Episodes of the south “I thought I knew where the south is”

Documentation of political protests in Haiti from the episode
Documentation of political protests in Haiti from the episode "New Diaspora" | Photo: Daniel Lima

How can we find new perspectives on art, science and culture without passing on Eurocentric perceptions? How can we bring about decolonization in thinking? The project Episodes of the South by the Goethe-Instituts in South America explores new perceptions of art and culture and demonstrates new directions for the dialogue of countries in the global south.

The project, running from 2015 until 2017, comprises debates, research work, exchange programmes and artistic and scientific productions. Each episode is dedicated to a specific theme and links the countries of South America with South Africa and other countries of the global south. The aim of the project initiated by the Goethe-Institut São Paulo is to make perspectives and voices of the global south visible and audible. The “south” is not just a geographical category, but also considers social, historical and cultural implications. Philosopher Achille Mbembe of Cameroon encapsulated this change of perspective with the words, “The world is catching up with Africa, not the other way around.”

Having produced 15 episodes, at its halfway point the project has achieved and initiated a great deal already. Here, four cultural professionals from Brazil, Germany and Africa who made major contributions to selected episodes comment on what has been accomplished so far. What questions do the countries of the global south need to ask and how do the Episodes of the South make reference to them?

Episode “New Diasporas”:

The series of events spotlights migration movements between the countries of the global south.

Daniel Lima, artist and activist, Brazil

Daniel Lima Daniel Lima | Photo: private “With the “New Diasporas” episode, we are drawing attention to the fact that migration within the global south is not visible to large parts of the world; it’s as if it didn’t exist at all. What defines the south we speak of here? In my opinion, it is the shared trauma of colonization, which still results in imbalances today, for example in the recognition of knowledge or in trade relations. Reference to the global north, which has been elevated as the norm, leads to a desideratum in the dialogue between the countries of the global south. The Episodes of the South take up this dialogue. In the “New Diasporas” episode, we focus on migration from Haiti to Brazil. Haiti is the first and only nation to arise from a slave revolution. This experience can help us to create a narrative of our history of resistance.”

Episode “Talks with Objects”:

Participants from various disciplines are invited to “talk” to an artwork in in the room. This questions the categories and concepts of art history and offers space to a non-European perspective on the history of art.

Claudia Mattos, art historian, Brazil

Claudia Mattos Claudia Mattos | Photo: private “Decolonization is also a linguistic process. We need new terminologies to build new relations with cultural objects. In the “Talks with Objects” we reassess the history of art in particular by means of a critical attitude towards theories and practices of the European-influenced humanities. It is particularly about recognizing the cultural distinctiveness of different visual traditions. In recent years there have been many efforts to establish institutional structures for communication and interaction between the countries of the south. We countries of the south have to get to know each other better in order to identify common interests as well as differences.”

Episode “Revolting Mass”:

This episode addresses and presents the music of protest in the countries of the south in open rehearsals, concerts and lectures. What aesthetic, what musical styles emerged from the convergence of music and poetry on the one hand and protest on the other?

Neo Muyanga, composer, South Africa

Neo Muyanga Neo Muyanga | Photo: private “The decisive question for the global south is how we can activate our own indigenous knowledge, including the knowledge of the rural and poor parts of the population. One of the greatest challenges in this is that we in the global south have no common language. That makes dialogue and solidarity more difficult. In the “Revolting Mass” project we attempted to bridge the rift between Brazil and South Africa with art and also through deconstructing the political background in which that art is created. With music, we create a new language of dialogue for the countries of the global south.”

Museal Episode:

Museum directors, curators and stakeholders from other fields ask about the future of museums and discuss new models for presentation, education and dialogue in museums in order to transport knowledge from the south to the north and vice versa.

Marion Ackermann, director of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen until October 2016 and Director-General of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and member of the advisory board of the Visual Arts division from November 2016

Marion Ackermann Marion Ackermann | Photo: Michael Jäger “If someone were to ask me now where, to me, the south is, I would answer, “Before the project, I thought I knew where the south is.” After the end of the first phase of the project, I returned to Germany with great doubts in our own system. We do a lot of talking here now about participation, but in Brazil we can experience radical, existential forms of it that have been deeply moored in people’s awareness for decades. The Episodes of the South have sensitized me to what discourses play a pivotal role in other places, such as “how to un-learn” or the issue of archiving. One of the most important topics at the last meeting that continues to be topical and thought-provoking is “how to democratize a museum.””

Episode „Technochamanismo“ Episode „Technochamanismo“ | Photo: Goethe-Institut e.V.
Episodes of the South

Katharina von Ruckteschell-Katte, director of the Goethe-Institut São Paulo and regional head for South America, on Episodes of the South

“The idea for the episodes originated in a hypothesis by the Indian anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, who questions the existence of a “theory from the south” and posits that we should instead think about whether there might not be such a thing as “south of theory.” The episodes explore new pathways to enlightenment by radically breaking with western thinking habits. At first you feel uncomfortable, but over time allow yourself to be carried away to a world that is perhaps our future. Or, in the words of the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro about the Yanomami, “Indian culture is not survival of the past, but a project of the future.””

All of the episodes from the three-year project are presented and documented on the Episodes of the South website. This generates an ever-growing archive of knowledge on the global south.