UNEXPECTED LESSONS – Decolonizing Memory and Knowledge
For decades, debates have been simmering about the colonial pasts of the major European nations and their handling of provenance, restitution and the return of looted objects from colonial contexts. The reach and complexity of the debates came to the force and with it racist continuities, systematic ever since, still socially effective until today, not only affecting everyday lives, but also politics and cultural practice - in the global North as well as in the South and in relations with each other.
“The Western archive is exhausted!” says Felwine Sarr. What can knowledge be today, beyond European knowledge systems? New perspectives and questions are needed in order to break up colonial thought patterns and challenge Eurocentric, white views that are deeply rooted in the European understanding of culture and knowledge and that continue to shape Europe's interaction with non-European cultures today, A new historiography is needed, different knowledge productions, an “epistemic disobedience”, as the literary scholar Walter Mignolo calls it. This is preceded by an “Un-learning” and “Re-thinking” of Eurocentric perspectives of the world are part of this.
The planned think tank, exhibition and event series TALKING OBJECTS LAB will explore knowledge forms and practices of the African continent in Kenya, Senegal and Germany in 2021-2024 as well as strategies of mediation and visualization. It wants to focus on plural forms of knowledge. Five thematic fields are in the center here: decolonization of memory, decolonization of knowledge, empowerment and chances of artistic perspectives, and questioning of classical museum forms of preservation and presentation.
On 11th and 12th of June 2021, the performative discursive event »UNEXPECTED LESSONS - Decolonizing Memory and Knowledge« will be the prequel of the planned TALKING OBJECTS LAB. It will take place at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and in parallel in the urban landscape of Nairobi and in the world wide web. UNEXPECTED LESSONS is a discursive performance: lectures, artistic elements, talks and discussions flow into each other and interweave with the live stream programme from Nairobi. De-Westernization and African philosophy, Black Studies, knowledge systems in music, and a critical look at the Eurocentric narrative in art history play a role in the programme.
The center of the programme in Nairobi is the street - the lived space and lived experiences of people moving in colonialized environments and doing “decolonizing labour” every day. The objects were taken from them, the people, not from institutions. Their feelings, their pain are hardly a topic today. The curatorial team in Nairobi gives space to these voices in the programme section “Decolonisation Labor is Emotional Labor” - in the form of interviews in urban space, artistic interventions and interactive discussions, live from Nairobi. The programme section “The Other Objects” deals on the one hand with the public space in Nairobi, considered as a “colonized object” and invites the renaming of streets, squares and buildings. On the other hand, the curators explore ways of reviving objects stored as artifacts in European museums, to give them back their functionality and their meaning. What does it mean to use the objects, to wear them, to dance with them?
 Felwine Sarr, from the lecture “Rewriting the Humanities from Africa for an Ecology of Knowledge”, 1st Berlin Southern Theory Lecture, December 2019
On 11th of June in Berlin with sociologist and economist Felwine Sarr, art historian, curator and author Nana Oforiatta Ayim, (after their keynotes in conversation with Aïcha Diallo), artistic interventions by the sound artist Elsa M’Bala and the performance artist Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro (artists talk together with Syowia Kyabi, hosted by Magnus Elias Rosengarten). Programme from Nairobi including vox pops and artistic interventions on the thopic of “Decolonisation Labour is Emotional Labour”.
On 12th of June with a city walk along colonial traces in the city curated by Dekoloniale – Memory Culture in the City with Mnyaka Sururu Mboro, Paulette Reed-Anderson and Israel Kaunatjike from the Akademie der Künste to Wilhelmstraße (to the site of the “Africa Conference” 1884/85) and back. At Akademie der Künste: sociologist Natasha A. Kelly and cultural scientist Peggy Piesche in conversation on “Black Studies”, philosophers Arlette-Louise Ndakoze and Yala Kisukidi on De-Westernization and African philosophy, art educators Carmen Mörsch and Nora Landkammer talk about new forms of mediation in museums, art historians Bénédicte Savoy, El Hadji Malick Ndiaye and Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie rethink the Eurocentric history of art. Artistic intervention by Syowia Kyambi.
On both days, film programme as video installation curated by filmmaker and visual anthropologist Nnenna Onuoha.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the entire event will take place with a limited audience on site and will also be streamed live online.
The complete programme soon at www.talkingobjectslab.org.
Concept TALKING OBJECTS LAB:
Mahret Ifeoma Kupka (curator, Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt am Main) Isabel Raabe (curator and project developer, Berlin).
Curatorial Team UNEXPECTED LESSONS:
Jim Chuchu and Njoki Ngumi (Artist Collective The Nest, Nairobi), Chao Tayiana (African Digital Heritage, Nairobi), Mahret Ifeoma Kupka (curator, Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt am Main Isabel Raabe (curator and project developer, Berlin), film programme by Nnenna Onuoha (filmmaker and visual anthropologist, Berlin), city walk curated by Dekoloniale – Memory Culture in the City
The TALKING OBJECTS LAB takes place in the context of the TALKING OBJECTS ARCHIVE initiated by Isabel Raabe. The digital archive for decolonial knowledge production is scheduled to go online in 2024.
UNEXPECTED LESSONS is funded by the Hauptstadtkulturfonds (Capital Cultural Fund), the Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) and the Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung).