Rhodes University (or UCKAR),1 based in Makhanda, South Africa, joined the African Arts editorial consortium in 2016 and its first journal issue—vol. 50, no. 2—was published in 2017. Initially the board was run by Ruth Simbao, with the aim of developing collaborations with other scholars, particularly those based on the African continent and within the global south (Simbao 2017: 1).2 For the second Rhodes issue (Summer 2018), Simbao worked with Guest Board Member Amanda Tumusiime from Makerere University, and for the third Rhodes issue (Summer 2019) she collaborated with Stephen Folárànmí from Obáfémi Awólówò University, Ilé-Ifè, Nigeria, who at the time was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Rhodes.
In 2019, Rhodes launched a new editorial board made up of five scholars who are all associated with the university: Rachel Baasch, Emi Koide, Stephen Folárànmí, Angelo Kakande, and Ruth Simbao. Three of the new Rhodes University board members are currently based elsewhere in Africa and the global south: Folárànmí is at Obáfémi Awólówò University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, Kakande is at Makerere University in Uganda, and Koide is at the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia (UFRB) in Cachoeira city in Bahia, Brazil.3
The transnational approach of this board grows partly out of necessity, as our university structures differ to those in the United States, where the other three editorial boards are based. However, it also offers us the opportunity to serve African Arts in a particular way, as we grapple with issues of collaboration, intimacy, and solidarity in our own contexts and in our respective processes of creating knowledge.
Collectively, our regions of research in Africa include Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Senegal, and some of our work situates Africa within the broader global south, in particular in relation to Brazil, China, Palestine, Cuba, and Mexico. While our research continues to engage with the global north, it employs “strategic southernness” (Simbao in Simbao et al. 2017: 29) as a way of writing new art histories that draw from spaces that share historical and contemporary narratives of colonialism, forced migration, and hybridization and that register resistance to these narratives. Recognizing that “resistance … is fragmented” (de Sousa Santos 2019: 117), we strive for collaboration, intimacy and solidarity as a new editorial board as well as in our work with the present and future communities of scholars that create knowledge for African Arts.
COLLABORATION AS “KNOWING WITH”
In October 2019, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, sociologist and author of Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide (2014), visited Rhodes University as part of an interdisciplinary and collaborative seminar program.4 In his presentation on the need for knowledges of justice, he stressed the importance of “knowing with” rather than “knowing about.” Breaking down the distance between those who conduct research and those who are researched, the concept of “knowing with” creates a form of collaboration that stresses mutuality, understands intersectionality, and demands humility.
In the book Knowledges Born in the Struggle: Constructing the Epistemologies of the Global South (2020), which de Sousa Santos edited with Mozambican scholar Maria Paula Meneses, de Sousa Santos wrote a manifesto titled, “Toward an Aesthetics of the Epistemologies of the South.” In this manifesto he argues that, “The tragedy of our time is that domination operates as a coordinated totality, while resistance against it is fragmented” (de Sousa Santos 2020: 117). The three core forms of domination that we live with, he explains, are capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy, and they are “so intimately interconnected that none of them operates in isolation” (de Sousa Santos 2020). As he elaborates, the problem is that,
[T]he social forces that have been resisting against modern domination have usually focused on one of these forms and rarely on all of them. As a consequence, anti-capitalist struggles have often been colonialist, racist and sexist in character, while anti-colonialist or anti-racial struggles have often condoned capitalism and hetero-patriarchy, and anti-patriarchal struggles have often been capitalist and colonialist or racist in character (de Sousa Santos 2020: 119).
The complexity needed to resist these forms of domination in our processes of creating knowledges of justice defies simplistic formulations of “insiders” and “outsiders” and calls for high levels of cooperation that value the collective over the individual. As we “reach sideways” (Simbao in Simbao et al. 2017) as an editorial board, we approach the arts of Africa through our collective southern lenses, and our methods of developing scholarship on the arts of Africa and the south are premised on the principle of “knowing with.”
Contemporary conversations on the theorization and positioning of the arts of Africa are increasingly being situated within the broader global south. While “southernness” is not bound by geographic coordinates, it is grounded within the strategies, solidarities, and epistemologies of spaces that have experienced and continue to experience colonialism and its aftermath. Many publications on the arts of Africa have historically been solo authored and written from the perspective of scholars situated in Euro-American academic environments. In the humanities, collaborative publishing is not very common, although this is changing. It is becoming increasingly necessary to generate scholarship that strives to connect places, people, and ideas in the construction of new art histories that assert the idea of multiple clusters,5 intersections, and cross-pollinations. In the perspectival shift that begins in the south, the goal is not to reposition the African continent and the global south as the center, but to create a number of smaller, more intimate and community-oriented clusters of art knowledge. Within the framework of a “geopolitics of intimacy” (Simbao 2019) we are working collaboratively across geographical borders to develop these clusters of sharing, exchange, solidarity, and support.
While the objects and artforms of Africa are themselves located in or at least originate from the African continent, the academic study of the arts of Africa, as it is predominantly taught and reflected in African Arts, does not have its physical birthplace in Africa. The sociopolitical circumstances in most African countries, in particular colonization and European imperial expansion, meant that at the same time that universities in the United States established their first dedicated graduate programs in the arts of Africa in the 1960s, many African nations were only just establishing independance from Europe. One of the travesties of colonialism, and one of the reasons it was so effective, had to do with the erasure of many African intellectuals and knowledge bearers, thus weakening resistance to the epistemic violence that accompanied this sustained period of oppression and dehumanization. Mhoze Chikowera (2015: 4) refers to this epistemicide as the “destruction of a people's spiritual and cultural foundations and sense of self-worth, [which] would be the surest way to disarm and dominate them.”
While it is essential to challenge Eurocentric knowledge structures, it would be problematic to claim that southern-based knowledge creators or southern institutions are necessarily more decolonized than those in the north, even though southern lenses more readily enable people to see (and feel) epistemic injustices. We come from different contexts to our American partners, but we do not necessarily come from vastly different epistemological conditioning or education systems. The inclusion of Afro-Brazilian art studies within the Brazilian curriculum, for example, is only a recent occurrence. After the law 10639/03 was passed in 2003 (during the Lula government), it became obligatory to include African History and Culture as well as Afro-Brazilian History in primary and secondary education. This is also a result of demands and pressure coming from black movements in Brazil, but despite the passing of the 10639/03 law, there is still a significant lack of African and Afro-Brazilian content and methodology within curricula in Brazil.
Historically, studies in Afro-Brazilian art and African art were considered fields related to anthropology or African Studies, and were disregarded within the field of art history. In a similar capacity to the rest of the global south, the products of Afro-Brazilian artists were often excluded from art history. Today Afro-Brazilian art studies are optional within the mainstream curricula at universities and students have heavily criticized this fact. It is still deeply dominated by a western canon today,6 and art history programs that expanded beyond this dominant canon were put in place relatively late—in 2009 at the Federal University of São Paulo (UNIFESP) and in 2013 at the State of Campinas University (Unicamp).
Existing epistemiological frameworks inherited from colonialism must be dissected, examined, and revised within the subject of art history. Furthermore, our own practices as researchers influenced by dominant Eurocentric education and knowledge production systems must be reflected on and carefully considered. Situating the self-consciously in relation to one's study or research is essential if one is committed to producing self-reflective revisionist art histories from Africa and the global south. It further necessitates honest reflection on the stubbornly Eurocentric nature of many art curricula in the south and on our own educational backgrounds in this regard.
When Jelili Atiku performed Enítere Èjitere7 (Fig. 1) at the Institute of African and Diaspora Studies (IADS) at the University of Lagos in Nigeria in November 2019,8 he challenged his alma mater, suggesting that there is still work to be done to decolonize the ways that we know. “In academia,” said Atiku during the IADS discussion after his performance,
you keep trying to absorb the philosophy laid down by the West. It is like you are part of your body, but you borrow someone else's body. Performance is about how we have lost our energy that is in us, and we try as much as possible to regain balance and as much as possible to reconnect with ourselves.9
Enítere Èjitere critiqued the fact that most people are disconnected from their ancestral philosophies and their ancestral bodies. Repeatedly exclaiming, “You, you! You are archival!” as he stamped the ground with his feet and confronted audiences surrounding him, Atiku used his body to challenge imbalances in our ways of knowing and our ways of being. As Atiku stressed, it is not just curricula in the north that need to shift, and in fact he argued that it was after travelling the world that he could recognize more readily which ideas were obsolete. The need to push for knowledges of justice is everyone's responsibility, even if our methods and contributions might differ.
INTIMACY AND SOLIDARITY AS METHOD
In order to function in the often volatile and stressfull conditions characteristic of African and global south universities, one has to be creative and able to adapt, irrespective of how well resourced one's institution may or may not be. This creates grit, meaning that we can take hold of a project or objective and stick with it even when it becomes difficult to sustain. We see opportunity where others might see insurmountable challenge.
Our universities are often volatile and funding in the arts is neither stable nor consistent. Art departments struggle to sustain themselves and we have to find creative ways to source additional funds and to make use of collaboration in order to fill the gaps in our own and in each others' intellectual environments. This means that we can function in unstable conditions and adapt creatively to the resources at our disposal. A comparison in art creation is the movement of contemporary Zimbabwean artists who have developed their creative practice in relation to a shortage of materials and resources, producing a wave of Zimbabwean artists, such as Moffat Takadiwa, Masimba Hwati, and Wallen Mapondera, who work with disposed items and found objects as a response to a lack of materials.
Our methods for developing material for African Arts are the product of our own adaptation to the current landscape of academic writing and publishing in Africa and the south. As part of our strategy of creating new art histories that destabilize the Euro-American heritage of this discipline, our research pushes against the dominant canon of art history to include interdisciplinary work and a range of different media, as well as less conventional forms of writing and publishing. In the development of some of our issues (see African Arts 50: 2, 51: 2 and 52: 2),10 for example, we work with authors at the annual PROSPA Publishing Workshops that are only open to scholars based on the African continent or in the global south. While the first one was run by Rhodes University alone (2016), the following workshops were held in collaboration with Makerere University (2017), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (2018), and the University of Lagos (2019). In 2020, the PROSPA workshop will probably take place in Kenya, and we are considering the Federal University of Recôncavo da Bahia as a future host.11
The lack of resources and lack of access to certain publications and tools of the global academy characterizes the knowledge landscape in Africa and much of the global south, and this means that partnering with other institutions and individuals is essential for us. Importantly, south-south collaboration differs from old collaborative models that originate in the north and bring with them the hierarchical structure of “Masters” imparting their knowledge. This “sideways” workshop model in which everyone shares expertise and resources (not just financial) contributes to the knowledge-making process. Papers are developed collaboratively (with some of them being multiauthored), and this inevitably creates a degree of intimacy and requires significant personal investment. Such methods of working strenghten solidarity, as intercontextual co-creation of knowledge that brings a high degree of self to the process cannot ignore the challenges that many of us face. In Brazil, for exemple, it is becoming increasingly difficult to continue with academic and cultural activities, due to the fascist government that threatens universities and the freedom of research. Many African scholars can easily relate to such an overbearing social climate.
Driven by a commitment to resistance and solidarity, scholars across Africa and in locations in the south need to support each other and gather strength in our numbers. This doesn't mean that scholars in the north have no role to play, as long as knowledge is created “with” rather than “about.” An example of a collaborative model that aims to shift the way knowledge of Africa is created—or as de Sousa Santas (2020: 118) says, is generated “otherwise”—is the new Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence. While this Cluster brings together northern- and southern-based scholars, it positions most of the weight on the African continent with four African Cluster Centres (Moi University, the University of Lagos, Rhodes University, and Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo) in relation to one northern partner (Bayreuth University).
The multiplicity of this cluster is critical, as epistemologies of the south are “multilocal procedures” that “identify and validate knowledges born in struggles against capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy,” and each “separate culture emerges as an important vector of resistance and knowledge production” (de Sousa Santos 2020). Art and culture play significant roles in the liberation of knowledge, and a diversity of vectors of resistance in the arts is important. Beyond diversity, though, it is the ability of diverse clusters that generate knowledge otherwise to collaborate and to intimately “know with” through acts of solidarity that will enable the dominance of capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy to be dismantled.
UCKAR stands for the University Currently Known as Rhodes (see Simbao 2017: 1).
We deliberately don't capitalize the global south, as it is not based on the coordinates of physical geography. Rather it is situational, and in some ways is characterized by an epistemic southernness.
Folárànmí was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Rhodes University in 2018 and is about to take up a teaching contract at Rhodes; Kakande has been a Rhodes University Senior Research Associate since 2017, and Koide has been nominated as a Rhodes University Research Associate.
This collaboration was led by Lynette Steenveld, professor in the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, and included scholars from journalism, philosophy, creative writing, the Institute of Social and Economic Research, and fine art.
We have selected the term “cluster” instead of “center,” as a cluster implies informality and can appear spontaneously. A cluster of people, for example, can gather on the side of a road to exchange information, whereas a center implies the need for more formal structures.
A recent research project titled “history of _rt” (2017) by Bruno Moreschi, Amália dos Santos, and Gabriel Pereira uses an analysis of eleven art history books used largely in undergraduate visual courses in Brazil to demonstrate that the dominant narrative of art in Brazil is western, White, and male. Among the 2,443 artists presented in these books, just 645 (26.3%) are not European; 215 (8.8%) are women, and 22 (0.9%) are Black. There are only 32 artists born on African continent (11 Black artists and 21 White artists) with only 2 being women. So, besides many efforts, Brazil still has a long journey concerning the effective presence of Afro-Brazilian and African art in its curricula (http://historyof-rt.org/).
Enítere Èjitere means “one by one.”
This performance was organized by the 2019 Publishing and Research of the South: Positioning Africa (PROSPA) program from Rhodes University that collaborated with the University of Lagos to run the fourth annual publishing workshop. The Unilag host was Ganiyu Jimoh from the School of Creative Arts.
Jelili Atiku speaking at the Institute for African and Diaspora Studies (IADS) at the University of Lagos, November 6, 2019.
This current journal issue did not develop out of a PROSPA workshop.
Cachoeira and Rêncavo da Bahia are important areas in terms of the history connecting African and Brazilian heritages, where former enslaved Africans and Afro-Brazilians created cultures of resistance since colonial times. UFRB is reputed to be one of the Brazilian universities with the largest number of Afro-Brazilian students in a country where racism, colonial heritage and segregation are still part of daily life.