Decolonial aesthetics at Be Bop Black Europe Body Politics

In early May I took part in this:
BE.BOP 2012. BLACK EUROPE BODY POLITICS
BE.Bop 2012 is an international transdisciplinary roundtable and screening program in which the (racialized) fantasies of European citizenship are contested.

It was curated by Alanna Lockward and affiliated with the Transnational Decolonial Institute.
The Transnational Decolonial Institute (TDI) aims to explore the formation and transformation of the darker side of modernity: coloniality.

It was held at this amazing place in Berlin: the Ballhaus Naunynstrasse

These are websites to do with some of the amazing artists:
http://zwartepietisracisme.tumblr.com/
http://teresadiaznerio.wordpress.com/
http://www.jeannetteehlers.dk/video.html
http://www.ingridmwangi.de/

There were many other artists, activists, writers and scholars. And Be Bop 2012 put us all together to cultivate a decolonial aesthetics. These are my reflections:

I had three reactions to the artistic works presented at Be.Bop 2012. I think they speak to my appreciation of the importance of cultivating a decolonial aesthetic in an intuitive and intentional way, facilitated by a strong relationship between writers and artists, both of whom are “intellectual workers”.

The first reaction was a scream in my head. This arrived quite strongly with the works of Ingridmwangiroberthutter, especially Neger and Wild Life. Actually, what arrived was more like a cadence of scream and grunt: the first, the horror of being racially interpolated; the second, a gut response to this in the form of caricaturing violence visited upon the self through dehumanization. When Quincy Gario showed us the video of his arrest in Holland for wearing his “Zwarte Piet is Racisme” t-shirt, I realised that this scream could come from another direction. Not from Quincy being wrestled to the ground by police, unprovoked, but from white gazers who must use white noise in their head to drown out a conversation on racism. Perhaps they have no pedagogical resources through which to understand the cognitive dissonance that makes them scream for silence in the presence of complicity in injustice.

The second reaction was a quickening and thumping of the heart. I felt this in Tracey Moffatt’s work. At first, I thought that her video was a cerebral presentation of the orientalist “self”/”other” trope, cutting together a collage of Hollywood scenes of exotic encounter. However the music said otherwise and by the end of the video I was angry and pumped up. Quincy mentioned afterwards that the music score was taken from the famous film, The Battle of Algiers. And then I realised that Fanon had infiltrated the Ballhause!  I also felt this quickening and thumping with Teresa María Díaz Nerio’s installation of Sarah Bartman. The video witnessed various onlookers and interlopers passing by Teresa who was standing stifled in a huge grotesque and sexualised costume. I wanted to run into the room and help her out of that suit. I’m not sure if there wasn’t some masculinity in that reaction, but I am sure that I felt that the conclusion to the installation had to be to escape it.  Finally, I felt the quickening and thumping in Jeannette Ehler’s videos, especially Black Magic at the White House. Jeannette draws a vévé on the floor, invoking the spirits to exorcise the whiteness that makes slavery invisible. But with this, I also felt something else.

The third reaction was a soothing, a different kind of saneness, a reconciliation. I only ever felt it in combination with my second reaction, sometimes fleetingly. But it was there. For example, when Jeannette draws the vévé she opens the gate for healing agencies. I got a similar sense of reconciliation in some of Ingridmwangiroberthutter’s more recent photographic work.  The counter-sensibility to this would be melancholy, which I think William Kentridge invoked on the part of the German colonizer over the Herero and Nama genocides in South West Africa (present day Namibia). Melancholy does not allow for reconciliation, it is a deferral of responsibility for historical injustices.

So, I interpret these three reactions as: 1) the shock of being wounded; 2) resistance to the aggressor; 3) collective self-healing. Postcolonial studies has been very good at attending to – albeit sometimes cerebralising – the first two. The third is avoided by most scholarship. I do not want to retrieve the third aesthetic for the sake of fulfilling a linear progression. That would be a liberal-abolitionist deferral of accountability for past relationships. I want to avoid developmental psychology, a product, along with Freud, of categorising vast swathes of humanity as “savages” in need of being trained into adulthood, or more accurately, ward-ship. Instead, I want to take these three sensibilities as co-eval, as relational, as woven together. To have an aesthetic purely of healing would be utopian. People feel the pain. That has to be acknowledged. And yet, the pain itself and its reaction is saturated in an aesthetic of violence. So to focus only on that would be an abrogation of the responsibility we hold to creatively attend to injustices. Besides, pain and resistance can be easily commodified into a safe voyeurism.

All three sensibilities, but perhaps with the gravity situated in healing: that is a decolonial aesthetic to me. This is because healing requires an aesthetic that is not immanent to colonial violence or white supremacy but transgressive of it, perhaps transcendent to it. Healing requires a special kind of self-confidence when confronted with the colonial episteme. I remember that Jeannette showed a sequence of photos from a Ghanaian beach of a group of people walking into the Atlantic waters. She makes only their reflections in the water visible.  A debate ensued about whether the aesthetic was invisibilisation or simulacra. I mentioned that the pictures could be comprehended by way of an aspect of many African-America cosmologies whereby Guinea is comprehended as the land of ancestors and spirits that lies under the sea. Such a comprehension cannot but fundamentally humanise those – and their descendents – who were forced to make a passage of dehumanization. Such a comprehension also makes the one-way passage into a two-way street. Later on, Alanna commented that she was well versed in such cosmologies and yet she had not made that connection. I am certainly no genius. Quite simply, I had been researching these cosmologies before the conference, so they were in the front of my head already. But I think this episode demonstrates that we have some way to go before our decolonial aesthetics become both intuitive and intentional.

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3 Responses to Decolonial aesthetics at Be Bop Black Europe Body Politics

  1. danb says:

    FYI. The first link and the last one aren’t working. The last link is just a typo as http://www.ingridmwangi.de works fine.

  2. Pingback: BERLIN 2012: DECOLONIAL DIASPORIC AESTHETICS.

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