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About Power Talks

In 2012, a representative of the Goethe-Institut South Africa posed the following questions at the symposium, ‘Building Art Institutions in Africa’ 

Can a European cultural institution actually play a role in the cultural landscape of Africa…are cultural institutes situated north on the globe now confined to being pure donors…or can they share in the dialogue of the south [and] ask to partake in, or even help shape, processes that are decidedly emancipatory?

In 2018, the Goethe-Institut South Africa’s Cultural Programmes Department, initiated Power Talks, a project aimed at unpacking these questions, to better understand the relationship between European cultural institutions and the various African societies in which they are active.

A collaboration between the Goethe-Institut South Africa and the University of Cape Town’s African Centre for Cities, Power Talks seeks to critically examine the practice of European cultural institutions working in post-colonial / post-apartheid contexts, to facilitate insight into how these institutions locate and make sense of themselves within the geographical, cultural, social, political, economic and temporal spaces they occupy in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The name, Power Talks, was chosen because it calls to mind, on the one hand, the practice of power dating, i.e. interacting with as many people as possible, in as short a timespan as possible – typically in the form of a structured event for singles – in order to maximize the chances of finding a compatible partner; while on the other, it alludes to the power dynamic between European cultural institutions and African countries, since most such institutions originate from the former colonial masters of their host states. Power Talks also hints at the “soft power” European cultural institutions are frequently accused of touting, to soften relations between themselves and the African states alleging their implication in historical, colonial injustices.

The first iteration of Power Talks assumed the form of a public discussion, which was convened on 7 May 2019 at the Market Theatre Laboratory’s Ramolao Makhene Theatre in Johannesburg. The event was moderated by the comedian and discussant, Jeff Tshabalala, with the panel comprising Laila Soliman (a theatre director and playwright, living and working in Cairo), Khwezi Gule (writer and Chief Curator at the Johannesburg Art Gallery), Leigh-Ann Naidoo (UCT School of Education) and Molemo Moiloa (independent curator working in various capacities at the intersection of creative practice and community organizing).

The onset of Covid-19 precluded the hosting of Power Talks in 2020 and 2021. The pandemic’s dramatic impact on the African cultural sector motivated the Goethe-Institut to forge a new path for Power Talks, which in 2022 will assume the form of a multidisciplinary, multi-site programme in Gqeberha & Bisho, Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg. The contextual site-installations are intended to serve as provocations for a dialectic on the nuanced forms, dynamics and functions of power prevalent within the respective cultural scenes examined. The purpose of the more expansive programming, in lieu of a once-off moderated panel, is to disrupt the performativeness which is such a common reflex to the discomfort engendered by the dissection and interrogation of power. 

Buntu Fihla, Yanga Mgabadeli (Eastern Cape), Niamh Walsh-Vorster and Mary-Anne McAllister (Durban), Valmont Lane and Ukhona Ntsali Mlandu (Cape Town) and Danai Mupotsa and Naadirah Patel (Johannesburg) are the curators behind Power Talks 2022.