P206 – Broadening the Battlefield, or How African Artists and Writers Have Taken up the Gender Question
9 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Bounakoff Pierre-Nicolas / EHESS Paris / BIGSAS Bayreuth


Sexuality, gender, and queer issues are rapidly gaining a prominent place in the African avant-garde’s artistic and literary discourse, both on the continent and among the diaspora. Binyavanga Wainaina’s coming out, Kara Walker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Wangechi Mutu’s strong feminist statements, and several works presented within Simon Njami’s exhibition ‘Divine Comedy’ now follow pioneers like Zanele Muholi. These innovations, spread by the medias and social networks, tend to replace the post-colonial social subjects modern artists had addressed so far. In a new combination of the public sphere and the intimate, they challenge restrictive lawmaking, conservative political outbursts, or the banning of a queer themed exhibition during the 2014 Dakar Biennial.
Popular support is still limited, but the academic debate, within Gender and Queer Studies, is long established. Are the artists, then, spearheading social change, or interpreting and disseminating academic thinking? Are they inspiring the societies they live in, or following new trends as they arise? How to evaluate their commitment, their role, their power and their reach? Is this a movement, or the work of isolated individuals?
This Panel aims to discuss the recent appropriation of the debate on gender, queer and sexual liberties by socially committed artists or writers, and its possible artistic or social consequences.

Élargir le champ de bataille, ou comment les artistes et les écrivains africains ont relevé la question du genre
La sexualité, le genre et les questions queer ont récemment pris une place importante dans le discours des avant-gardes littéraires et artistiques africaines du continent et de la diaspora. Les déclarations de Binyavanga Wainaina, les œuvres féministes de Kara Walker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ou Wangechi Mutu, et certaines pièces exposées par Simon Njami dans ‘Divine Comedie’ suivent aujourd’hui les pionnières comme Zanele Muholi. Ces innovations, reprises par les médias et les réseaux sociaux, tendent à remplacer les sujets post-coloniaux traités par les artistes modernes. Cette combinaison nouvelle de la sphère publique et de l’intime s’attaque aux législations restrictives, aux saillies politiques conservatrices ou à l’interdiction d’une exposition à thème homosexuel lors de la biennale de Dakar en 2014.

Le soutien populaire est encore limité, mais le débat académique des Etudes de Genre ou Queer est bien établi. Les artistes sont-ils alors à la pointe des changements sociaux, ou interprètes et diffuseurs de la pensée académique ? Inspirent-ils la société, ou suivent-ils ses tendances émergentes ? Comment évaluer leur engagement, leur rôle, leur force et leur influence ? S’agit-il d’un réel mouvement, ou du travail d’individus isolés ?


Paper 1

Starfield Jane / University of Johannesburg

The Bildüng of Benny Griessel: Deon Meyer’s detective and the possibilities for gender and racial re-positioning in post-apartheid South Africa

Meyer’s Benny Griessel series (Devil’s Peak, Thirteen Hours, 7 Days and Cobra) has attracted readers in many languages worldwide and joins the wave of African crime fiction that highlights development in the identities of male protagonists (Primorac 2012). In portraying Benny, a white officer in the changing South African Police Service, Meyer foregrounds transforming racial and gender identities in post-apartheid Cape Town, an increasingly multiracial urban setting that erodes white hegemonic power. Here ‘white police,’ once signifiers of white power, now face marginalisation, while competent black and coloured male and female officers ascend the male-dominated SAPS hierarchy. Morrell argues that “it has been common to think that men stand in the way of gender transformation, [but] there are signs that this is not uniformly the case. There are indeed instances where men are actively contributing to campaigns for gender equality” (2005: 271).
Yet, Benny, with his seemingly isolated, atomistic identity, is neither a theorist nor a ‘men’s group’ member. He drinks excessively, is ejected from the family home and exiled to an inner-city apartment. Here, he experiences the violent racial geography and changing race/gender dynamics of the SAPS, which enables him to form strong working relationships and learn from black and coloured colleagues. Motivated by two mentors, he acts heroically to solve several dangerous crimes.

Paper 2

Steedman Robin / SOAS, University of London

Gendering Production/Producing Gender: A Textual and Contextual Analysis of Yellow Fever (2012) and Something Necessary (2013)

The Kenyan film industry is the only film industry in Africa where the most celebrated directors are women, yet almost no research exists on these highly unusual women or their films. This presentation will examine depictions of gender on screen in a selection of these directors’ films while also gendering their production process. Filmmaking involves negotiations among a wide range of stakeholders and it is the conflicts and collaborations here that determine what ends up on screen, and often how and where it is shown. Thus, I am concerned with examining how gender shapes the political dynamics of film production. It is important not to lose sight of a film’s content in studying its context because gender is performed and thus gender norms can be both constructed and contested in film.
In this presentation I will look specifically at Ng’endo Mukii’s Yellow Fever and Judy Kibinge’s Something Necessary. Mukii’s animated short explicitly addresses oppressive ideals of black female beauty. Kibinge’s feature film explores a woman’s experience of politically motivated violence, and paints an intimate and gendered portrait of survival. Both directors are challenging conventional representations of African women on screen and, through their art, are proposing new ways of being African today. The aim of this presentation is to explore how these two filmmakers represent gender on screen and also to shown how the artistic process, from production through to reception, is gendered.

Paper 3

Ofuatey-Alazard Nadja / University of Bayreuth

Narrating new relational Feminisms and Masculinities in Afropolitan Women Writings

The non-hierarchical and inclusive nature of rhizomic thinking, or Relation (Eduard Glissant), allows it to elude the binary logic and homogenizing impulse of the hegemonic discourse of western universalism. The three young African/-diasporic women writers Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, Taiye Selasi and Bernardine Evaristo conceive of afropolitan feminist identities as rhizomatic and dialogical. These attributes make a modified, gender-conscious version of Relation a relevant frame within which to analyze their narratives (Evaristos “Mr. Loverman”, Adichie’s “Americanah” and Selasie’s “Ghana must Go”). Their writings open up the debate on the intersections of afropolitanism and gender by refusing to tie down identity to geography, race/ethnicity, or even culture. In her 2014 modified print version of her 2013 TEDxEuston talk “We Should All Be Feminists,” Adichie argues, “Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture” (p 46). Identity is thus presented as indefinable and dynamic, and the basis of an inclusive and relational feminist Afropolitanism/afropolitan Feminism lies in a shared sensibility and enables new masculinities as well.

Paper 4

Nabutanyi Edgar / Makerere University

Portrayals of Homosexuals in Ugandan Media Coverage of Sexual Scandals

The point of convergence for the irrevocably polarised homosexuality camps in Ugandan discourses on homosexuality is odiousness of homosexual predation on and/or exploitation of children. While the anti-homosexuality lobby justifies their ‘homophobic’ rhetoric with claims to protect young Ugandans from being variously violated and/or lured and/or recruited into homosexuality, the pro-homosexuality group concedes to the need to protect children from sexual predation of any kind, but cite the tough laws on the Ugandan penal code against child molestation to argue that any further legislation aims at infringing on the rights of consenting adult Ugandan homosexuals. Therefore, when a sexual scandal involving a minor like the case of Chris Mubiru’s alleged homosexual violation of an underage footballer breaks, it is ammunition for both sides in different ways, and is often played out in the media. If a child victim of homosexual violation is an allegorical pawn in the debate about same sex relationships, what language do newspapers deploy in depicting his/her violator? What images of his/her violator does this register create and distribute in the public? In this paper, I examine how a Ugandan newspaper — Redpepper — used language to create and circulate a caricatured and demonic image of an alleged homosexual violator of a minor.

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