Resonating Struggles: Paul and Eslanda Robeson in East Berlin
Between the anti-racist movement, post-colonialism and the Cold War: musician and actor Paul Robeson and anthropologist Eslanda Robeson were US civil rights activists for whom the Akademie der Künste of the GDR founded an archive. A conversation about the reverberations of their struggle for freedom and decolonial perspectives on socialism with Matana Roberts (composer, artist), Doreen Mende (curator, theorist), Kira Thurman (historian, University of Michigan), and George E. Lewis (composer, Professor of American Music, Columbia University).
Doreen Mende is a curator, theorist, exhibitionmaker, educator, associate professor of curatorial / politics and director of the Critical Curatorial Cybernetic Research Practices (CCC-RP) Master and PhD Forum at the Visual Arts Department at HEAD Geneve (Geneva), and Principal Investigator of “Decolonizing Socialism. Entangled Internationalism” (2019-2024), funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. She is a co-founding member of the European Forum for Advanced Practices as well as a member of Multiple Artistic Mobilities at the Kunsthistorisches Institut of the University of Zurich. Since 2015, she has been a founding member of the Harun Farocki Institut in Berlin.
Matana Roberts is a composer, band leader, saxophonist, sound experimentalist and mixed-media practitioner. Self-taught for the most part, they work in many contexts, including improvisation, dance, poetry, and theatre. Roberts is perhaps best known for their acclaimed Coin Coin project, a multi-chapter work of “panoramic sound quilting” that aims to expose the mystical roots and channel the intuitive spirit-raising traditions of American creative expression while engaging with narrativity, history, community and political expression within improvisatory musical structures. In 2019, Roberts was a fellow in the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin programme. Her sound installation “resonance” is shown in the exhibition “Arbeit am Gedächtnis – Transforming Archives”.
Kira Thurman is a historian and musicologist. She teaches as an assistant professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and History at the University of Michigan. Her research and teaching focuses on the relationship between music and German national identity, and Central Europe’s historical and contemporary relationship with the Black diaspora. Her book, Singing Like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, is forthcoming with Cornell University Press. Together with colleagues across the United States and Europe and with the support of the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., she runs the public history website, blackcentraleurope.com.
George Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University in the City of New York, and Area Chair in Composition. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, as well as a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971. Lewis's work in electronic and computer music, computer-based multimedia installations, and notated and improvisative forms is documented on more than 150 recordings, and he is widely regarded as a pioneer of interactive computer music, creating programs that improvise in concert with human musicians. In 2020/21 George Lewis is a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.