News

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.

popular

Davido's Fiancé, Chioma Rowland, Tests Positive For Coronavirus

The Nigerian musician made the announcement via a heartfelt Instagram post on Friday.

Chioma Rowland, the fiancé of star Nigerian musician Davido, has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The artist shared the news via Instagram on Friday, writing that he and 31 people on his team decided to get tested after returning back to Lagos from abroad. While he and the rest of his team received negative results, Rowland's test came back positive.

"Unfortunately, my fiancé's results came back positive while all 31 others tested have come back negative including our baby," wrote Davido. He added that they both showed no systems, but would be self-isolating as a safety measure.

"We are however doing perfectly fine and she is even still yet to show any symptoms whatsoever. She is now being quarantined and I have also gone into full self isolation for the minimum 14 days," he added. "I want to use this opportunity to thank you all for your endless love and prayers in advance and to urge everyone to please stay at home as we control the spread of this virus! Together we can beat this!"

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Juls Drops New Music Video for 'Soweto Blues' Featuring Busiswa and Jaz Karis

The Ghanaian-British producer heads to South Africa for the music video for the amapiano-inspired track.

Heavyweight Ghanaian-British producer Juls shares his first offering of 2020, and it does not disappoint.

The producer enlists South African music star Busiswa and London's Jaz Karis for the jazz-inflected "Soweto Blues," which also boasts elements of South Africa's dominant electronic sound, Amapiano. The slow-burner features airy vocals from Karis who features prominently on the 3-minute track, while Busiswa delivers a standout bridge in her signature high-energy tone.

"The song dubbed "Soweto Blues" is a song depicting the love, sadness and fun times that Soweto tends to offer its people," read the song's YouTube description. The video premiered earlier today on The Fader. "The energy is amazing, the people are lovely and I've found a second home — especially the vibrancy of Soweto," the producer told The Fader about his trip to Soweto for the making of the video "Jaz Karis is singing a love song, which is symbolic of my new love of Soweto and I'm honoured to have worked with Busiswa whom I have been a fan of for a long time."

Fittingly, the music video sees Juls traveling through the township, taking in its sights and energy. The video, directed by Nigel Stöckl, features striking shots of the popular area and its skilled pantsula dancers.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Image courtesy of YouTube.

YouTube's Online '#Stay Home... #WithMe' Music Festival Will Keep You Entertained This Weekend

Watch Reekado Banks, Gigi Lamayne, Asa, Skales and other African artists perform live this weekend as part of YouTube's online music festival, 'Stay Home #WithMe'.

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief
Photo by Annie Risemberg / AFP via Getty Images.

Malians Heading to Voting Polls Despite Coronavirus Outbreak

The Malian government has announced that the parliamentary election scheduled to take place this weekend will continue.

Malians are set to head to the voting polls this coming Sunday in spite of the coronavirus outbreak and a raging jihadist conflict.

AFP reports that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced that the parliamentary election would continue "in scrupulous respect of protective measures."

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.