Prize Winners: Nirveda Alleck, Moridja Kitenge Banza, Hasan and Husain Essop, Svea Josephy, Mouna Jemal Siala, Nabil El Makhloufi and Barkinado Bocoum. Photo: eye.on.art.

Context:

To date, the Dak’art Biennale in Senegal remains the sole event that still carries the torch as one of the long-lasting, large scale platforms for showcasing contemporary art (and design) by African and African diaspora artists. Established in 1992, Dak’art has over the years become more of a meeting point for those interested in developing and sustaining networks with artists, curators, art historians, critics or gallerists working with and/or within the African context. Within this scenario, it now seems that the main reason for the gathering, the exhibition, has taken a back seat, while hotel lobbies, restaurants and other discursive and social platforms around the Biennale seem to have taken center stage. An unshakable fear for the future of the Biennale is looming large.

One only hopes that it is a productive fear. Indeed, Dak’art reveals a space of instability from which we can begin to think about alternative ways to engage with the mechanisms of sustaining and developing such a large-scale event. Dak’art now occupies space within other events of a growing scale including the biannual Bamako Photographic Encounters in Mali, PhotoCairo in Egypt, the AiM International Biennale in Marrakech, Morocco among others.

Seamus Farrell, U.N. Circle Gwangju-Marrakech (2008-2009) and visitors at the exhibition ‘A Proposal For Articulating Works and Places’ curated by Abdellah Karroum, as part of Arts in Marrakech 2009. Palais Bahia, Marrakech, Morocco. Photo: eye.on.art.

The histories of the now defunct South African platforms, the Johannesburg Biennale (1995-1997) and the Cape Africa Platform initiative (2005-2009) and other ‘failed’ endeavours also need to be studied as models which can provide us with critical tools for re-posing questions about the relevance of their staging. These models need in-depth inquiries to provide a platform on which a new set of questions and problems can be tackled, and answers pertaining to the cultural landscape now shaping contemporary artistic practices in different African cultural centers can be discussed.

Artists’ and other independent initiatives are changing the landscape of contemporary art on the continent. Spaces, labs and other hybridized initiatives are cropping up in the metropolis and outposts scattered over this uneven terrain, linking Cairo to Johannesburg, Dakar to Addis Ababa – creating narratives and discourses that are far too sophisticated for the traditional institutional frame, including the state. When possible, these new voices are reaching out to each other with a clearer vision of how the idea of Africa, and indeed the world, could be perceived afresh. With minimal resources, but much conviction, with the advantages of technology and its social platforms, a maturity of socio-political impulses has emerged and is need of being nurtured.

Curators Thembinkosi Goniwe and N’Gone Fall during the symposium ‘Bringing you the answers before we know the question: four positions regarding the idea of a pan-African roaming Biennial.’ Centro Parraga, Murcia, Spain. Photo eye.on.art.
Senam Okudzeto speaking at the symposium. Photo eye.on.art.

 

With this scenario in mind, the curatorial task force works to shape the inquiry forums (the symposium, website, workshop and publication) with an aim to gather critically established and emerging voices to help chart the way forward, laying down possibilities whilst unveiling the challenges of this contemporary moment.

The first forum curated by the task force – the symposium Bringing you the answers before we know the question: four positions regarding the idea of a pan-African roaming biennial  – will bring together these voices, asking them to take ‘for’ or ‘against’ positions as a jumping-off point and to discuss this in the context of a moderated debate. The ‘for’ and ‘against’ positions are intended to create productive tensions, rather than forced binaries or false empiric.  Without defining the exact shape and structure of the proposition of a Pan-African Roaming Biennial, the reactions of ‘for’ and ‘against’ will themselves provide evidence of a set of inverse projections of what that could be.

Confirmed speakers are N’Goné Fall, Hassan Khan and Senam Okudzeto. Ato Malinda and Thembinkosi Goniwe will moderate the discussions and Christine Eyene will be the respondent.

Source: Panafrican Biennial.

Rasheed Araeen makes comments during the Q&A. Photo: eye.on.art.

The symposium ‘Bringing you the answers before we know the question: four positions regarding the idea of a pan-African roaming biennial’ was held on Sunday 10 October 2010 at Centro Parraga, Murcia, Spain.

Christine Eyene’s response will be published in the upcoming issue of Manifesta Journal, MJ#10: ‘The Curator as Producer’.

See Manifesta Journal for further information.

See also A visit to Manifesta 8 in Murcia

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