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

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Cluster Conference "Africa*n Relations: Modalities Reflected"


The second International Cluster conference took place from 14 to 17 July 2021. Focusing on the topic of “Modalities” it provided a platform for a wide range of perspectives and debates on the subject. The conference featured four keynotes, four roundtables, and nine panels that were attended by more than 750 registered participants.


Focusing on the topic “Africa*Relations: Modalities Reflected” the highly anticipated second international conference of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence took place from 14 to 17 July 2021. The Cluster of Excellence had put together a multifaceted programme that spanned four days and comprised four keynotes, four roundtables and nine panels. The online format as well as the chosen topics hit a spot with the scholarly community: “Over 750 scholars from all over the world joined us online for our international July conference. This is an overwhelming turnout that confirms the relevance of topics, panelists, and keynote speakers,” says the spokesperson of the Cluster of Excellence, Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Seesemann.

“The 2021 conference was the first in a series of conferences revolving around the Cluster’s annual themes,” explains Prof. Dr. Clarissa Vierke, who guided the Cluster’s engagement with modalities of relations, the 2020-21 annual theme. “The conference provided a forum to advance theoretical debates, fine-tune the respective concepts, mobilize related methodologies, and promote intellectual exchange within the Cluster,” Vierke adds. Over the course of four days, scholars from the University of Bayreuth and the African Cluster Centres at Moi University (Kenya), Rhodes University (South Africa), Joseph Ki-Zerbo University (Burkina Faso), and the University of Lagos (Nigeria) as well as scholars connected to the Cluster’s network and beyond presented their work and debated ideas and concepts.

The highlights of this year’s conference, however, were the keynote lectures held by top-notch speakers. For the opening in the evening of 14 July, the Cluster invited the distinguished Senegalese sociologist, Prof. Dr. Fatou Sow, to speak about Relating Women in African Studies: A Critical View. After Sow’s keynote, the Dean of the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), Prof. Dr. Martina Drescher, solemnly announced that the distinguished Senegalese scholar, a veritable pioneer of African feminist studies, has been selected as the recipient of the BIGSAS honorary doctorate, making her the second person to be awarded this title to date (To find out more about Prof. Sow receiving the BIGSAS honorary award, click here).

In the evening of 15 July, the Cluster of Excellence used the opportunity of its second international conference to introduce a new annual lecture series: the Okwui Enwezor Distinguished Lecture. The new lecture format honours the late art curator Okwui Enwezor and was jointly launched by Iwalewahaus and the Cluster of Excellence. Each year, a prominent artist, curator, or scholar will be invited to offer ground-breaking contributions to the rethinking of African arts in a global perspective. The inaugural Okwui Enwezor lecturer was the renowned art historian Prof. Dr. Chika Okeke-Agulu from Princeton University, who presented a keynote titled The Postcolonial Museum. In the ensuing lively debate, he pointed out that the concept of the postcolonial museum is not primarily about the objects under display, but rather about the ways in which museums perform their tasks, about the stories they tell, the narratives they use, the perspectives they take and the spaces they constitute (To find out more about the concept of the Okwui Enwezor Distinguished Lecture click here).

The third conference day featured a number of exciting events. In the morning, Prof. Dr. Boaventura de Sousa Santos from Portugal, one of the leading decolonial thinkers, explored the question of Decolonizing the University from the perspective of the epistemologies of the Global South. During his illuminating lecture, de Sousa Santos, who works as a consultant for universities eager to start a decolonisation process at their institutions, shared his thoughts on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on universities in the future.

Other plenary events on that day included an artist lecture by the Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor entitled Imagination, Thresholds and Ennui: Summons to Alt. Decoloniality. In her presentation, she offered critical reflections on academic engagements with Africa as well as insightful ruminations about what it means to be human in the postpandemic world. Her lecture was followed by a Conversation with Artivists later that evening, featuring Diego Arauja from Brazil, Lobadys Perez from Colombia and Matchume Zango from Mozambique and shedding light on the connection between artistic and academic knowledge production.

Apart from the keynotes, a total of nine panels and four roundtables engaged with modalities from various perspectives. Participants representing a wide range of academic disciplines explored ways and processes of relating they encountered in their study of African and African-diasporic lifeworlds. Taking a dynamic perspective on multiplicity, the panels and roundtables foregrounded the transformations various modes of relating undergo over time, and the ways in which they vary across different contexts. Moreover, and in keeping with the Cluster’s focus on reflexivity and the aim of reconfiguring African studies, some of the conference events interrogated power relationships and opened up intersectional perspectives on differences and hierarchies.

The conference ended in the afternoon of July 17 with a roundtable discussion featuring Prof. Dr. Grace Musila (University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) and Prof. Dr. Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Columbia University, New York), two members of the Cluster’s Advisory Board who shared their reflections on the conference theme. (sg)


  • The Okwui Enwezor distinguished lecture will be made available on the Iwalewahaus website soon. All other keynotes of the Conference will be made available on YouTube by September 2021.
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