P058 – African Artists in Times of Political Turmoil and Global Attention
9 July, 14:00 – 15:30

Siegenthaler Fiona / University of Basel


Revolutions attract the international interest in and the attention for politically engaged artists. This was the case with many Tunisian, Egyptian, Moroccan and other artists in the wake of the Arab Spring who suddenly appeared in established art spaces, newspapers, magazines and galleries all over the world. The same happens when long lasting political conflicts come to an official end, as was the case with South African art after the demise of apartheid in the early 90’s, or with the award-winning presence of the Angolan pavilion at the Venice Biennial just a decade after the end of the civil war. This apparently sudden global presence and attention, however, often obscures the fact that the artists had been practicing long before, and that this practice often is the foundation on which revolution-related art events and exhibitions come into being. This panel asks how this international visibility of African artists emerges and how it relates to the artist’s practices and interactions with individuals and institutions locally and internationally. What networks have African artists maintained prior to the revolutionary moment, of what nature were they, and to what extent did these become crucial for their international appreciation in moments of political turmoil? What impact do revolutions have on artists’ practices and careers?

Artistes africains en temps d’agitation politique et d’attention mondiale

Les révolutions attirent l’intérêt et l’attention internationale pour les artistes politiquement engagés. Cela a été le cas avec des artistes tunisiens, égyptiens, marocains etc. à la suite du Printemps Arabe, qui sont apparus soudainement dans les espaces d’art, les journaux, les magazines et les galeries dans le monde entier. Cela se produit aussi quand des conflits politiques longs se terminent officiellement, comme avec l’art sud-africain à la fin de l’apartheid au début des années 90, ou avec le pavillon angolais primé à la Biennale de Venise juste une décennie après la fin de la guerre civile. Cette présence et attention globale, apparemment soudaine, masque cependant et souvent une longue pratique antérieure des artistes qui constitue la base sur laquelle émergent les événements et expositions artistiques liés à la révolution. Ce panel interroge comment cette visibilité internationale d’artistes africains émerge et quelles sont les interactions entre cette émergence,  leur pratique artistique et leurs échanges avec des individus et des institutions sur les plans local et international. Quels réseaux les artistes Africains ont-ils entretenu avant le moment révolutionnaire, de quelle nature étaient-ils, et dans quelle mesure ceux-ci sont-ils devenus cruciaux pour leur appréciation internationale de l’insurrection politique ? Quel impact les révolutions ont-elles sur les pratiques d’artistes et leurs carrières?

Paper 1

Siegenthaler Fiona / University of Basel

African Artists in Times of Political Turmoil and Global Attention: Introduction

This paper offers an introduction to the panel topic and the papers presented.

Paper 2

Eickhof Ilka / Netherlandish-Flemish Institute Cairo / University of Amsterdam

European Cultural Institutions in Cairo: “With Good Intentions Only”. On Power Structures, Artistic Funding and Matters of Representation

In Egypt, local funding for artistic and cultural production is scarce. Egyptian artists and cultural producers depend on various funding lines offered mostly by European cultural institutions, as the manifold logos on flyers and invitations reveal. With the beginning of the uprising, those cultural institutions’ interests in “revolutionary art” rose significantly, as did their respective budgets, mainly provided by their particular foreign office. In my presentation, I will concentrate on the power structure of ‘givers’ (the European institutions) and ‘receivers’ (the Egyptian artists/actor), while unfolding the various positions and agencies inherent within. Using the German Goethe Institute in Cairo as an example, I will address several inseparable discussions: 1. Development politics, the myth of the gift and moral authority, 2. Representation, neoliberalism and the global market, and 3. Cultural politics. Leading questions are: (How) Do artists and critics discuss the institutions’ influence within the artist community? (How) Are notions of (cultural) representation and coloniality addressed by either side? What is the (regulative) effect that European foreign politics, a global art market and neoliberal self-promotion might have on the creative result (commodification of “revolutionary art”), and how is it being discussed? By attempting to offer answers to the questions outlined, my presentation takes a closer look at the recent interest in Egyptian “revolutionary art”.

Paper 3

Sharp Sarah / Howard University

Art as Power; Art as Convenience; Art as Aggressor; art as Mediator: The Artistic Force in the Work of Huda Lutfi and Amal Kenawy

The gap in discourse is the separation of politic and art, which when bridged has potential to “construct modes of analysis that will inform pedagogy, enhance interpretation, and facilitate theory building in political” and cultural studies (Negash 2004: 187). This paper examines aesthetical, historical, cultural representations from Mubarak’s Egypt through the art of Huda Lutfi and Amal Kenawy, and their belief in artistic imagination, production and display, which foresaw and post-ceded Egypt’s 2011 political transformation. Kenawy and Lutfi’s artworks deconstruct and reconstruct anxiety, astuteness, rebellion and change, and their work explicates how the oversight of art has impoverished social and political discourse and restricted a critical discourse (Negash 2004). Kenawy and Lutfi present transformation through visual exchange, exhibition and communication in the local, regional, and global arts. In the global interface, Kenawy and Lutfi relinquish a measure of so! vereignty and assume identity characteristics that are ascribed to specific social and political paradigms that function in unique temporal realities. This paper engages perceptions of hegemony and sovereignty in artistic practices through inquiry into the artworks of Huda Lutfi and Amal Keanwy from the mid-1990s until now.

Paper 4

Von Veh Karen / Universtiy of Johannesburg

Christian Iconography as a Vehicle for Political Commentary in South African Art

I consider the effects of regime change in South Africa through a discussion of art works that employ Christian iconography as allegory to comment on social and political realities. Christian iconography permeates western culture and was introduced widely in Africa through missionary endeavours during colonisation. The meanings carried by Christian images are thus accessible and understood by large numbers of people. Religious works made during the apartheid era by Azaria Mbatha, Ronald Harrison and Charles Nkosi are discussed in terms of their political implications as they adapt the Christian message to support a political agenda while appearing overtly religious in content, thereby attempting to avoid censure. I compare these examples with works made during and after the dismantling of apartheid, which are more critical of both religious constructs and contemporary politics and could be termed ‘transgressive’. Apartheid ended with the first democratic elections in 1994 but the difficulties of transition continue to affect South African society and the after-effects of apartheid politics are still apparent in the content and trajectory of South African art. In this paper I investigate the ways in which artist’s use of religious iconography for political commentary has altered and become more aggressive, due to the loosening of censorship and state controls in the ‘new’ post-apartheid South Africa.

Paper 5

de Bruijn Mirjam / Leiden University

Lalaye Didier / Artist, N’djaména

The Chadian Protest Music Scene in the Wake of the Impossible ‘Chadian spring’

The advancement of communication technology in Chad is still lagging behind to the rest of the world, but nevertheless it has gained a momentum. Is it a coincidence that since the interior of Chad is connected we have seen the engaged music scene appearing in Chad, Ndjaména? ICT development went together with the digitalization of music production, but are they related, and if so how?
Until a decade ago one could say that protest music scene was semi-absent in Tchad, and not known internationally, in contrast to other countries like Cameroon and Senegal. Some rare artists like El Hadj Ahmat Pecos did sing protest songs, but had no international exposure. It is not unlikely that this is related to the Chadian regime, who will certainly not allow the protest music on the national channels. It has been and still is one of the most oppressive regimes in central Africa, despite the promise of democracy and openness with the coup d’Etat in 1990 instigated by Idriss Déby who holds power since then. Freedom of speech was certainly not the rule in Chad. Since 2009 research demonstrated a gradual liberation of speech (Djimet 2013), but recent developments around the appearance of jihadist movements and more open protest have given the Chadian regime another boost to control the population.

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