Editorial

Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez, Virginie Bobin and Bisi Silva

Throughout these last few issues of Manifesta Journal the question of how to genuinely engage in an act of “affective solidarity”, as feminist critic Clare Hemmings would put it,1 remains—and with it, the concern that the still-prevailing white Western consideration of “global others” too often slips from empathy to pity. In her critical essay on the European “other” that inaugurates "Future(s) of Co-habitation", the seventeenth issue of Manifesta Journal, art historian Fatima El-Tayeb refers to Edouard Glissant and his renowned theory of creolization. In the poet’s writings, the Caribbean became a center of relational identities and situational communities exactly because of their inability to claim the “sacred roots” of these territories. This fact consequently excluded its inhabitants from a hegemonic world order in which both dominance and resistance were built on notions of sacred land. An origin that does not imply sacredness or authenticity is thus the point from which minoritarian resistance can be articulated. In order to arrive at this stage however, a different archive needs to be accessed: one based on the experiences of marginalized, silenced communities, without the usual dominating manifestations of Europeanness.

This active questioning of the overarching narratives of origin, rootedness and authenticity, as well as the prevalence of identitarian models (be they “European”, “Afropolitan”, or “post-black”) reverberates throughout the entire issue of this journal; in equal measure traversed by voices and bodies in diaspora and thus, necessarily, by the much debated concept of “hybridity”. In his own contribution, writer and curator Simon Sheikh brings forth Homi K. Bhabha’s germinal take on hybridity, undermining the positive, all-encompassing connotation that the term has symbolized in artistic, social and political language over the last few decades: “It is [thus] not a celebratory concept,” Sheikh writes, “as it has often been employed in biennial culture and major art events, but it is rather an ambivalent state of being in-between powers of authority, the authenticity of authorship, and the (im)possibility of cultural translation.”

Under the title “Future(s) of Co-habitation,” Manifesta Journal has invited international artists, curators and thinkers to investigate this state of in-between from a trans-historical and trans-geographical point of view, with an emphasis on hyphenation in the term itself as well as on critical assessment of the legacy of the concept of “hybridity”, its contemporary relevance in the field of arts and humanities, and in society at large. Instead of focusing on the term itself, the contributors to this issue convene alternative vocabularies and positions that pay a tribute to post-colonial theory and criticism, and recent debates in cultural theory, such as the current revisitation of “Afrofuturism” or of what some have called “cultural cannibalism”. The content assembled here forges a different language and opens up visions, possibilities and realities for the future(s) that we, and hopefully you, the readers, wish to co-inhabit.

In their conversation, the writers and film-makers Raimi Gbadamosi and John Akomfrah underline the hierarchizing effect of the concept of hybridity on a world in which a certain kind of encounter becomes idealized and, thus, reductive. “There is nowhere in which anyone exists in a pure state or an uncontaminated whole,” concludes the latter. His position resonates dramatically with the recent hardening of global policies towards migration that flourishes on the foul breeding grounds of populist and right-wing forms of nationalism, which withdraw into obsolete notions of the preservation of “organic identities”. In that context, discourses and worldwide events celebrating “indigeneity” raise doubts on the viability of such a term if employed in a generalized way—a risk that the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa has challenged in its recent exhibition Sakahan—International Indigenous Art, dissected here by the artist and theoretician Aurogeeta Das. The metaphor of contamination (a term employed by Akomfrah) is also useful when extolling the rejection of “allochtones” into a social body, and the step to a vocabulary of bewitchment, vampirization and haunting is quickly overcome. In Terre Thaemlitz’s film Canto II, the stories of disillusioned Philippine migrants to Japan are interwoven with local myths of vampires whose bodies experience another, yet comparable form of disjuncture; torn between their land and the necessity of pursuing the quest for blood and survival. Thaemlitz’s film is a parable that, according to writer Patrick Flores, highlights the occultation processes imposed on undesired bodies.

Voices are immaterial markers of displaced identities, bearers of accents and histories. Virginie Bobin’s polyphonic conversation with the choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen and the artists Blanca Calvo and Ion Munduate, Katarina Zdjelar and Lawrence Abu Hamdan stages different voices that resist control and bypass material borders. Bodies confined in space (or fixed identities) tend to turn to the realms of myth or, famously, to science-fiction, in order to project themselves in time. If the term Afrofuturism has recently been criticized for perpetuating the prefix “Afro”, it has also produced an inspiring platform that allows Black subjectivity to re-imagine and re-define itself through the prism of fantasy and the transcendental, as well as through technology, alternative identities, realities and histories that engage the past, rethink the present and anticipate the future. Artist ruby onyinyechi amanze thus acknowledges the spirit of Double Consciousness espoused by the sociologist and historian W. E. B. Du Bois, and pushes the definitions of the hybrid and conjures up an alter ego. By invoking, at times, the identity of an alien, she takes on multiple identities that allow her to morph across time and space. Artist Kapwani Kiwanga poses as a scholar in Ancestral Earth Studies from the School of Galactic Anthropology at the Afrogalactica Institute. She projects herself and the readers into a dystopian future, where the influence of Great Zimbabwe on other stellar civilizations proposes an allegory of geopolitical relations and the circulation of cultural influences.

Adriano Pedrosa’s conversation with the pioneering African-Brazilian artist and curator Emanoel Araújo provides a unique insight into a singular curatorial practice, which has over the past four decades confronted the racial complexities and tensions in the largest African diasporic community in the world. Araújo’s thematic concerns as well as his having set up the requisite institutional frameworks have highlighted the neglected social, political and cultural histories of the mestizos. In so doing he provides a counter discourse to the entrenched fallacy of Gilberto Freyre’s ideology of a racial democracy (in which all races are equal) that, in reality, resulted in a situation that “ignores, forgets, puts aside and silences more than [it] outspokenly rejects, refuses or repudiates” non-white Brazilians.” Moreover, Freyre attempted to define a regional specificity by creating the Museum of the Man of the Northwest. Art historian Giulia Lamoni highlights the way in which Jonathas de Andrade’s exhibition about Freyre’s museum appropriates the name of the institution and challenges the way stereotypes are perpetuated through linguistic and visual representation of identity by using the word “Man” to represent all people, and in doing so denying the heterogeneity implicit in the region.

In line with the editors’s endeavours to counter the hegemony of colonial narratives and to write history from a local knowledge base, Bisi Silva introduces New Culture Review, which during the ebullient days following Nigeria’s independence provided an important platform for artists and writers to articulate a discourse that portrayed their new identities and realities. In existence for only eleven issues in the 1970s, the possible loss of this rich archive is indicative of the failure of the postcolonial state. From failure a new proposition is born. In response to the lacunae that exist in the histories of the Continent and the way in which they are notably perceived elsewhere (recalling here the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s Dakar speech in 2007, when he asserted that “the African man hasn’t entered history enough...”2), writer and cultural historian Nana Oforiatta-Ayim embarks on the seemingly impossible task of developing a collaborative cultural encyclopaedia of Africa. By mapping out across the fifty-five countries the relativity of truth in historical narratives through a multiplicity of voices where “knowledge [is] constituted anew with each retelling” and “the elasticity of silence” permeates its authority, her endeavour is as utopian as it is forward-looking.

Finally, the attempt to stifle the right of artists to use their work as a vehicle for social commentary forms the basis of the artist Sharlene Khan’s contribution. Challenging the idea of the “rainbow nation”, she analyses the increasing rate of art censorship in South Africa, which highlights the persistent issues of race, class, gender and sexuality that continue to confront the country in the post-apartheid era. The quality of art to transform society by mirroring, emphasizing or exorcizing its wounds is also explored, in a different context, by art historian and curator Claire Tancons, who explains the way in which Carnival, born in feudal Europe and reborn in colonial America and the slave system, is now emerging worldwide as a form of anti-capitalist protest. A “performance of protest”, it seeks to invent new ways of expressing dissent and intervening in the social and political realms, through artistic means in concert with the non-normative gathering of bodies in space. In a more discreet but no less powerful way, Japanese artist Koki Tanaka’s series of Precarious Tasks also propose individual or collective experiences that may intensify one’s apprehension of a context, thus proposing ways of building new communities and bonds — inventing co-habitation beyond social traumas.

Together with these authors, “Future(s) of Co-habitation” hopes to look beyond geographical boundaries, administrative borders and fixed identities by welcoming unconventional modes of existence, thinking, heterolingual expressions, resilient structures and science-fictional narratives. Our era is challenged by constant mobility and migrations where the forced geographical flexibility of the precarious worker is synchronous to the confinement of undesired migrants, and where Europe continues to struggle with acknowledging the consequences of the colonial past on its social, political and cultural fabric. If the futures of cohabitation that we hope for could be described in other words, they would no doubt take the form of verses by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish from his poem Edward Said: A Contrapuntal Reading (2007), with whose verses we would like to open this new issue:

By traveling freely across cultures
those in search of the human essence
may find a space for all to sit...
Here a margin advances. Or a centre
retreats. Where East is not strictly east,
and West is not strictly west,
where identity is open onto plurality,
not a fort or a trench.

(Translated by Mona Anis)
  • 1. Clare Hemmings. 2012. “Affective Solidarity: Feminist Reflexivity and Political Transformation,” Feminist Theory 13 (2), 147–161.
  • 2. Excerpt from speech given by Nicholas Sarkozy, University of Dakar, Senegal, on July 26th, 2007. Editors’s emphasis.