Arts + Culture

Artists Explore Postcolonialism In Britain’s First Colony At Ireland’s Biennial

Koyo Kouoh has curated Ireland's 37th biennial of contemporary art, 'Still (the) Barbarians'

Koyo Kouoh. Photo: Deirdre Power, courtesy of EVA International.
“Of all the territories that have been dominated by British colonialism, Ireland has been the one longest occupied and yet, at the same time, doesn’t want to really consider itself a postcolonial territory,” says Koyo Kouoh, founder of the Dakar-based RAW Material Company and curator of Ireland's 37th biennial of contemporary art, EVA International.

Entitled Still (the) Barbarians, Kouoh has drawn upon her own experiences of postcolonialism in Senegal and Cameroon in order to shape the theme of the biennial. Finding this discourse lacking in Ireland has motivated Kouoh to take forward a conversation about lasting colonial effects, in Limerick and beyond. “There are many works that deal with language, particularly in the context of Ireland losing Irish and trying to regain it. There are works dealing with trauma, with memory and with identity politics – key postcolonial concerns” says Kouoh.


Godfried Donkor, Rebel Madonna Lace Collection (2016). Installation shot from EVA International – Ireland’s Biennial, 2016. Photo: Miriam O’Connor, courtesy of the artist and EVA.
The exhibition, taking place April 16 through July 17, falls on the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916, when Irish nationalists staged a rebellion with the aim of ending British rule in the country. A tale reminiscent of many anti-colonial struggles in Africa, the British army quashed the rising, and most of the rebel leaders were executed. A further 3,500 people were imprisoned, some in internment camps in Britain––and many of whom had played no part in the rising. But what the rebellion, and the British reaction to it, did do is boost impetus and public support for the independence struggle. “1916 was the beginning of the end of the British empire...but wherever the British have been, they’ve left the same problems behind them,” says Evelyn McCool, my Irish grandmother who I spoke to about this topic.

Comparing the enduring manifestations of colonialism on modern day Ireland with Cameroon and Senegal, Kouoh explains “Colonialism’s physical domination, in terms of the shaping of architecture, civic spaces and the wider landscape, is accompanied by a psychological domination through the imposition of language, social structures, religion and prejudice.”

Godfried Donkor, Ebony Accra Edition, 2014. Collage on paper, 70 cm x 100 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
My grandmother is no stranger to prejudice as a Catholic from one of the six northern counties in Ireland which did not achieve independence in 1921. There is a complex history around this far beyond the realms of this article, but the bloody history of The Troubles and remaining religious prejudices in what is now known as Northern Ireland are a pertinent example of the destructive effect of colonialism on a people. My grandmother has no doubt about her identity as Irish––“If you’re from this island you’re Irish whether you like it or not”––but says that growing up in British-controlled Northern Ireland she was never taught Irish history or language at school, only picking up bits from her father. There are conscious efforts in the Republic of Ireland to regain the Irish language; for example, primary school teachers are required to speak it; but this is less the case in Northern Ireland, which remains part of the UK. “Although it won’t get you far these days, it would be nice to know that we could still keep the language,” Grandmother McCool says.

For the biennial, Limerick-based artists Deirdre Power and Softday’s project looks at the legacy of the Easter Rising by holding a public competition and vote for a citizen’s anthem. The idea is the anthem “is representative of contemporary Ireland, and reflects on themes such as equal opportunities, liberalism, freedom, welfare, security and democracy,” says Kouoh. The winning anthem will be played by two Shannon Ices ice cream vans on the centenary.

Abdoulaye Konate, The Butterflies Series (2016). Installation shot from EVA International – Ireland’s Biennial, 2016. Photo: Miriam O’Connor, courtesy the artist, Blain Southern and EVA.
Other artists handling the enduring effects of colonialism include Malian Abdoulaye Konaté, whose Butterflies Series depicts recent independence anniversaries of countries on the African continent, suggesting the fragility of the postcolonial state. Meanwhile Vietnamese artist Vo Tran Chau’s installation explores the history of the Nguyễn Dynasty, whose descendants after years of domination by external forces “now live with a kind of unresolved inferiority,” according to Kouoh.

The diverse range of works from around the world at EVA International and artistic interpretations of its theme highlight the postcolonial existence so many of us are living. Kudos to Koyo Kouoh who has made me as a half-Irish person in London, my Grandmother as a person from the north of Ireland, and probably most of Limerick, think a bit more about that.

Alice McCool is a freelance journalist, anti-corruption campaigner and masters student at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. You can tweet her at @McCoolingtons.

Courtesy of Jojo Abot.

Let Jojo Abot's New Afrofuturistic Video Hypnotize You

The Ghanaian artist releases the new video for "Nye VeVe SeSe," an entirely iPhone-recorded track.

Jojo Abot is rounding out a strong year which has seen her tour South Africa, release the NGIWUNKULUNKULU EP and work with institutions like the New Museum, Red Bull Sound Select and MoMA on her art and performances.

Jojo is now sharing her latest music video for "Nye VeVe SeSe," a song featured on her iPhone-only production project, Diary Of A Traveler.

"Nye Veve Sese is an invitation to let go of the burden of pain and suffering that keeps us from becoming our best and greatest selves," a statement from Jojo's team reads. "Asking the question of why pain is pleasurable to both the one in pain and the source of the pain. Often time the two being one and the same."

Watch her new "meditative piece," which was shot in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, below.

Jojo Abot will be playing her final US show of the year in New York City alongside Oshun on October 26 at Nublu 151. Grab your tickets here.

A Nigerian Label Is Suing Nas For Not Delivering a Good Verse

M.I and Chocolate City filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court claiming Nas didn't deliver the verse they wanted.

Nigerian star M.I and his label home Chocolate City are suing Queenbridge legend Nasir Jones.

In the lawsuit, which was filed in the New York State Supreme Court, Nas and Mass Appeal Records' Ronnie Goodman are accused of ripping off Chocolate City after they'd paid the rapper $50,000 for the verse.

According to the lawsuit, back in 2013, Nas and Goodman agreed to contribute a verse to a track from M.I. The stipulations were that Nas was supposed to mention "M.I, Chocolate City, Nigeria, Queens, New York—NAS's hometown—, Mandela, Trayvon Martin, and the struggles of Africans and African Americans" in his verse.

Nas did, in fact, deliver a verse but it didn't mention any of the subject matter Chocolate City had asked for.

The Nigerian label requested that the Queens rapper to re-record the verse, which now three year later, has never happened despite them delivering the $50,000 payment. Hence, that's why they're now suing him, they mention.

It's not all fighting words, though, as Chocolate City is very complementary to Nas in the lawsuit calling him "a highly respected lyricist in the music industry" and writing that they wanted a verse from him "because of NAS's exceptional talent as a lyric writer."

Unfortunately that talent and lyricism was no where to be found in the verse they got, in the eyes of Chocolate City and M.I.

Revisit M.I's "Chairman" above.

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Photo courtesy of TEF.

5 Things We Learned From the TEF Entrepreneurship Forum

Over 1,300 African entrepreneurs, business leaders and policymakers attended the 3rd Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum in Lagos—here are the highlights.

The Nigerian Law School in Lagos, Nigeria, was transformed into a buzzing enclave of substantial conversation, intentional encouragement, and unbeatable energy.

The third Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum was the most inclusive gathering of African experts in business, entrepreneurship and policy, where all 54 African countries were represented with more than 1,300 attendees. These entrepreneurs and thought leaders are innovators across a diverse array of sectors like agriculture, technology, healthcare, fashion and energy/power generation.

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