Reflections from the BGDF 2021
Recap: British-German Democracy Forum
By Neicia Marsh
The first British-German Democracy Forum took place between 25-27 October 2021 in Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, UK. Around 50 academics, cultural workers, and writers, from across the UK and Germany participated in the three day forum, which focused on topics such as colonialism, power, and democracy. The forum, which was developed by Dr Katharina von Ruckteschell-Katte, Goethe-Institut, and Canon Dr Edmund Newell, Cumberland Lodge, was curated by Eric Otieno and Lord Simon Woolley of Woodford CBE.
The opening of the event was led by Eric Otieno and Lord Simon Woolley of Woodford CBE, who gave an overview of the forum's programme and its curation. The first speaker was Dr Carola Lentz, Senior Research Professor at the University of Mainz, who presented her research biography that examined memory and colonialism. Following this, Dr Olivia Rutazibwa, political scientist at London School of Economics, presented a short and concise overview of colonialism, with a presentation titled ‘Colonialism revisited: Facts, figures, contestations’. During her talk Dr Olivia Rutazibwa discussed postcolonial theory and decoloniality.
Later that afternoon, Hans Kundnani, senior research fellow at Chatham House, then introduced his research which explored connections between colonialism and democracy. After the presentations Dr Olivia Rutazibwa and Hans Kundnani were joined on stage for a discussion moderated by Yoland Rother, Europe lead for Stiftung Zukunft Berlin and co-founder of The Impact Company.
The overall theme of day two was centred on memory. The day began with a presentation from Dr Oliver Eberl, a political scientist, who presented a few cases that examined ‘the crisis of democracy and colonialism’. This lecture was then followed with a talk by Kristin O’Donnell, a lecturer in applied humanities from Newman University. Kristin O’Donnell’s presentation centred on the cultural politics of commemoration and how it has been conceptualised in an artwork titled ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ by Jeremy Deller.
Following these talks we then had two presentations that focused on curating and (post)colonialism. The first was by author and art historian, Alice Procter, who discussed the colonial histories of museums. The second talk was by curator, Suy Lan Hopmann, who took participants through a recent exhibition that she and her team curated called ‘Hey Hamburg, do you know Duala Manga Bell?’ which centred German-Cameroonian colonial history.
In the afternoon we continued with breakout sessions, four in total, with each guest participating in one session. The sitting that I attended was by Arike Oké, director of Black Cultural Archives. In this session we discussed the history of the Black Cultural Archives and funding structures within the United Kingdom. The last presentation of the day was by artist and author Sinthujan Varatharajah who opened their talk with a spoken word piece on the past, present, and future experiences of colonialism.
The final day of the forum ended with two workshops, one examined power and the other focused on anti-colonial strategies. The first workshop titled, Rebooting Active Citizenship: Power and Social Change, was presented by cultural thinker, Suzanna Alleyne. In the workshop we discussed power, social change, and neuroplasticity.
The final workshop was by curator, writer, and filmmaker, Aliyah Hasinah, who’s seminar was titled, Anti-colonial Action: Strategies, tools, resources. During her talk Aliyah presented to us her tools for building anti-colonial strategies and how we can put these strategies into action in our everyday lives.
Throughout the forum many interesting topics such as modernity and coloniality, as well as, pluriversality, were raised during the presentations. However, I believe that many participants felt that it was difficult to cultivate further in-depth discussions during the programmed sections of the forum. As such, many of the more engrossing conversations happened during the informal activities (e.g throughout the pub quiz) and at the dinner table. This, I feel, was when participants were really able to digest the day's talks and discuss the everyday impacts of colonialism. This, for me, was one of the reasons why the forum was a success and why I hope that a second forum will take place in the future.
By the end of the forum I came away with some important questions – that I wanted to end on – as I felt that they would be beneficial to those who are at the beginning of their journeys in undoing colonialism:
- How do we decolonise knowledge? What can we do as individuals/ organisations?
- How can we understand the implications of coloniality at our own borders?
- Who is given the opportunities to research colonialism? Who’s voices are heard in this research?
- How to create the post colonial in an ethnographic museum?
- How do material objects contribute to our understanding of colonial history?
- Is there a connection between power, colonialism, active citizenship, organisation, society and our brains?
- How can we build anti-colonial strategies in our own lives?