Deposits of the Future through Times and Spaces: African/Diasporic Safe Knowledge
“[I]t it is our visions which sustain us. Do not neglect nor shortchange them. Do not treat your dreams lightly. They point the way toward a future made possible by our belief in them and our labors in their name, which is also ours. There is a world in which we all wish to live. That world is not attained lightly. We call it future.”
–Audre Lorde, I Am Your Sister.
My ideas are drawn from my work on digital Diasporic spaces, which mostly is theoretical and discursive. I work a lot with images, which I see as a carrier of collective knowledge translated into (a) different language/s to travel and re/connect with agents who weren’t present at the particularly moment. The translation part is multi complex, because it is drawing from and feeding into a constantly growing archive of collective knowledge. This body of symbols, codes and references, spread and re/negotiated through different media, academic and art representations as music, sound, pictures (in contrast to ‘images’), poetry, biographies, and various genres of fiction create/d a net of texts. I like to think of this archive as a map of our connected Diasporic experience, which probably manifests itself the best now in the digital representation. The archive of knowledge is passed on through generations of African/Diasporic people through times but also through geographic spaces, enlarging this map, which itself became part of the archive. As ways and modes of transfer may vary and academic scholarship usually just peaks into small ‘spaces’ of it looking for aspects relatable to their disciplinary embedded subject-matter, I believe that it is such an archive of knowledge where our key concepts i.e. future – and with that history and present –, time and, narration are informed by and re/negotiated through. Especially Western academic scholarship might not always find their research connected to this notion. The dynamics developing from such disconnect are in every research results embedded. Questions like, who’s story is been told?, which story is not been told?, do have a larger impact then just being references to the power of contribution. They rather go to the heart of that what is not communicated, what is held back. It is in this context the assertion that one is silent toward a certain mode of knowledge production is a valid (intellectual) intervention. This silence manifests itself in manifold ways and is highly consequential to everybody’s work. While most white scholars are not actively aware of it, it does mirror itself in their work as the void I discussed earlier. A work of void/s that will be passed on by citations and transformations as pioneering. It can be argued that the politics of knowledge (-production) are nowhere else so urgently present as in the left-out traces of lived realities of the other. But, while silence in all cases contains a certain kind of transgression, it can be read as a paradoxical performance, as a realm of the subversive. In any case that which often finds its way as a ‘void’ in normative research can be seen as a trace of resistance, a rupture within, so to speak. The silence of a self-authorized (collective) subject contains both, critique and crisis. Empirical research with/in an arguably very small pool of ‘informants’ often lives from human networks scholars are able to built. Those human networks aren’t necessarily able to translate or even be part of the collective experience behind the ‘void.’ To understand that the question, Whose story is being told?, is not just a variant of the question, Who can speak?, but points to the danger of a normalizing academic discourse where that which is being told is that which can be made intelligible and comprehensible to a certain knowledge is here ultimately important. Furthermore, assuming that all experiences can be analyzed by everybody ultimately leads to appropriations of collective experiences (see above). Chimamanda Adichie already warned us how entangled histories can nonetheless present parallel lives.
As the past has to become present or better a piece of the present in order to become history and as with access to the past comes access to the future, there is a lot at stake for African/Diasporic perspectives in the endeavor of re/searching African/ Diasporic futures. I do understand my work also in and as a response to a tendency of the commoditization of such ‘African futures’, which do use or operate on commodifying representations of Blackness in general. It is in this context that I first experienced kara lych’s work on Black imagination, time and spaces. Her speculative installation work is based on and embedded in many of the archival connections of collective memory. It speaks to me in a way that combines theory and artistic practice. As kara’s work is investigating notions of space in and through time/s I was trying to connect the idea of using an existing safe in the place of the exhibition (Iwalewahaus) as a safe space and a space that manifests voids, and exclusion at the same time. As we all work on new knowledge productions in the field of future conceptualizations in Africa and its Diaspora our work ultimately also paves the way for future past-memories. Thus our works, now here communicated (and translated) to a broader public point first and foremost to different imaginations and envisionings of the future. However, the value of multiple and even contested perspectives of Future Africa lies also in a disclosure of strategies of engagement and processes of this future past-memory-production. As memories are constructed so might be also our futures. This may open a way of actualizing our futures – as Audre Lorde once suggested –, where we negotiate and subvert conceptions of history and develop different conceptions of time and history, making a radically different future easier to imagine.
The very space of a walk-in safe can not only symbolize this but also make it physically tangible. Although the space itself is visible as there is a little room on the level of the main exhibition that lead to the stairs to get down to the safe, visitors do need some hints, symbols and codes of motivation get stimulated to explore this space on the margin. This speaks directly to the selective processes we executing everyday to ‘go’ or search for something or not: the ‘choice’ behind searching for knowledge will so be more physically tangible and the void of not doing so hopefully also be emotionally more accessible. This space – as a walk-in safe – will demonstrate both, the physical and intellectual consequences of knowledge on the margin, a knowledge (and by that, a history and future) that is – literary – left in the basement as well as the very fact that these spaces are always shaped and developed as safe spaces for African/Diasporic lives and stories. Because in the collective experience of African/ Diasporic histories and futures we live our theories, work and praxis not as some distant dream, but as something that can and will happen, that is happening right now. We should here look to and borrow from the discussions on the African continent, which right now are reclaiming these Futures. As Achille Mbembe pointed out: “So we wanted to recapture that category of the future and see to what extent it could be remobilized in the attempt at critiquing the present, and reopening up a space not only for imagination, but also for the politics of possibility.”
Written by Peggy Piesche