Decolonial Futures at Framer Framed
Introducing a new series for the first term of Decolonial Futures! Each week until 1st December Framer Framed will host the first sessions of the Decolonial Futures cultural exchange programme, led in Amsterdam by Ibrahim Cissé.
Decolonial Futures is an exchange programme organised between the Sandberg Instituut, the Rietveld Academie, FUNDA Community College, and Framer Framed. The programme was inspired by the desire to work collectively towards a decolonial future in which an equal exchange of knowledges and perspectives from students working across the disciplines of art and design could be established.
As a type of archive to connect the parallel course in South Africa, highlights of the discussion and a reading list will be posted here each week to make decolonial knowledge and practices more accessible to everyone.
Last week marked the first session of the Decolonial Futures Cultural Exchange Programme! Led by educator and poet Ibrahim Cissé, our first socially distanced class in Framer Framed brought together eager students from a wide-range of disciplines from the Sandberg Instituut, the Rietveld Academie and Amsterdam University College with members of Funda Community College in Soweto, South Africa.
Ibrahim began the session by reading his own poetry, declaring: “I’m not here to teach you about the decolonial… Just as you do not learn about life, but learn while living.” The aim of the first term is not on the transfer of knowledge to recite in essays, but the breaking of traditional frames of thought and art education. By focusing on specific projects informed by counter-hegemonic movements and initiatives around the world, Decolonial Futures departs from the lived experience and activism from participants in the Netherlands and South Africa.
Therefore, this first session was reserved for introductions; for the students and the collaborators from FUNDA. Simangaliso Sibiya, an artist and one of the organisers of Decolonial Futures, as well as artist Njabulo Malata were able to join online from Soweto, introducing themselves and their connection to FUNDA to the students here in Amsterdam. The students were given a brief history of Funda in the context of South African racial politics. Established in 1984 – ten years before the end of apartheid – FUNDA began as a radical interdisciplinary and multidimensional black-run arts centre in Soweto at a time when non-white citizens were legally banned from forms of tertiary art education. In 1994, It became Funda Community College, dedicated to offer creative and artistic trainings, such as photography as a tool for social documentation.
A great draw for the first term of Decolonial Futures is that students will be able to actively shape and reflect on FUNDA’s photographic archive, also known as Amaciko Imaginerium. For this project participants in Amsterdam will familiarise themselves with FUNDA’s unique socio-cultural context which is inseparable from the rich history of Soweto and South Africa at large. Both groups of participants in South Africa and the Netherlands will be invited to think critically and to reflect on their position and the tensions between local and global narratives. During the session, participants called attention to how the pandemic has already changed the way we interact and think of digital spaces as ways to disseminate information that challenges historical and hegemonic systems.
Another stirring question asked by Ibrahim to the participants was: “What are you willing to give and what are you willing to lose?” Many students gladly suggested giving their time, energy, sincerity and respectfulness towards each other as the foundation of this project is working collectively. But what other processes are involved in methods of artistic activism? Simunga Sibiya and Njabulo Malata questioned: are the participants willing to give up positions of power or relationships with people in pursuit of genuine decolonisation? They emphasised that decolonization is a way of being, and assessing the world, the archive a mean to share this with the world. Students from all backgrounds are welcome, their heterogeneity will give shape to the potential creative outlets. Simanga summarised the long term goal for the cultural exchange programme and that “It’s more about how do we build a platform for the next generation to take into the future” as part of many potential decolonial futures.
27th October: ‘How did we end up here?’
The second session of Decolonial Futures was a historically dense class under the theme of ‘How did we end up here?’ with a brief look at (de)colonial formations in South African throughout time. In order to understand Funda Community College and its history, students were given a run through of South Africa’s complicated history from the Bantu Expansion in 1000BCE to the late 1990s post-apartheid South Africa.
In the beginning of the session, students were joined, through Zoom, by Lauren Alexander, a South African artist now based in the Netherlands. As part of her work with Foundland Collective, Lauren collaborated with Funda Community College for The Cardboard Monument Project (2011), a public intervention on Walter Sisulu Freedom Square, in Kliptown, Johannesburg. This square was the site of the 1955 unveiling of the Freedom Charter, a series of freedom demands set out by people in towns across South Africa. Initiated by the African National Congress (ANC), the document – now enshrined in a monument in Kliptown – symbolises the recognition for a complete re-structuring of the nation, and how these demands have still not been met today. Through the readings of Akala and Tshepo Madlingozi, the participants are able to think more critically about discourses of colonial history, democracy and justice.
Simanga Sibiya phoned in this week, joined by Bongani Nkosi, to expand more on Funda’s history of social documentation through photography. The driving force behind the Amaciko Imaginerium archive is the importance of self-representation. The people of Soweto were able to use photography as a way to construct their own narratives and perception, opposing the poverty porn which is often associated with representations of Africa. “What does it mean to be a youth during certain periods in Soweto?” and how can this be communicated to a global world? During the pandemic especially, photography has been a vital means of documentation for the artists at Funda for what Simanaga called “future histories”. As decolonial scholar, Madlingozi argued in the interview: There is neither truth nor reconciliation in so-called South “Africa”, “the past is in the present ”. Decolonial Futures moves away from a teleological and colonial understanding of time; there is not necessarily an A to B route in understanding histories of settler colonialism, as Madlingozi emphasises. The decolonial is a work in progress, asking “How do we do things? And how do we document them?”
3rd November: What are photographers’ contribution to the decolonial? What can we learn from them?
At the halfway point of the Decolonial Futures sessions, students continued the discussion around the restitution of African material culture. Inspired by the work of Open Restitution Project, Ibrahim initiated a group “simulation” in which students – divided into groups- represented various parties involved in restitution debates. Team represented the governments of South Africa and Netherlands, museums in both countries, and the students from FUNDA in Soweto and the Decolonial Futures Programme in Amsterdam in order to highlight the importance of transnational conversation that needs to happen. Participants reckoned with the questions: “Can repatriation of art and artefacts truly happen? And what would need to happen if the conversation occurred across nations and with multilateral policies?” Of course there was no unanimous conclusion and the class turned towards forms of contemporary art as practices of repatriation and decolonisation.
Through the resources of a conversation with Berlin-based Nigerian photographer Akinbode Akinbiyi on the NKATA: Art and Processes Podcast, students delved more into a discussion of the history of photography, and in relation to colonialism. A key point that stuck with one student was Akinbiyi’s preference in English for “making a photo” rather than taking one. The phrase suggests more of an awareness of your surroundings, and removes the false objectivity often associated with photographs and photographers. In anticipation of working with FUNDA Community College’s photographic archive, Amaciko Imaginerium, the significance of photography as a tool of colonisation and historical marginalisation was acknowledged.
This week, conceptual artist and photographer Zana ‘Ndebele Superhero’ Masombuka joined the session online to share more about her own contemporary practice. Raised in KwaNdebele, Zana uses her cultural heritage to represent and centre African stories. Hesitant to identify her work with the term “afro-futurism”, her work uses a completely different language informer by her Ndebele culture rather than any Western discourses. For Zana, art is both a sacred ritual but something that belongs in the everyday, too. Museums often remove art and history from their communities in an attempt to contain art. Zana emphasised her perspective of art, an idea passed down in her family and community, as an “act of stillness”. Art is simply part of her existence, it is a practice to understand herself in a historical context and is created without knowing what the final product will be. Zana’s inspiring energy and practice offered a new understanding of the participants role in the cultural exchange of the Decolonial Futures programme; their interactions are brought together to create a new space where art and culture can manifest and evolve.
Akala. “Why do white people love Mandela? Why do Conservatives hate Castro?” from Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire. Two Roads, 2019, pp. 207-229.
Art and Technology. “Season 3 Ep 4 – Part 1: Created Equal?” YouTube, 16 Aug. 2020.
Art and Technology. “Season 3 Ep 4 – Part 2: Dismantle Discrimination.” YouTube. 23 Aug 2020.
Art and Technology. “Season 3 Ep 4 – Part 3: Reframing Our Future.” YouTube, 30 Aug. 2020.
Congress of the People of Kliptown, South Africa. “The Freedom Charter”, Historical Papers Research Archive, 1955.
Guénif-Souilamas, Nacira. “Rediscovered Faces of Photography.” 25th Bamako Biennial of Photography Encounter Reader, 2020, pp. 235-244.
Han, Byul-Chan. “Big Data.” Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power. Translated by Erik Butler. Verso. 2017.
Lambert, Léopold. Madlingnozi, Tshepo. “There Is Neither Truth or Reconciliation in so-Called ‘South Africa’: a Conversation with Tshepo Madlingozi .” The Funambulist, no. 30, 2020, pp. 46–51.
Mhlongo, Niq. “The Way Back Home.” African Cities Reader III: Land, Property and Value. Edited by Ntone Edjabe and Edgar Pieterse, 2015.
Minha, Trinh T. “Grandma’s Story.” Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism, Indiana University Press, 1989, pp.119-125.
Open Restitution Africa. “Webinar with El Hadji Malick Ndiaye”. YouTube, 28 Oct 2020.
Reuters. “Meet the Man ‘Seizing’ African Art from Western Museums”. YouTube, 3 Oct 2020.
Organisational Team 2020 – 2022
Dorine van Meel and Ibrahim Cissé (Sandberg Instituut / Gerrit Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam)
Simangaliso Sibiya and Phumzile Nombuso Twala (Funda Community College, Soweto)
See the Open Call
Gedeeld erfgoed / Koloniale geschiedenis / Zuid-Afrika /