According to British historian Niall Ferguson, Western Civilisation’s rise to global dominance may be considered as the single most important phenomenon of the past five centuries – where globally an increasing number of people study at Western-style universities, work for Western-style companies, eat Western-style fast-food, vote for Western-style governments, take Western medicines, and wear Western-style clothes.
Ferguson argues that in establishing absolute control over its ‘colonies’ and pioneering the Industrial Revolution, the West centralised itself as the apex of civilization, and pushed all other forms of existence to the fringe. The white, heterosexual male rose to power and we now find ourselves with a patriarchic order that dominates all corners of society.
Following the overwhelming emergence of sexual harassment allegations against the ruling order of Hollywood, a global-wide reaction to the abuse of female and queer bodies rose on social media, reaffirming society’s remarkable capacity for gendered violence. Why did it take ‘celebrity’ to expose the severity of the subjugating experiences of women? And why only now are voices from the fringe being acknowledged?
In the introductory text for this year’s Istanbul Biennale catalogue, curators Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset wrote that “many people all over the world have to fight daily just to be accepted for who they are.” Speaking directly to the marginalisation of those considered ‘other’ by the status quo, they go on to say that “as individuals, artists, or curators, we have very little power alone, and would have even less if we did not continue to share our stories.” Titling the biennale ‘A Good Neighbour’, Elmgreen and Dragset set out to join individuals, artists and curators in storytelling – bringing the outsider in.
In these pages, we look to the stories of extraordinary individuals who establish Elmgreen and Draset’s notion of ‘A Good Neighbour’. Contributing her story in ‘Reimagining Africa’, and to this shift in the heteronormative mainstream, is curator and cultural consultant, Marie-Ann Yemsi. Taking on the role as artistic director of Rencontres de Bamako in Mali, Yemsi claims that culture is the only weapon that she has, and intends to use it in “nurturing the ideas that have always been a part of Africa”. Whilst her focus is less on the ‘female’ and more on the promotion of a discourse that is both spoken and thought about by African voices, Yemsi is circumventing the fringe and bringing the many multiplicities of humanity to the core.
In an interview titled ‘The Forgotten Drawer’, Owanto Berger – woman and Gabonese artist – shares Yemsi’s belief that art is a tool, a weapon for change, foregrounding the subjugation of female bodies into her practice – at once choosing to celebrate womanhood and highlighting certain aspects of the pain females have endured for centuries. Owanto, directly translated from Omyéné as woman, “calls for girls and women to reclaim their power” – believing in the raw material of love to inspire change.
Interview feature ‘Hail! The Dark Lioness’, looks at the life and work of Zanele Muholi – artist, cultural activist and dark lioness – and how she uses love in the most extraordinary of ways as an agent of change. Pioneering the creation of monuments and memorials dedicated to queer, black and female strength, Muholi is exceptionally gregarious and acutely aware of the issues that her community continues to face. Her work – and very existence – shows that any, and almost every, space needs to be reassessed, to be re-conquered, over and over again, for those who have been marginalised to subvert and become the mainstream.
This issue of ART AFRICA also follows individuals, artists and curators who are sharing their stories as a means of fighting the status quo. We look at Nontsikelelo Veleko who is co-curating an exhibition of South African resistance photography; Solange Farkas – founder and chief-curator of Sesc Videobrasil – and the numerous ways this festival is challenging the normative; Istanbul as a cultural hub; and the LagosPhoto Festival in Nigeria, to name a few.
ONE OF US celebrates those circumventing the fringe and speaking-up about the issues that have for so long been a part of daily existence. We spotlight those who are using culture, art and the visual as agents of change rattling physical and social barriers and reclaiming their power as individuals within an ever-decreasing – however slow – heteronormative, hegemonic and patriarchic world. This issue sets to prove that a good neighbour is not necessarily someone who lives the same way as you – it is a declaration of love for the vibrant multiplicities that shape society and a celebration of those finessing the fringe.