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.

Music

Listen to Samthing Soweto’s Album ‘Isiphithiphithi’

Samthing Soweto's highly anticipated album is finally here.

One of the most anticipated albums of the year, Isiphithiphithi by Samthing Soweto is finally here.

The South African artist's project consists of 12 songs and features Makhafula Vilakazi, Shasha, Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa and Mlindo The Vocalist.

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Gallo Images/Getty Images

South African Telenovela 'The River' has Been Nominated for an International Emmy

This is the popular telenovela's first International Emmy nomination.

One of South Africa's beloved telenovelas, The River, has received its first ever International Emmy nomination in the category of "Best Telenovela", according to IOL. The River will go up against other telenovelas from Columbia, Argentina as well as Portugal. The 47th installment of the International Emmy Awards will take place on November 25th of this year and will be held at the Hilton in New York.

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Culture
Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

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"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

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Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





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