FAINT TESTIMONIES

What are the interrelations between Africa and Europe in World War I? How is Bayreuth involved, which history is told and how many different versions of history exist and how do they influence the future(s)? Ultimately, the project Remembering the Future through World War I poses existential questions about power structures, memory and alternative histories. Download the booklet here.

Booklet Faint Testimonies

CONCRETE AFFECTION – ZOPO LADY

Get involved with Kiluanji KiaHenda´s poetic video on Angola´s capital Luanda and its concrete manifestations, inspired by Ryszard Kapuscinski´s outstanding novelle Another Day of Life from 1976. What is being left behind? Download the booklet with reflections by Nadine Siegert here.

Booklet Concrete Affection Zopo Lady

ALZIRE

Kitso Lynn Lelliott’s work in the Neues Schloss resembles an artistic ghost-story. By means of images and sounds, the artist evokes the presence of Alzire, a young woman who worked and lived at the court of Wilhelmine of Bayreuth. There are few traces of the young woman. Not even her real name is recorded. “Alzire” is the name given to her by Margravine Wilhelmine, based on the tragedy by the same name, “Alzire, ou les Américains”. It was written by French philosopher Voltaire, who the Margravine adored. All we know of Alzire, the human being, is based on a burial script by Hofprediger Schmidt. Not even 25 years of age, she died in Bayreuth on May 22nd, 1751.

She had come a long way. As her country of birth, Surinam in South America is mentioned. At the time under Dutch colonialism Surinam was a place of slavery with many of its enslaved people being of West African ancestry. It had terrible conditions for people working on the sugar plantations and was a place of rebellion with people refusing the bondage they were placed under. The installation in the castle enacts, through this recalling of the disremembered Alzire, its own rebellion against the desolation of erasure. Her ghostly presence is recalled to fill a space and the narrative of a place she was otherwise forgotten from.

Alzire‘s story leaves many questions: What brought a woman from the Americas to the court of Wilhelmine of Bayreuth? What were the conditions of her journey? Did she act as a servant in Bayreuth, performing not only the duties of a servant but also being perceived through to the popular ‘exoticism’ of the time, when it was fashionable to have people from Africa and the Americas work at the European courts? Was she solely subject to being gazed upon? How did she look back? And did the eyes of the two women, Wilhelmine and Alzire, meet: seeing as both their migrations to Bayreuth were, most likely, not willful ones?

DEPOSITS OF THE FUTURE

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

SIMON RITTMEIER

Simon Rittmeier is a German filmmaker and artist. He grew up in Erlangen, Germany. After high school he worked in
Rwanda as a social worker. Returning to Germany he studied Visual Communication and Film at the University of Fine Arts, Hamburg and the Academy of Media Arts, Cologne. 2009 he received an artist scholarship at Havana, Ludwig Foundation of Cuba. He currently lives and works in Paris.
Image credits: J.W. Bantz

OCEANS APART

Oceans Apart is a multimedia presentation incorporating a two-part projected video and music from the new EP by Ghanaian-Canadian singer-songwriter Kae Sun, directed by Simon Rittmeier with Emeka Alams from Gold Coast Trading as the creative mind. The visual narrative examines notions of belonging and home through the personal and voyeuristic relationship of an asylum seeker and a young female student in a nondescript small town in Germany. Both film and EP explore the current social dilemma of displaced persons through the emotional, spiritual, and relational experience rather than the sociopolitical. For gallery presentations, Oceans Apart is presented as a split-screen projection (on two screens or two white walls). The screens portray the points of view of both protagonists. The point of view of each protagonist is accompanied by a song from the Oceans Apart EP. Videos and music are looped, and a listening station is set up, facilitating an exclusive listen to the full, unreleased EP. Music at the listening station is played via cassette tape. The video footage was captured on VHS and cell phone camera in Germany and the Ivory Coast. The total run time for the piece is approximately 10 minutes. Oceans Apart was conceived by long-time collaborators Kae Sun and Emeka Alams of Gold Coast Trading Company with the co-direction of filmmaker and visual artist Simon Rittmeier.

“Where are you?”.

The prevailing impulse in the experience of being alive is alienation, a sort of spiritual exile.

The desire for happiness is a desire for belonging, a return to eden if you will. Everything people have ever touched, every invention, every poem, song, every prayer ever uttered is haunted by this impulse. Of the two events that shape our existence, birth and death, the latter is the more mysterious, seemingly. The reality of death, the inevitability of it and the fact that it cannot be mediated, the fact that it escapes our capacity to reason with and through it heightens this alienation so that the desire for belonging extends past our immediate physical condition into other worlds we imagine through our creative, philosophical, political and religious endeavours. So the question of what you’ve done with your life becomes a question of what you’ve done with your exile. Oceans Apart is our way of examining this notion of exile using the very current social dilemma of displaced persons or those seeking a better situation, a better point of view, a better reference point for their lives and those of their loved ones.

We’re perhaps peeling back the layers a little bit and making this more about the spiritual and relational condition of not belonging and not so much the socio-political one, we hope that you could partner with us to achieve this goal or at best pose the question eloquently through this piece of ours.

THE RESONANCE

We are proud to give you a little insight on another wonderful project of the exhibition, Ingrid LaFleur´s THE RESONANCE:

The Resonance is an investigation of healing intergenerational historical trauma. The human species is fraught with trauma because, as writer James Baldwin observed, its society is traumatized. As a result, future becomes an elusive goal that is forever tainted and chained to a painful past. No matter the material transformations or development in technology and design, as long as the human body holds trauma we are not truly free to imagine and manifest new visions. Like the resonance of sound, the reverb of trauma passes on from generation to generation through our blood. How do we reprogram cells within our bodies for true liberation? Where are there safe spaces for the imagination to expand freely without being tainted?
It is my hypothesis that by confronting the traumatic event, the pain can be transformed. This is not only the responsibility of the victim but also the perpetrator or liberation can not be fully attained and the future remains a fantasy. Using the genocide of the Nama and Herero peoples as inspiration, the installation pulls upon the landscape, cultures and history of Namibia. When Namibia was under colonial rule by Germany from 1884-1915, Dr. Eugen Fischer and his colleagues decided to conduct research on the Nama and Herero on Shark Island of Namibia, performing some of the most gruesome experiments upon their bodies. This is known as the first genocide of the 20th century by historians. Those experiments became the road map for the impending genocide to later take place in Europe, forever altering human consciousness. The human remains that were shipped from Shark Island to Germany, are still held by various institutions and within private collections in Germany. Namibia has asked for all of the remains to be returned as well as restitution, which Germany has denied.
The Resonance uses sound, sculpture and performance to create a space of transcendence and to honor the Nama and Herero who lived through the horror of genocide. Believing the cosmos becomes the safe place to be in full awareness and liberation, horned cow’s heads hanging in the center of the gallery will serve as a teleportation device to meditate upon in order to teleport into outer (inner) cosmic realms. The Namibia night sky will be projected unto the ceiling providing direction. The performance honors the Nama and Herero women who cleaned the bones of the tortured victims with broken glass. I intend to repeat this action to clean the cow bones. The broken glass will be incorporated into the installation. The room will be continually cleansed via incense and sound set at particular frequency to align consciousness with space and time.