An interesting thing happened at one of the late afternoon sessions when the talk veered from the theoretical and more towards the practical reality.
“Here we are. Most of us have been invited and so that comes with a privilege,” said artist Jota Mombaca. “But I don’t feel comfortable giving something to this institution. It needs to give something to me!” This was a sentiment also shared by Koyo Kouoh, a curator, and this thread of thinking raised a topical but rarely talked about discussion on institutional power and privilege. It created an almost intangible reversal of power and privilege where instead of participants creating something to be used by the Goethe-Institute, they wanted the Institute itself to offer them something.
Much is said and written about the monetary and logistical cost of creating conferences such as this. That labour is undeniable, but so is the mental labour of engaging, unpacking and maybe even recreating traditional narratives of historical archiving. Without these participants what is the Goethe Institute besides another European Institution on non-European soil? The politics of space, power and privilege are very visible during events such as these were the topics reflect the experiences of the most marginalized in our society, but where the conversations are held in predominantly European institutional spaces.
The theme of this group was Detemporality, which is a state of existing within or having some relationship to time. Time on its own is fleeting in ways that make experiences seem never-ending and intertwined. The past and the future intersect and we see this in the 18th century images shown by Lilia Schwarcz during her talk on the legacy of slavery; images of black pain that you could find today in varied formats on google if you simply search for police brutality or state violence against black people. The fluidity of time found its way into this panel with the conversations weaving in and out of each other with no concrete format except for an exchange of knowledge to occur.
Echoes of the South Atlantic is a worthy endeavor but something has struck me as incredibly troubling. The elders in my life, my grandmothers, grandfathers and aunts are people directly affected by the social structures discussed during this conference; racism, neo-colonialism, the flaws of ethnographic museums, capitalism and the legacy of slavery. The power imbalances of these terms affect their daily lives but if they were to listen to the discussions had during this conference they would have understood nothing. Not because of the language barrier (they all speak English) but because the discourse used was so unbelievably inaccessible and academic. If the people directly affected and who are the most marginalized by the institutions we talk about can not understand the discourse, what is the point of brainstorming and reimagining different realities? Unless the point is simply to show how you are much more intellectual than the person sitting next to you….
The people most affected by the discussions covered during this conference; the poor, black, indigenous, illiterate, not able-bodied, queer, homeless, female identifying people represent the statistics used to prove the existence of oppression. But if they are excluded from the organizing and recreating of narratives because of academia then maybe as academics, discussions need to be had on how to sound less like a thesaurus and more like the regular person.
by Tari Ngangura
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