Every two years since nearly two decades the European Conference on African Studies convenes in a different European city. The conference brings together 1500 to 2000 Africana scholars from around the world. In 2015 and 2017, for the first time in the history of ECAS, performance art was deployed alongside academic conferences to address key political, economic and social issues. In the process, a fairly stayed event became distinctly more exciting, reflective and engaged.
Africa Acts – ECAS 2015
ECAS 2015 took place at the Sorbonne in Paris. It was hosted by Institut des Mondes Africains (CNRS). From From 5 to 12 July 2015, Dominique, a Senior researcher at IMAf, and IMAf historian Caroline Roussy organized a multipronged and multi-sited performance-focused event titled Africa Acts. Bringing together artists from multiple cities in Africa and the Diaspora, Africa Acts manifested across the city in theatres, museums, galleries, community centers, cinemas and in the streets. The event was accompanied by a publication, part-broadside, part-gazette, of which 3000 copies were printed and distributed free of charge across the city.
A primary focus of the Africa Acts project was doing away with two sets of deeply embedded clichés: widely held pre-conceived visions of African cities as places of danger and disorganization; facile takes on performance art as entertainment. The weeklong event highlighted the powerful role that performance artists across the African world play as commentators on/actors at work undoing the political, economic and social violence that attends our late capitalist, (post) colonial era.
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A* Piece of Street Festival – ECAS 2017
Between 29 June and 1 July 2017 the University of Basel and the Swiss Society for African Studies hosted the 7th European Conference on African Studies. The theme was: Urban Africa – Urban Africans: New encounters of the rural and the urban.
A* Piece of Street Festival was a 3-day international public performance festival curated by Kadiatou Diallo in response to the conference thematic focus on urban Africa. The festival highlights the roles artists play in understanding and translating urban dynamics in Africa, but also in a global context by curtailing the gap between “here” and “there”. Equally important was to center “where” most such urban dynamics are negotiated, namely in the public space – the streets.
The invited performers came from both African and European cities. Their works span from poetry to music, enactment to installation. They tackle diverse – and often difficult – topics: commodity trade and colonial entanglements, racism in multi-cultural societies, and the culture of language and decolonial healing.
Together with historian Melanie Boehi, Kadiatou also edited A*Magazine, the official publication accompanying the ECAS 2017. It offered a platform for a diverse group of authors to respond to questions raised by the many art-centred projects presented in Basel on the occasion and to raise new queries in the process.