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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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„On Worlds and Artworks” mirrors work of the Research Section "Arts and Aesthetics"


From 10 to 14 February 2020, the Research Section “Arts and Aesthetics” organized its first workshop with the title “On Worlds and Artworks”. It took place partly in the Research Institute of Music Theater (FIMT) in Thurnau and partly in Iwalewahaus, mirroring the broad range of arts represented in the Research Section.

by Prof. Dr. Clarissa Vierke, Professor of Literatures in African Languages at University of Bayreuth and Spokesperson of the Research Section “Arts & Aesthetics” at the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence

The RS “Arts and Aesthetics” takes inspiration from a perspective on multiplicity that brings artworks, as multi-layered configurations, to the forefront, which have their own way of relating to the world. Artworks constantly emerge through and in relation to each other, as to the material and social conditions in which they take shape and make alternative existences sensorially perceptible. In our section internal discussions on arts and their relations, notions of world and worlding had become central concern during the winter semester. Drawing on a number of notions of worlds and worlding, we took particular interest in approaches highlighting a processual notion of world(ing) as constantly coming into being and being itself multiple. Artworks can accordingly also appear in and call into being various worlds.

This was the major concern, which we sought to explore further in the workshop: How do artworks relate to worlds? How do worlds emerge in configurations of artworks? Accordingly, we invited contributions which reflected on the way artworks in a broad sense (literature, music, theatre, film, painting, performance etc.) and from various contexts imagine multiple worlds. Contributors were invited to reflect upon their own case studies/findings on aesthetic practices and artworks by addressing the following question: How do artworks create and inhabit multiple worlds? Considering worlding as a performative act also invites for contributions which consider African cinema, music, literature, performance, and so on as neither merely part of an essentially given and neatly delineated African continent nor as part of a Southern-Northern dichotomy. How also are African films, music and narratives etc. circulated in and conditioned by sites, media, and structures in Europe and Asia? How do they make reference to, imagine and emerge in relation to the material conditions of these various sites? Which role does the aesthetic nature of the arts, which emerges in concrete form, play in this regard?

Lastly, notions of “world” have played a prominent role in discussion of the arts in recent years (world literature, world cinema, world music) – though in different ways and also drawing on various conceptual bases. Despite growing postcolonial criticism, African arts have been typically essentialized in these contexts. Thus, worlding also invited for papers critically considering the politics of circulation, exclusion, and inclusion. Metareflections on the relationship between the notion of worlds with regard to different disciplines and artistic genres (for instance, world music vs. world cinema) are also welcome.

The workshop

The workshop was attended by twenty-seven participants from Europe, Brazil and Africa including also our doctoral students of the cluster. BIGSAS doctoral students also came to listen to specific lectures. On the first day, the keynote by Prof. Dr. E. Schüttpelz unfortunately had to be cancelled due to sickness. Instead, the workshop participants had a first get-together in Ponte. On the second day, a bus shuttle picked the participants up in Bayreuth and took them to Thurnau.  Originally, the whole workshop was supposed to underline the RS’s commitment towards music and its future expansion of collaboration with regard to music and performance by taking place in Thurnau. To save costs, however, not the whole workshop could take place there. However, we successfully managed to organize a whole day there including a concert and an artist performance featuring the singer/performer Corine Kwami (from Nigeria/UK). Another female artist and activist, Chinelo Enemuo also enriched the programme on the first day, by introducing her own form of artwork and community-based artist research in rural Nigeria. While CJ Odhiambo (ACC Eldoret) considered theater for development projects and their creation of alternative imagined worlds, Michaela Ott (Hamburg, project leader “Dividuations”) proposed new perspectives on aesthetic world-making. Later Sophie Lembcke, working in the same project and writing a PhD on alternative forms of curation, explored the limits and fantasies of ethnographic museum worlds. Marie-Anne Kohl (FIMT), who organized the day in Thurnau in a perfect and tireless way, shared her reflections about the curation of musical festivals, which she intends to explore more into detail in her new research project. Later Anno Mungen, the director of FIMT, gave the enthusiastic participants a guided tour through Thurnau.

On the second day, held in Iwalewahaus, a whole series of papers focused on Indian Ocean imaginaries, starting with Elena Brugioni’s (Sao Paulo) exploration of literature and photorpahy of ruins, Kumari Issur’s (Mauritius) consideration of posthuman island narratives on Mauritius and Duncan Tarrant’s overview of his fieldwork findings on Zanzibar exploring the multiple affiliations of Zanzibari poets in the research project “Multiple Artworks – Multiple Indian Ocean” (Cluster). Peter Simatei (ACC Eldoret) with a focus on Indian diaspora writers and Ute Fendler unearthing a relational transoceanic photography and Clarissa Vierke highlighting the changing far-reaching links of Swahili poetry from different regions and epochs further added to the Indian Ocean discussion. In the afternoon, Ulf Vierke presented first reflections on his new project in the RS on artworlds. Fellow Samuel Ndogo (ACC Eldoret) presented findings from his own project on Kenyan popular art, which he had worked on during his stay in Bayreuth. On the last day, Ute Fendler, Gilbert Ndi Shang and Thierry Boudjekeu, who all conduct research in the Cluster project on the Black Atlantic, added the view on worlds through another transoceanic lense. While Gilbert Ndi Shang examined notions of identity and memory in Catagena, Thierry Boudjekeu is working on the slave trade in West African Francophone prose. Ute Fendlers presentation on a performance and installation in Brazil (Qaseilhas), also reflecting links to Africa, refracted by the history of slavery, attracted a lot of interest. The discussions were very lively, engaged and productive. A publication of select papers is planned to appear in the relatively new, Africa-based and interdisciplinary journal of Literature, Film and Theater edited at the ACC Moi University. An open access version and component will be worked out with the library at UBT. The editorial team consists of both scholars from Moi University and UBT.

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