Paris, 5-12 July 2015
Horror-prone and exotic, a continent in waiting, defenseless, where everything remains to be done: Africa as accounted for by the “North” is in a sad state. Or, yet again, is in the midst of an unfettered economic boom. A tale of extremes prevails, lacking all nuance.
Other accounts are in need of hearing: Africa’s own, unmediated by the simplifying gaze of the self-anointed center.
AFRICA ACTS aims to highlight such accounts.
Over the course of a week, from 5 to 12 July, twelve performance artists and dancers, musicians, poets, film and video makers, DJs and VJs come together in a series of carte blanche events. In the mix as well, an exclusive film series dedicated to performance as engaged social practice.
The artists around whom AFRICA ACTS revolves work resolutely outside the box. They share a refusal of easy choices and a dedication to forms of expression that push the boundaries of their respective disciplines. Their practices speak truth to power, rejecting in manifold ways the social, political and economic violence of our contemporary world and seeking, simultaneously, to transcend it. Theirs is art that re-enchants the social order, thinking it through the prism of imaginaries that stand on their heads clichés and ready-made ideas.
A first in France, AFRICA ACTS takes place in a range of spaces across Paris: museums and contemporary art centers, jazz clubs, university lecture halls, streets and plazas. In these stings, audiences are invited to become active participants in the making of performances both original and radical.
AFRICA ACTS is deployed in dialogue with the European Conference on African Studies (ECAS). Held every two years in a European capital, in 2015 ECAS brings to the Sorbonne some 2000 scholars around one key theme, which AFRICA ACTS celebrates and embodies: “Collective Mobilizations in Africa”.
“Collective Mobilizations in Africa: Contestation, Resistance, Revolt”. ECAS’ theme for 2015 is a subject of interest to scholars and policy-makers alike. It is also a key concern for artists.
The performing arts, in particular, offer a rich platform for thinking about issues of collective mobilization. Across the world, and across eras, music, dance and theatre have played key roles in articulating the desire for social, political and economic change and in bringing such change to pass. Building upon this history, in the 20th century, street art, hip-hop practices and performance art proper emerged as forms of expression developed explicitly to call for and implement social transformation.
In the second decade of the 21st century, few places can boast the performance energy of cities the likes of Lagos, Kinshasa, Johannesburg or Cairo. Drawing on a rich legacy of artistic production elaborated in response to violent inequity visited on Africa and its peoples in the context of the slave trade, of colonialism and, thereafter, in the face of political and economic regimes foreign and local, artists of the African world today are exploring aesthetic and ethical territory that positions them at the very cusp of contemporary practice. This in turn puts them at the heart of highly cosmopolitan debates regarding the significance and the potential of art as engagement.
The central place of performance as engagement in the contemporary African world requires contextualization, also, within the broader history of Africa art. Oral and written histories and literatures, linguistic data, archaeological discoveries and the analysis of key architectural sites underscore the depth, the complexity and the shifting, location- and time-specific nature of intersections between art and politics across the continent. Instrumentalized, here as elsewhere, as tools in the construction of power, creative practices were also, in the past, deployed to limit, re-shape or overturn such power. This is reflected in an extraordinary wealth of formal, lexical and gestural vocabularies, which speak to intimate ties between practices of mobilization on the one hand and artistic production on the other.
AFRICA ACTS is a celebration and an interrogation of, a dialogue with and a reflection upon the complexity and the vitality of these ties, past, present and future.
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