1:54 Forum The Conversationists: ‘Re-visiting ‘The After’

‘Africa resists definition’ -Elvira Dyangani Ose

1:54 is an annual contemporary African art fair held in Somerset House, London during the October Frieze Week since 2013. It was organized to improve the representation of contemporary African art in worldwide exhibitions, and is the foremost art fair dedicated to contemporary African art in the primary art market.

 Re-visiting ‘the after’, a discussion with speakers: Elvira Dyangani Ose (Lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths and Senior Curator at Creative Time), Sepake Angiama (Head of Education at documenta 14), Melanie Keen (Director of Iniva) and moderated by  George Shire (cultural theorist and historian of ideas).

‘What is ‘the after’ and what occurs in this implicit posterior phase? The opening panel addresses the reverberations of the so-called ‘African art boom’ in an effort to examine how to continue to engage with Africa as a subject, terrain or sensibility within the context of an international narrative, and in a  manner  that  prioritises  the development of Africa and diaspora-centred discourse.’

The discussion opened up with Introduction by FORUM programme curator Koyo Kouoh

(Director of Raw Material Company) her introduction spoke of the birth of 1:54 and highlighted how conversations that were happening here at the 1:54 were intended to ‘complicate the narrative’, and how we need to discuss what is or will be the aftermath of this.

Kouoh was followed by an energetic performance intro by George Shire, the chair of the conversation. Shire spoke of the performativity of critique, and the differences between critique vs criticism: ‘who speaks, who writes who performs this critique?’

What is the ‘the after then’? And the different ways we use ‘after’, what they mean, and symbolised in terms of the context in which it is used. Shires posed a question to the panel on the purpose of the ‘publics’ in this discussion and in its positioning in the ‘aftermath’.

The work and writings by Stuart Hall were mentioned and highlighted often throughout the conversation on, ‘the after’ and the notion of ‘Post’, in particular his text on ‘Museums of Modern Art & the End of History; in reference to Ose’s analysis on ‘the after’ leading into further references to the talk of After Post-Colonialism: Transnationalism or Essentialism? That took place in Tate in 2010. Ose spoke often of  ‘Black futurity’, a term I had heard recently in relation to the work and writings of Tina M. Campt, but am yet to delve into and research further. Ose stated that ‘Africa resists definition’, and that we must address talks about Africa with sophistication.

Melanie Keen’s presentation shared some of the work the Stuart Hall Library at Iniva is doing in terms of ‘complicating the narrative’ and how the library can ‘activate knowledge’ and how that connects with the community. Including examples of its Study Days and events all held and focused within the library, a place where we can explore and open up space and unfold these discussions in depth, whilst also archiving and exploring new ways to archive.

‘When we learn we embody our learning’ – Sepake Angiama

Sepake  Angiama is the head of education at Documenta 14, Angiama spoke of ‘Public education’ and exploring the term of ‘Education’ to ‘An Education’, on the importance of interrogating our own education and how can we place indigenous thinking and teachings at the centre of the canon. Angiama highlighted a Documenta 14 conference in comparision to traditional conferences, Documenta 14’s was non-hierarchical, it took place in a circular form, and added that ‘when we learn we embody our learning’ and that it was a way of ‘regulating knowledge’.

‘One must think about the places we occupy by knowing where to go’- George Shire

During the group discussion talks on rituals as the everyday experience, and the naming epistemologies and on the importance of structures that allow for more production; leading into Q&A with the audience with surfaced the question on ‘location’.

The location of where we actually have these conversations, what happens to these conversations when they happen and are asked from a different place?

Location in terms of decolonising and decentralizing the West. This prompted a response from Koyo Kouoh as ‘Location is much wider than a geographical location, it’s a mental location.’

Ultimately, the politics of location is complex, as stated by Shire. Closing the discussion with Ose on black futurity and Sepake speaking on the (un)learning we are all undergoing, I felt as though the conversation could have continued for hours, leaving much food for thought on the context of these discussions and their urgency.

Quoted from Stuart Hall: ‘The West is not a geographical idea.’