Sunday, 17 June 2018

ACTIVISTS, ARTISTS TAKE COMMUNITY ACTION IN PARIS

What impact does our “footprint” - in its many forms - have on our society? This is just one of the questions that the sixth annual “State of the Community” conference in Paris will address over the next two weeks.

The meeting, organized by the Dhillon Marty Foundation, comprises a range of events aimed at highlighting civic engagement and getting people to support sustainable solutions to social problems. It was launched June 16 in France with the distribution of Empreinte Civique, a daily newspaper being published and distributed across 15 countries until June 30.

Sonia Dhillon Marty
According to Sonia Dhillon Marty, the India-born president of the foundation, only the development of critical thinking and common civic values will help humankind to deal with the future, especially in the face of seemingly unstoppable technological changes.
“Democracy needs engaged and thoughtful citizens. Our mission is to build critical thinkers who are passionately engaged to defend a fair and just society,” she said.
A former business-development professional at tech company Cisco Systems, Dhillon Marty says she is concerned about getting youth involved in discussions about sustainability, especially as regards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Her aim is to bring together artists, academics, experts from various disciplines, and young people to “investigate sustainable solutions for our interconnected world”.
In partnership with CIDJ (Centre d’Information et de Documentation de la Jeunesse) and UNESCO’s MOST program (Management of Social Transformations), the Dhillon Marty Foundation has widened its scope this year for a greater appeal to community involvement. The diverse events will bring together “social practice” art and dialogue on contemporary global issues.
Members of the Dhillon Marty team.
Each program provides an “egalitarian approach to the current social challenges and explores how a holistic solution, beneficial to everyone, can be possible”, Dhillon Marty said.
Subtitled “#ShareYourHumanity” (last year’s winning phrase from a global competition), the 2018 event features a street art performance on June 18 at a store in northern Paris. Artists will use mattresses to produce art, as a means of emphasizing that the well-being of the individual and the community go hand in hand, Dhillon Marty told SWAN.
The following day, June 19, the foundation hosts a “Garden Share” and Japanese tea ceremony, with participants exchanging views on sustainable food production. The focus here is on how each person can contribute to “seeding” quality food and life.
Other activities include a “Social Movement” dance performance and a street cleaning, or “Soji”, initiative - inspired by the Japanese practice of cleaning communal spaces. The latter will take place on June 22, at Place de la République, in Paris.
These social-practice art programs will be followed by panel debates and discussions June 26 to June 29, on topics such as inclusive community action, the economics of technology, and democracy and governance. The annual competition to select the “Phrase of the Year”, from submissions by young people around the world, will take place June 28.
A more physical activity - a run for gender justice - is scheduled to close out this year’s conference. The “#JustRunParis” event “represents the struggle for advancement in quality of life and work undertaken by courageous and tireless women to build a world of more possibilities,” Dhillon Marty said. The route will include different locations in Paris where “pioneering, trailblazing women have changed history and keep inspiring generations”, she added.
After the run, participants will come together for a “Lungar” - a picnic where everyone will prepare, serve, and enjoy food in a “bonding experience”, as in the Sikh tradition of India.
For further details on the conference program, please go to: http://www.dhillonmarty.org and @dhillonmarty. Due to limited seating, registration is required for all programs.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

JOHN BEASLEY: A MUSICIAN MAKING MONK COOL AGAIN

A few years ago, pianist and composer John Beasley was preparing for a big writing project when he began experimenting with a new kind of computer software, focusing on the music of jazz legend Thelonious Monk.
John Beasley's first tribute album to Thelonious Monk.
“I went ‘Wow! This is interesting.’ And the light bulb just went off,” Beasley said in an interview with SWAN. “I realized how open to interpretation his music was,”
What followed was a commission to write a piece for a big band, and the release in 2016 of John Beasley presents MONK’estra, vol. 1 – an album with a multicultural cast of acclaimed musicians.
“After we had performed the sets live, a friend who was a record producer said: Why don’t you record the music,” recalled Beasley, sitting in a Paris café, on a break from touring.
“I wondered how I was going to pay 15 musicians. In the end, I had to ask them to do a favor, and they accepted to take a low fee. Some said: I’ll play on your record if you play on mine,” he continued.
The project was “very much a labour of love” and the musicians and their fans have “become a community”, Beasley said. All are united in their admiration for the singular genius of jazz pianist and composer Monk, who died in 1982.
MONK'estra, vol. 1 was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, and the following year Beasley followed this up with MONK'estra, vol. 2, which received a similar nomination.
The second compilation, which he again arranged and conducted, was launched in October 2017, on the 100th anniversary of Monk’s birth. It features guest appearances by trumpeter and rapper Dontae Winslow, violinist Regina Carter and singer Dianne Reeves, among others. 
John Beasley in Paris (photo: McKenzie).
This is the essence of Monk - for both long-time fans and a new generation. It boasts surprising interpretations of compositions that include “Evidence”, “Light Blue” and “Crespuscule With Nellie” (Monk’s love letter to his wife).
“I hope that people who aren’t necessarily jazz lovers will get exposed to the music,” Beasley said. “But I didn’t compose for any overriding reason. I just wrote what’s in my heart.”
Still, as an artist who has been music director for International Jazz Day Global Concerts and the Thelonious Monk Institute Tribute shows, Beasley says he doesn’t shy away from taking a personal stand on certain topics, as music has always been used to address social issues. 
“When you look at the Civil Rights movement, you had Marvin Gaye, you had Coltrane,” he said. “During the Vietnam War, you had Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and all this was played on radio. But what I hear on the radio now is music that doesn't speak to today's issues. This is not helping to provoke thought and as such doesn't advance our culture, nor is it helping to advance our humanity.
“The rhythm of the day may be changing, but there’s still a need for jazz,” he added.
Born in Louisiana, Beasley comes from a line of musicians – his grandfather was a jazz trombonist who played in dance halls during the 1920s.
“He stayed on the road until my mother was born,” Beasley told SWAN. “Then he became a school-band director, and he would teach my mom to play the instrument that he needed in the band. So, she learned to play a lot of instruments.”
The cover of MONK'estra, vol. 2.
His mother eventually became a band director and a music teacher until she retired. His father was a pianist who learned to play the bassoon in the army and later concentrated on classical music and jazz, playing for Fort Worth and Dallas symphony orchestras.
“Music was always around the house,” Beasley said.
His parents made him take piano lessons from the time he was 8 years old, he revealed, but he chose to play oboe and other instruments throughout high school. 
“Piano didn’t speak to me until later,” he said. “What happened was: I was playing guitar and drums in my teens. In one band the piano player quit, so I took over.”
He had “caught the jazz bug” early on, however, because his father “pulled him out of school” and took him to workshops where he met artists like Oliver Nelson (renowned for The Blues and the Abstract Truth). As the love of jazz took hold, Beasley dreamed of becoming a big-band director because he “wanted to be like Quincy Jones”. 
Later he would do "lots of" studio work and perform with musicians including Dianne Reeves, Christian McBride, Kenny Garrett and a roster of other famous jazz musicians and vocalists. He played with Miles Davis in 1989/1990, and throughout it all, he was inspired by the music of Monk. 
During his break in Paris last November, where the interview took place, he was also working on a 10-minute symphonic piece for an international composition competition. This June, he won the Grand Prize which meant that the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra performed his piece "Simplicity" in the famous "Goldener Saal" of the Wiener Musikverein; it was “inspired by the music of Thelonious Monk”.
“In jazz, we’re always riding the shoulders of our predecessors,” Beasley mused.

Upcoming performances for John Beasley and the MONK'estra band will take place in London, Beijing, LA and other cities. For more info:  http://johnbeasleymusic.com/

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale https://twitter.com/Mckenzie_Ale

Saturday, 2 June 2018

ANGELA DAVIS TO SPEAK AT 'REVOLUTIONS' CONFERENCE

Civil rights icon Angela Davis will be the keynote speaker at “Revolution(s)”, a conference at Paris Nanterre University about the themes of revolt and rebellion in literature and other fields.
Organized by La Société des Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur (SAES) - an academic association for those researching and teaching English language, literatures and culture - the June 7-9 meeting is expected to attract some 500 participants and include about 30 workshops at the university located just outside the French capital.
Dr. Angela Davis (photo: McKenzie)
Davis’s name was the “first that came to mind” when Nanterre was chosen as the 2018 site of the annual congress of the SAES, said Bernard Cros, the main organizer of the meeting and a lecturer in British and Commonwealth studies.
“What is not revolutionary about Angela Davis is what you have to ask,” Cros said in an interview. “Where would the world be without people like her? She put her own safety on the line. It raises questions about what it means to be politically committed. Whether you agree with all her views or not, this is something that attracts support.”
The university awarded Davis an honorary doctorate in 2014, so she is “already linked” to the institution, he added.
For the SAES, the theme of “revolution(s)” seemed the “obvious choice” for the congress, “exactly half a century after the events of the spring of 1968 in which the Nanterre campus played such a leading role,” organizers said.
Scholars will try to address questions such as: “Is the notion of revolution as a catalyst for action still relevant today? Does it still carry conviction as a plan, hope, or representation of an age? Is it still pertinent to think of it as a framework to make history or to give it meaning?”
After a recent spate of student protests, participants are hoping that the university will be fully accessible for the conference. In echoes of 1968, when nation-wide demonstrations shut down the economy, France is currently gripped by strikes involving railway employees and other workers, while students have been demonstrating against the government’s higher-education reforms that would make admittance to public universities more selective.
A sign from protestors (photo: McKenzie)
The students say the changes are contrary to the French tradition of offering all high school graduates a place at public universities and would adversely affect poorer students, who are already underrepresented on campuses. The government’s stance is that reform is necessary to deal with the current high drop-out rate and overcrowded institutions.
At Nanterre (where the 1968 student demonstrations began, with the occupation of an administrative building to protest class discrimination and other social issues), students in April and early May this year shut down the campus, placing iron barricades and other objects in front of doorways to prevent final exams taking place.
The protests have now quieted, with finals being organized through the university's digital platform and grades to be assigned. Some graduate students are in fact expected to attend the conference, but railway strikes across France are continuing.
At the congress, interdisciplinary presentations will cover a range of issues and literatures, focusing on activist writers such as CLR James of Trinidad, Kamau Brathwaite of Barbados and many others.
The conference will also pay homage to Davis, who has been a revolutionary figure for decades. A member of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, she was active in the civil rights movement before and after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in April 1968.
Later, in 1970, guns bought in her name were used by a high-school student when he took over a courtroom to demand the freeing of black prisoners including his brother, and left the building with hostages, including the judge.
In a subsequent shootout with police, the perpetrator, two defendants he had freed and the judge were killed. Davis was arrested following a huge manhunt, and charged with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder” of the judge, although she had not been in the courtroom.
Congress organizer Dr. Bernard Cros.
She declared her innocence, and sympathisers in the United States and other countries, including France, mobilised to demand her freedom. After being incarcerated for 16 months, she was released on bail and eventually acquitted of the charges in 1972.
Now Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Davis focuses on feminist studies, among other subjects.

Her speech at the SAES conference is expected to provide insight on what it takes to improve conditions for the oppressed, Cros said.
Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Sunday, 20 May 2018

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL PUTS THE FOCUS ON ‘OUTSIDERS’


A scene from Rafiki (Friend), which is banned in Kenya. It got a standing
ovation in Cannes. (Photo courtesy of the festival.)

With the usual posse of big-name directors and actors missing from this year’s Cannes Film Festival in southern France, the event created space for cutting-edge films from Asia, Africa, small European states, and the Middle East.

Most of these films put the focus squarely on stories about outsiders, highlighting issues of exclusion, disability, racism and gender inequality (including in the film industry). The result was a festival with some of the most engaging movies in the last five years, alongside the trademark glitz.

The winners in the two main categories of the festival, which ran from May 8 to 19, exemplified the concentration on the underdog. Manbiki Kazoku (Shoplifters) by Japanese director Kore-Eda Hirokazu won the Palme d’Or top prize, from among 21 films, while Gräns (Border), by Iranian-born Danish director Ali Abbasi, was awarded the Un Certain Regard Prize, beating 17 other movies. The latter category recognizes films that stand out for their originality, and many critics agreed Gräns was remarkable.

“We feel that out of 2,000 films considered by the Festival, the 18 we saw in Un Certain Regard, from Argentina to China, were all in their own way winners,” stated the jury, headed by Puerto-Rican actor Benicio Del Toro.

“We were extremely impressed by the high quality of the work presented, but in the end we were the most moved by … five films” (including Gräns), the jury added
A scene from Gräns (photo courtesy of the festival).
Full of suspense, Abbasi’s movie tells the story of a “strange-looking” female customs officer who has a gift for spotting, or sniffing out, travellers trying to hide their contraband and other secrets, and it takes viewers on her journey to discover who she really is.
We see her experiencing verbal abuse from some travellers, and we slowly discover the exploitation she and people like her have suffered, while also learning about her origins, and seeing her fall in love and deal with appalling crime.
Based on a short story by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist, and with superb acting, the film combines romance, dark humour and the paranormal to deliver a subtle message about the treatment of people who are different and society’s behaviour towards those most vulnerable, among other subjects.
A second film that won a major award in the Un Certain Regard category also dealt with “difference” and the acceptance of one’s individuality. Girl by Belgian director Lukas Dhont is a first feature about a boy who dreams of becoming a ballerina, exploring the journey of a trans-teen with a passion for dance. Victor Polster, the 15-year-old actor who plays the title role with poignant credibility, won the best actor award, while Girl also won the competition’s Caméra d’Or prize for best first film.
The poster for Rafiki (Friend).
However, Rafiki (Friend), a movie that some critics expected to receive a prize, had to be satisfied with the extended standing ovation it received from viewers at the festival. The film – about love between two young women – is banned in Kenya, despite being the first Kenyan film selected for screening at the festival.
Director Wanuri Kahui said she was moved by the appreciation the film received, telling reporters that people are eager to watch a “joyful” and “modern” African movie, away from the stereotypical images of poverty and disaster.
Regarding the ban, she tweeted in April: “I am incredibly sorry to announce that our film RAFIKI has been banned in Kenya. We believe adult Kenyans are mature and discerning enough to watch local content but their right has been denied.”
Apart from the Palme d’Or winner (about a family of shoplifters), the films that generated widespread buzz in the main competition included Arabic-language Yomeddine, directed by Cairo-born A.B. Shawky, and featuring a leper in Egypt, and BlacKkKlansman, by African-American director Spike Lee, which won the Grand Prix, the second highest honour at the festival.
Yomeddine stood out for its choice of subject and for portraying and employing persons with disabilities. Viewer and British actor Adam Lannon called the film “beautiful and brilliant”, adding that it was “excellent” to see “actors with disabilities working on screen”.
The film’s main character, Beshay, is a man cured of leprosy, but he has never left the leper colony where he has been placed by his family since childhood. When his wife dies, he sets out in search of his roots, with his loyal donkey. He is soon joined by an orphan boy named Obama, whom he has been protecting, although he would rather have been alone.
What follows is an uplifting road movie across Egypt, with a series of tear-jerking encounters on the way and echoes of “Don Quixote”. Shawky’s first feature has some flaws in that certain elements seem too predictable, but he scores overall with his appeal for humanity and inclusion. "It has always been my desire to film the oppressed, the excluded, the journey of someone who pulls through, against all odds," he said in the movie notes.
Director Spike Lee (left). Photo courtesy of the festival.
For Spike Lee, anger at racism comes across clearly in his latest work, which is the story of a real-life African-American policeman who managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan in Colorado. Lee incorporated recent events in the United States in the movie, particularly the killing of Heather Heyer as she protested a white-supremacist gathering in Charlottesville.
At his main Cannes press conference, Lee slammed the current U.S. administration, in a speech full of expletives. “We have a guy in the White House … who in a defining moment … was given the chance to say we’re about love and not hate, and that (expletive deleted) did not denounce the Klan,” he told journalists.
Gender issues were also raised at the festival, with the #MeToo and #TimesUp issues never far from movie-watchers’ consciousness, as is the global scarcity of female directors. Only one film directed by a woman (The Piano by Jane Campion) has ever won the Palme d’Or, and women have long been underrepresented at the directorial level.
During the event, 82 women working in the movie sector took over the famous red-carpeted stairs to protest that inequality. Their number was an indication that since the Cannes festival officially began in 1946, following World War II, just 82 movies by women directors have been selected for competition. In contrast, 1,645 films by male directors have been chosen.
Led by the five women on this year’s competition jury, including jury president Cate Blanchett and American director Ava Duvernay, the protest coincided with the screening of Les Filles du Soleil (Girls of the Sun), a movie by French director Eva Husson about a group of female fighters in Kurdistan.
Front cover of the book.
This was just one of several protest events. A few days later, black women working in the French film industry also denounced the lack of quality roles. Sixteen women who have contributed to a book titled Noire n’est pas mon metier (Being black is not my profession) made their voices heard on the red carpet.
“We’re here to denounce a system that has gone on too long,” said Senegalese-born French actress Aïssa Maïga, who described how black actresses tended to be cast only in certain roles.
Among the three women directors in the main competition, Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki took home the biggest award - the Prix du Jury for Capharnaüm, about a boy who sues his parents for bringing him into the world.
In a moving speech, Labaki called for everyone to do more to protect children and ensure their education.
“Loveless childhood is the root of all suffering in the world,” she said.
By the time the festival wrapped up with a performance from singers Sting and Shaggy on May 19 (the same day as the royal wedding in England), it seemed that both filmmakers and the public were yearning for lasting change, and different stories.
Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Monday, 30 April 2018

GUADELOUPE SHOWS CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS IN PARIS

In a new cultural initiative, works by established and emerging artists from Guadeloupe are on vibrant display in Paris, highlighting the artistic talent in the French Caribbean region.

Freedom by Ronald Cyrille (mixed media on canvas),
200 x 144 cm. Photo copyright D. Dabriou.
The show is the first in a planned series titled Éclats d'îles (Island Bursts), “initiated by Guadeloupe and the regional President Ary Chalus”, according to A2Z Art Gallery, which is hosting the exhibition.
The series will be held throughout 2018, presenting the works of contemporary artists from the various islands that form the French overseas department, in collaboration with the Krystel Ann Art agency.
“This project, which is a real commitment to the field of arts and culture in the region, aims to give visibility to Guadeloupe artists beyond the local territory,” A2Z stated. “The gallery takes enormous pleasure and is extremely proud to reveal to the public, the universe of these selected talents, throughout these exhibitions.”
Under the patronage of renowned Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé, the current show presents the works of six artists, whose different styles make for a rich viewing experience. The artwork was selected “on the basis of the aesthetical properties, the questioning of Antillian identity by the artists, their representation and creative vivaciousness”, according to the gallery.
Among the artists is the 33-year-old rising star Ronald Cyrille, who has won a number of "young-talent" awards. After attending art school in Martinique, he launched his career doing street art in Guadeloupe, and got noticed by gallery owners and curators. He still does street murals, alongside his studio work of paintings, collages and sculptures, and he has become  known for his daring, striking symbolism - mixing images of animals and humans to pose questions about Caribbean identity, societal violence and art itself. SWAN spoke to Cyrille after the opening of the show on April 26 (it runs until May 9) about his background and creative process. The interview is translated from French.
Artist Ronald Cyrille (photo by A. McKenzie).
SWAN: How did you start painting?
Ronald Cyrille: I started when I was a child, first with cartoon characters such as Picsou, Dragon Ball Z, Mickey, Ninja Turtles and others of this kind. I loved to represent things by trying to make them as faithful to the original as possible. Over time, I began to move away from this while keeping some characters from this universe that allow me a certain singularity in my art. I actually use different techniques now, which can be installation, sculpture, drawing or painting.
SWAN: One of your main themes is freedom. How do you choose your subjects?
R.C.: I’ve been developing certain questions based on a personal way of thinking - across creolisation, legends and stories that nourish my imagination as well as my artistic vocabulary. In my work, the violence in contemporary society is something that echoes my cultural heritage, tied to the Caribbean, Africa and Europe.
And yes, I’m quite free in my choice of subjects. Painting allows you to dream and to travel in your mind, in your imagination. In fact, one of the works on exhibition at Éclats d’îles is titled "Freedom". I’m also inspired by the thoughts of some of our writers such as Aimé Césaire, and also Édouard Glissant through his concept of “Tout Monde” and creolisation.
SWAN: Can you tell us about the media that you use?
R.C.: I often use different techniques, depending on the work I envisage. I think technique is like a toolbox for artists, allowing them to experiment or create things according to their need. The techniques or media can be mixed or might be acrylic, spray paint, pencil, etc.
SWAN: Does your mixed Caribbean background (parents from Guadeloupe and Dominica) influence your work?
R.C.: Yes, I think so. It’s a double richness. So naturally my vision is not limited to Guadeloupe but reflect a need to question our differences as much as our similarities, as a kind of cultural wealth. And despite our insularity, Guadeloupe and the Caribbean are a part of the world.
SWAN: How do you feel about this exhibition in Paris?
R.C.: I think that it’s a beautiful experience and that this kind of action should be multiplied so that our artists can be better known and people can see the diversity and singularity of the Guadeloupean (Caribbean) aesthetic.
Our artists often lack visibility and recognition in mainland France. Fortunately things are gradually changing, pushing us beyond this insularity. I think that people have greatly appreciated my artwork and that of my compatriots, and that they have travelled via the works.
SWAN: Please tell us about your other shows in France.
R.C.: Last year, I took part in an exhibition in Bagneux (a commune south of Paris) titled “Mémoires Caraïbes”, with artists who were very representative of the Caribbean. The town acquired two of my grand-format drawings.
I've also exhibited at Memorial ACTe (centre for the memory of slavery) and, following a one-month residency in Sainte-Rose (a commune in Guadeloupe) from Feb. 5 to March 5 this year, I'm presenting an exhibition at the Habitation la Ramee titled “Traces d’hier et empreintes d’aujourd’hui” (Traces of Yesterday and Footprints of Today).  It comprises 43 new works created during this period. They include drawings, sculptures, paintings and installations, and the show runs until June 29.
SWAN: What are your views on the art scene in the French Caribbean?
R.C.: I believe that we are very creative and could have a firm presence in the world of arts, like Haiti, Cuba or Jamaica. We have to develop our market by supporting the sector and finding our place. My generation is very dynamic and audacious.
SWAN: How do you see your work evolving? What are your plans for the future?
R.C.: I’m increasingly trying to teach myself to live in the present. Meanwhile, I continue to create and to increase the number of collaborations in the Caribbean and beyond. In the years to come, I would like to find a good gallery or a good art dealer, participate in some biennales and have more frequent access to a certain number of artistic events. For the moment, I do realize that things are moving in the right direction.
The first edition of Éclats d'îles runs until May 9, 2018, at A2Z Art Gallery, Paris. The six artists represented are: Joël Nankin, Alain Josephine, Nicolas Nabajoth, Anaïs Verspan, Ronald Cyrille, So Aguessy Roaboteur.
You can follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale.

Monday, 9 April 2018

EXPO: ‘AFRO-TECH AND THE FUTURE OF RE-INVENTION'

By Tobias Schlosser

In the imagination of the “Global North”, Africa is often pictured as an “underdeveloped” continent marked by poverty and conflict. The exhibition “Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-Invention” in Dortmund, Germany, challenges this stereotypical image, however, and presents the continent as one full of resources, especially with regards to art and science, and their interconnectedness.

Representing 22 countries, the show - now in its final weeks - comprises 20 Afrofuturistic artistic perspectives and 12 technological projects from Africa. The public may see these as technological productions to be contrasted or compared with devices from “Western” societies.

The poster for "Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-Invention",
Design: KoeperHerfurth.
One innovation from Cameroon, for example, is called the “CardioPad” and has medical sensors attached to a tablet. Non-experts can use “Cardiopad” to carry out medical examinations which will be analysed by doctors from a distance.

This invention can be handy in rural areas as it saves time, travel and expense, and balances out infrastructural inequalities that limit access to medical facilities.
Secondly, the South African company “Robohand”, founded by machine artist Ivan Oven and carpenter Richard van As, creates designs and software that can be used to manufacture medical prostheses via 3-D-printers. In this way, people who need prostheses of fingers, hands, arms or even legs now have an Open Source to get their prostheses at incredibly low cost, no matter where they live.
In addition, the exhibition shows that Kiira Motors Corporation has developed a solar-energy bus that has the capacity to run for the whole day without being recharged, thanks to its lithium-ion batteries. With that sustainable invention, Uganda’s cities could become less polluted and noisy. These are only three of the striking technological concepts on display.
The artistic perspectives of “Afro-Tech” are based meanwhile on the concept of Afrofuturism in which a future is imagined where inequalities no longer exist. However, due to new forms of technology and digitalisation, the future visions also detect possible dangers, and function as a warning for certain issues such as ecological disasters or new forms of exclusion and marginalisation.
The artistic media range from photographs, (short) films, documentaries and a video cycle that celebrates the works of jazz musician Sun Ra, to a music station where visitors can explore the sounds of the iconic techno music duo Drexciya - who tell the myth of a black Atlantis. The music playlist contains music from “canonical” Afrofuturistic artists such as American singers Erykah Badu and Janelle Monáe as well as Jamaican dub musician and producer Lee “Scratch” Perry.
An installation at the "Afro-Tech" exhibition.
Photo: Woidich Hannes.
Some of the documentaries screened at “Afro-Tech” are challenging and quite avant-gardist, such as the almost 20-minute-long video “Deep down Tidal” (2017) by Guyanese-Danish artist and activist Tabita Rezaire. The video puts forward the argument that in a postcolonial world where there is no space left to be conquered, electronic space is created that everyone depends on, so it can be colonised.
The view is that the Internet does not create equality, but gives room for racism, homophobia and transphobia with its “architecture of violence”. This examination is underscored by the fact that the fibre-optic cables which are under the Atlantic Ocean serve to facilitate the exchange of Eurocentric knowledge within the “Global North” and they are exactly the same routes used during the slave trade.
Thus, the ocean or water reminds one of every historical deed because it bore witness to earlier crimes and now it sees how neo-colonial routes are being established. This circular approach to time indeed rules many Afrofuturistic oeuvres (the form of exclusion may vary, but the politics of exclusion remains), and it works against cultural amnesia.
“Water is a communication interface. Water will download your secrets.” – Statement from the documentary “Deep Down Tidal” (2017) by Tabita Rezaire
These mechanisms of marginalisation are also the reason why some of the artistic positions seem quite apocalyptic. The photo-series “The Prophecy” by Belgian-Beninese photographer Fabrice Monteiro shows spirits of the Earth who demonstrate the consequences of pollution in a disturbingly dystopian way. Here, an animistic world-view is used as a warning.
Wangechi Mutu's The End of eating Everything, 2013.
Copyright Wangechi Mutu. Courtesy of the artist.
The same applies to the short film “The End of eating Everything” (2013), created by Kenyan visual artist Wangechi Mutu in cooperation with US-American R’n’B singer Santigold. The film portrays the Earth as both a ship and a monster which is run only by consumption, greed and a total loss of control. It is eating up everything that is still living and poisons the atmosphere with its exhaust fumes before its destruction and rebirth.
Besides these alarming visions, the exhibition highlights rebellion and resistance. Based on the Rastafari philosophy, the Italian artist and activist Jaromil (Denis Roio) designed an operating system called “Rastasoft” which can be downloaded for free and which is not controlled by commercial interests of the conventional operating systems. People are thus not forced to spend money in order to have a system which allows them to publish online.
Having the real innovations on one side and the dystopian visions of a final destruction of the planet on the other, the exhibition “Afro-Tech” leaves no doubt that there is a thin line between use and misuse, between emancipation and discrimination, and between chances and the politics of exclusion.
Emphasising the interconnectedness between futuristic and artistic visions and the inventions coming from Africa, the exhibition further illustrates that the future has already started. In that sense, "Afro-Tech" presents not only a future of re-invention - as the title of the exhibition indicates - it promotes a re-imagination of Africa as a continent full of technological and artistic resources.
“Afro-Tech and the Future of Re-Invention” runs until April 22, 2018, and can be seen at “Dortmunder U”, a centre for art and creativity. It is organized by the German multi-award- winning art club HMKV (Hartware MedienKunstVerein), in cooperation with the regional association “Regionalverband Ruhr” (RVR) and the association Africa Positive e.V.
For more information:
Tobias Schlosser is a writer, researcher and expert drink-maker, based in Germany. He thanks Steven Rattey for his enthusiasm and expert knowledge about science-fiction and futuristic art. Without it, this article wouldn’t have been possible.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

A 'TEMPEST' OF QUOTING, REWRITING AND TRANSLATING

The acclaimed Martinican writer and politician Aimé Césaire, one of the founders of the négritude movement, passed away 10 years ago at the age of 94, in April 2008. His literary works, however, have never ceased to provoke thought and discussion, and they are being increasingly read and examined to discover explicit and implicit meanings.

In a new article, scholar and translator Giuseppe Sofo has analysed Césaire’s Une tempête, a postcolonial rewriting of, or response to, Shakespeare’s The Tempest that was published for the first time 50 years ago by the pioneering publishing house Présence Africaine, in 1968, and then by Seuil the following year.
 The cover of Une tempête.
In the article, Sofo reads Césaire’s Une tempête in parallel with the French translation of The Tempest that was done by François-Victor Hugo and published in 1859 - to prove the influence of this translation on Césaire’s text. Incorporating other French translations in his research, Sofo highlights how the relationship between original text and rewriting - and between translation and rewriting - has influenced the evolution of Césaire’s text.
The research emphasizes the significant role of translation in the literary system, and especially in the reception of a text by the public. It also aims to show that Césaire’s work is the fruit of a “double derivation”, since it is both linked to Shakespeare’s text and to Hugo’s translation of that text.
Readers can access Sofo's full article in French at: 

Citation, réécriture et traduction :
Une tempête d’Aimé Césaire et les traductions françaises de Shakespeare
Aimé Césaire est décédé il y a dix ans, en avril 2008, à l’âge de 94 ans. Son œuvre littéraire n’a pourtant jamais cessé de produire de la pensée, et elle est de plus en plus lue et examinée pour découvrir toutes les significations explicites et implicites impliquées dans ses textes.
Le texte au centre de cet article par Giuseppe Sofo est Une tempête, réécriture postcoloniale de La Tempête de Shakespeare, publiée pour la première fois il y a cinquante ans, par Présence Africaine, en 1968, puis par Seuil en 1969. Dans cet article, Sofo lira Une tempête de Césaire en parallèle avec la traduction de La Tempête par François-Victor Hugo, publiée en 1859, dont on montrera l’influence sur le texte de Césaire, et d’autres traductions françaises, pour souligner comment la relation entre texte original et réécriture – et entre traduction et réécriture – a influencé l’évolution du texte.
Cela nous aidera à souligner l’importance du rôle de la traduction dans le système littéraire, et surtout dans la réception d’un texte par le public et à montrer que l’œuvre de Césaire est le fruit d’une double dérivation, puisqu’elle est à la fois le fruit de l’œuvre de Shakespeare et celui de la traduction d’Hugo.
SWAN propose un lien pour trouver l’article complet de Giuseppe Sofo:

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale. For tweets about the translation of Caribbean writing, please follow @CaribTranslate.

Monday, 19 March 2018

WRITERS TALK LITERARY ACTIVISM AT PARIS BOOK FAIR

The 2018 Paris Book Fair (Livre Paris) took place against the backdrop of demonstrations in Mayotte that echoed similar protests a year ago in French Guiana, putting the topics of literary activism and popular disaffection high on the agenda at the March 16-19 event.

Literary representatives from French Guiana at Livre Paris.
Writers from France’s overseas regions and departments, which include Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, spoke out about their role and contribution to French literature, highlighting the social and economic conditions in their territories.
Launching an anthology of short stories titled Guyane: Nou gon ké sa (We're fed up), Guyanese authors said they felt compelled to address on-going struggles.
“The demonstrations were for better security, healthcare, infrastructure, transportation, all of which affects everybody,” said Joël Roy, one of the contributors. “Writers aren’t separate from this.”
In March 2017, strikes and protests in Guiana blocked streets, caused the temporary closure of schools and some businesses, and delayed the launch of a rocket from the aerospace centre that is run by France and the European Space Agency.
Reports of the demonstrations filled the airwaves in mainland France, with some commentators making it seem as if the population was being unreasonable (“We can’t keep sending money there,” said one Parisian). But writers have been among those spotlighting the hypocrisy in government policy, where money can be found to launch rockets but not to improve access to healthcare or to control crime.
Tchisseka Lobelt, founder of Promolivres, French Guiana.
French President Emmanuel Macron eventually visited Guiana to address the concerns of the 250,000 residents, and to make a number of pledges; but there was no political representation at the launch of Nou gon ké sa in Paris, despite invitations having been extended, said Tchisséka Lobelt, who chaired the literary panel at the fair.
While the authors and activists present (such as Sylviane Vayaboury and France Nay) evoked the grievances and injustice that led to the protests, they aren’t just waiting around for political support, although this would be welcome.
Lobelt, for instance, is one of the movers behind promoting the literature of Guiana and providing a platform for writers. In 1996, she founded an association called Promolivres, which in turn created the Salon du Livre de Cayenne - a biennial book fair that had its 10th “edition” last November.
The Salon attracts participants from neighbouring countries such as Brazil and Suriname, and the 2017 “guest of honour” was Colombia.
For Lobelt, intra-regional literary cooperation is important, and she believes translation can help to pave the way for readers to know more about the literature of France’s overseas departments and regions.
A new anthology of stories by writers
from French Guiana.
“Translation is key, and we have to develop a real policy to get books translated from French and Creole into other regional languages and vice versa,” she told SWAN.
Anglophone Caribbean writers such as Guyana’s Pauline Melville and Jamaica’s Alecia McKenzie (founder of the Caribbean Translation Project, and SWAN’s editor) have been able to participate in the Cayenne book fair because of translation, Lobelt said. Both have been winners of the Prix Carbet des lycéens, a prize awarded by French high-school students in Guadeloupe, Guiana, Martinique and (now) London.
In addition, French writer Jean-François Tifiou, who has written an absorbing and well-researched book about the women prisoners sent to Guiana when it was a notorious French penal colony, is looking at getting his work translated into English and Spanish. Tifiou visited schools in the region to present De Quimper à Cayenne (From Quimper to Cayenne), and many readers believe that the book deserves to be more widely known.
“Even if we translated one book per year, that would already be something,” said Lobelt. “We can do a lot on our own, but we still need institutional help.”
At the Paris Book Fair, the French “Outre-Mer” Ministry emphasized support for writers and publishers from the overseas departments and regions, which are traditionally grouped at a special pavilion. The ministry cited the international stature and unique “witnessing” of writers such as Maryse Condé, Patrick Chamoiseau and Aimé Césaire, among others.
A visitor checks out some titles at Livre Paris.
“Literature from the overseas departments has a true specificity, far from clichés and stereotypes,” said an official brochure. “As Chantal Spitz (Tahiti) has declared: ‘My country is not a postcard’.”
This was certainly borne out by some of the debates at Livre Paris (which, uncomfortably, had Russia as the 2018 “guest of honour”).
More than anything, what was notable was that many writers and publishing professionals seemed determined to open the eyes of those who would perhaps prefer not to see certain social situations.

For more information about current events in Mayotte and French Guiana, please see: