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.

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The front page of The New York Times on January 16, 2019

Kenyans Are Furious at the New York Times for Posting Photos of Terrorist Victims

After the the deadly attack on Tuesday, many are accusing the American newspaper of having a double standard on which dead bodies they allow into the paper

Is the New York Times guilty of a double standard when it comes to publishing images of dead bodies?

Kenyans, and others fed up with the coverage, took to social media in the hundreds to denounce a Times article that included an image of victims of Tuesday's Nairobi terrorist attack, bloodied from bullets, and lying hunched over their laptops, dead.

It has cause enough debate online to where the Times' incoming East Africa Bureau chief Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura felt the need to explain their photo policy, which is to show the dead only if their faces cannot be seen in the image. The photo in question fits the policy as the faces are facing away from the camera. She would later apologize before posting the official policy to her Twitter account. The photo remains up.

The Times' official response, as those tend to do online, has only created more anger. But unlike many unruly Twitter mobs, those responding to the official statement have a rather coherent message—"you wouldn't do this with photos of the American dead."

Some of the responses to the Times' official statement.

In a response to the controversy from the Poynter Institute, a typically astute observer of journalistic practice in the United States, they run through the typical American journalism school approach to publishing photos that might shock or offend. They write:

Should the Times have run the photo?
There is no easy answer.
The first question any news organization must ask when deciding to publish violent images is: WHY show it?
In other words, what is the news value? Does the public need to see such an image to fully grasp what happened? Does the public need to see such a photo to confirm or disprove the official account of the events?
An argument could be made that a writer's words could accurately describe the scene without being as disturbing as the image. In addition, when it comes to an act of terrorism, might publishing such a photo actually advance the cause of the terrorists, showing the damage they caused, thus fueling dread and panic?
Also this: The photo on the Times website came without warning. As a reader, you didn't know you were going to see a photo of dead people until you actually saw it.
Those are arguments to not run such a photo or, at least, warn readers of its graphic content.

While it's a fine analysis of when to show a violent image, it misses the central issue at play for those aggrieved by the Times' posting—that the American news-gaze values certain lives differently. Black, brown, foreign, poor—American journalism organizations, including the New York Times, cannot escape a base ethnocentrism in their coverage. It's so embedded into how these institutions operate, and the gap in understanding is so wide, that to much of the world, the Times' official response is laughably wrong at first glance.

"We take the same approach wherever in the world something like this happens--balancing the need for sensitivity and respect with our mission of showing the reality of these events"

And while there are examples from the Times that complicate this feeling, like these images of the dead in the terrorist attack in Nice, France, it doesn't discount the wider and correct feeling that the white victims of American mass shootings are treated differently than their African counterparts. And while there are complicated and systematic reasons for this which will always make discussing it difficult, to simply deny that different standards exist, does not increase the Times' credibility with Kenyans or the newspaper's growing online audience which will only become more vocal about how they're portrayed.

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Violent Attack at Kenyan Hotel Ends With 14 Dead

The remaining hostages were freed after a 17-hour standoff between militants and Kenyan security forces on Wednesday.

The final hostages in the violent terrorist attack which took place at the DusitD2 Hotel in Naoribi's affluent Westlands district yesterday have been freed after a 17 hour standoff between Kenyan security forces and Al Shabab militants.

In a speech this morning, Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the rescue mission over, stating that there were 700 people rescued and a total of 14 casualties. He also stated that all of the attackers had been killed in the operation, according to Quartz Africa. "Every person that was involved in the funding, planning and execution of this heinous act will be relentlessly pursued," added Kenyatta.

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