TRUE STORIES OF RESISTANCE – Inside a Fugitive Library

Cléophée R.F. Moser

Cléophée R. F. Moser is an artist, researcher, video maker, sculptor and performer living and working in Dakar. Her projects relate her home environment, the places of her displacement and her adopted culture to analyze themes and phenomena at the intersections of gender-based violence, environmental brutality, political contestation, border porosity and relational practices as acts of resistance. She is co-founder of the collective Eaux Fortes and resident artist at the Termes Sud Library in Dakar. 

View of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. HKW 2022. 

View of the studio “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F.  Moser. Dakar 2022. 


A Fugitive Library emerged as a polyphonic and problematized dispositif in the context of the Commonings event and addressed a question central to the New Alphabet and Anthropocene projects, as well as to the institutional context itself: What are the conflicting power relations in the production, dissemination, extraction and protection of knowledge, as a tool for exercising power over collective consciousness, for empowering communities in the transmission of their past and the writing of their destiny, but also as an object of caesura, of censorship, through which struggles are constructed, told and buried?

This initiative questions the ways in which knowledge, as a tool for knowing oneself and one’s world, is perceived as an ambivalent object, from its nature to the modes of transmission, teaching or prohibition, because of the stakes of domination that weigh on it. By integrating the characteristic dimensions of desire and rejection, which selects knowledge to build identities, how some forms of training the capacity of “training” to generate traumas on the scale of an entire people, to spread diseases, or on the contrary to cure them, A Fugitive Library has studied the extent to which knowledge can be a factor of injury but above all of healing, and thus of covetousness, from the individual scale to a collective spectrum, in light of different artistic proposals.


In a context where institutions have globally weaponized the power of knowledge to complete the mission of colonial modernity, it is time to imagine and experiment with forms of knowledge practices as healing ones. What would a healing museum, a healing school, a healing library look like?

A healing library has to be a fugitive one: always escaping, always creating and generating the conditions to avoid objectification, exploitation and destruction. Its nature being its capacity to keep its freedom, to perpetually renew its capacity to resist enclosure. If fugitivity refers to maroon communities, as defined by Harney and Moten, the fugitive form of knowledge from an African perspective is what has preserved itself from colonial appropriation. This includes memories, secrets and the heritage encapsulated in sound, oral transmission, coded visual languages and performative ways of reproducing the community through rituals, initiations and games. Through a series of interventions – performative, sonic, visual and more – the Fugitive Library activated forms of knowledge that suggest a rising of consciousness rather than the production of any expertise. Participants were invited to appreciate a certain quality of presence and sensibility, one that allows for an honoring of the vulnerable and shadow parts of oneself and their worlds, and in turn challenges understanding of reality.”

Maya V. El Zanaty with Cléophée R. F. Moser, Mour Fall, Ivonne Gonzàlez, Paulina Marquez and Alibeta and Band, in collaboration with Bibliothèque Terme Sud Dakar.

River Casamance. Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. Karabane. 2022.

Nourished by a specific socio-political context, A Fugitive Library was conceived in the city of Dakar, in light of a history and current events rich in artistic and theoretical productions that deconstruct the political, economic and environmental discourses produced in service of colonial “modernity” and the imperialism of capital. From the contemporary Senegalese scene emerges numerous researches that contrary to the historical-political lies – narratives imposed through force and violence – practices of resistance, through gesture, word and image in a perspective of healing and the fertile invention of the future in gestation. These voices inhabit the works presented in the Fugitive Library as social thoughts of care that propose concrete responses to a number of cross-cutting socio-contemporary illnesses (ecological crisis, gender-based violence and intercultural conflicts related to the varieties of issues of exploitation of resources and bodies by a dominant minority).

Gathered in Berlin, the artists Mour Fall, Alibeta, the curator Maya V. El Zanaty, and myself presented work and research from our respective experiences in Senegal and abroad. We also had the opportunity to connect our visions with those of artists Ivonne González and Paulina Marquez whose practices defend and extend the artistic and political heritage of Maroonism in Cuba. Between our universes, our practices and our spaces of mobility, fugitivity, as a state of being, action or thought, was the red thread that linked our productions, their themes and the contexts in which their transmissions are envisaged. This determining line of tension evokes the modalities in which the discourse passes through, outside of political prohibitions and conservative formats. But this line also reveals the capacity of the body to escape what encloses it, both physically and mentally, to move in spite of inequitable border regulations, to emerge from an appropriate status in order to make its rights heard, to ally itself, to form a community, to defend itself and to defend the common good. What, then, did we aspire to in presenting our work in the context of Commonings at HKW?

Here I put into words a point of view formulated from my own questions and feelings as an exhibiting artist and active observer of the productions of my partners in the program. I explain how, within the particular framework and place of this event, the various art installations and performances gathered in “A Fugitive Library” negotiated an act of sharing as a gesture of care, to feed the channel of exchange in community without compromising their content, while continuing to believe in the evolution of societal as well as international relations through art.

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View of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. HKW 2022.

Situated knowledge: Protochronism in the West

I was born in France to a family whose life paths and movements of identity construction/deconstruction are intimately linked with the history of geopolitical conflicts and migrations that animated the 20th century. I followed a general academic apprenticeship in the normative French public school system where my understanding of the world, in the margins of the family sphere and my neighborhood, was envisaged by the spectrum of the national education curriculum. Over time, an increasingly obvious gap developed between the information disseminated and evaluated by my school curriculum, and my sensitive experience of the outside world. Out-of-school discoveries, as well as the stories of my family and the families of my neighborhood friends, seemed to be filled with interests, things, places, people, actors, actresses, heroes, heroines, and anti-heroes as well that were never, or very rarely, mentioned by our teachers.

Like many children who went to school in the 1990s, the historical continuum I was taught was that of Western protochronism, focusing on the linear continuity of an invented filiation of cultural groups ‘chosen’ to be in this narrative: Fertile Crescent – Egypt (disconnected from its African roots) – Greece – Roman Empire – European Nations – in a desire to permanently demonstrate the central role of the latter in the development of so-called civilized societies. Obviously, this program made no mention of the African origins of our civilizations, nor of the dependence of the West on Asia and Africa in its social, economic and political construction. Extra-Western geographies enter the proposed chronology from the time of colonization, as ‘discoveries’ offered up the opportunity for exploitation. Then the international relations that are played out from the 19th century to the present day are told through a polarized relational framework divided into decisive borders: capitalist Europe and North America versus the rest of the world. Much of my learning time has also been taken up with an ever-deepening knowledge of the ‘Good War,’ omitting to mention the number of French collaborators, as well as all the violence, both military and political, committed by the ‘Allied’ group in the period of liberation, and then throughout the 20th century, especially against the struggles for independence. Obviously such a narrative, a myth, can only create deep fractures and continue to create traumas from one generation to the next because of the number of lies, omissions and rearrangements that allow it to smooth out its narrative without addressing its evil in depth. Such a national, exclusively masculinist narrative, openly denying the reasons for the miscegenation of its people and the origin of the conflicts that are perpetuated in and out of its classrooms, as well as in the bodies of its students, forms nothing but the glorification of the identity elected as dominant and its coinciding discrimination. Through education, the system promotes its own economic and social values, the validity of its intra- and extra-territorial exploitations and legitimizes its acts of disenfranchisement by maintaining a disconnection between the ‘national body’ and the realities on which its growth is based: the origins of textiles, food, materials for the production of technology, works of art, etc.

Each step out of the system of thought conveyed by this form of education has been for me a happy disorientation. By continuing to invest in the stories of my entourage, absent from the programs because of their “marginality,” and by having the privilege of moving around on several occasions, I received a rich education that forged my critical thinking and my commitment to . After having been involved in research within different accepted and unaccepted science environments, I chose to become an artist because it appeared to me that images, spaces and forms, as objects of shared experience and representation, contained within them a billion pieces of information, symbols and signs more eloquent, more complete in their correspondence than the words of teachers.

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View of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. HKW 2022.

“True stories of Resistance:” lessons from history that inform the present

In line with the ambition of the project “A Fugitive Library,” I proposed an installation called “True stories of Resistance” about the stories and narratives I was made aware of in Dakar, which formed another historical continuum than the one disclosed by the Western school curricula, still in force in a large number of French-speaking schools, notably in Senegal. Some of these stories have been transmitted through the ages in a fleeting manner to resist the various attempts at cultural annihilation by the French colonial enterprise. Other, more contemporary stories, tell of political resisters whose impact has been decisive in recent history and who were forced into fugitivity because of the content of their speeches and actions that opposed the colonial, neo-colonial and imperialist political and social machine. The dissemination of these historical and life stories, the recognition of them as archives that bear witness to local and international history, sheds light on areas kept in the dark by the ‘official’ narratives emanating from Europe. But above all, they contribute to the understanding of the “incomparable societal adventure” (Felwine Sarr) of West Africa and Senegal, of the singularity and specificity of the peoples, of their successive political models, and of their repeated uprisings over time to preserve their heritage and write their own futures.

View of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. HKW 2022.

Commonings event was an opportunity to mount the first life-size materialization of “True stories of Resistance.” The eleven stories that I presented in the form of audio capsules and graphic representations for this installation come from nine major episodes linked to the history of West Africa, as well as of the Senegambian and contemporary Senegalese peoples, to which three stories were added of struggles against the slave society and the colonial system emanating from the diasporas and the descendants of the populations deported to the Caribbean and Cuba.

View of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. HKW 2022.

The first audio capsule is dedicated to Cheikh Anta Diop. It is a condensed account based on his research into the origin of humanity and the migratory movements that led to the gradual settlement of the world, including the Fertile Crescent, and of the relationship between the Fulani and Wolof cultures and those of Ancient Egypt. This framework is compiled with a selection of extracts from the sound archives of the professor’s various conferences that have been recorded, and information added as a result of the cross-referencing of more contemporary sources, notably concerning the controversies that continue to surround the results of his research, which are nevertheless accepted today by the scientific community.

“Sogolon,” “Sundjata,” “Bilal” as part of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. 2022.

The second capsule is dedicated to Sogolon Ni Kane and his son Sundjata Keita. It offers a summary of the epic of the Manding Empire since the revelation that sealed the fate of King Maghan Kon Fatta to the woman-buffalo to give birth to the one who would reunite the people and bring peace and prosperity to the Manden. It recounts the childhood of the latter, with a particular focus on the brotherhoods (Simbon, blacksmiths), as well as the question of the son’s disability and the singular role of the mother in shaping the hero’s character and values right up to the founding of the Empire after his triumph against the King of Sosso in 1235. An important part of the research presented also deals with the Manden Charter, the first official document to have abolished slavery in known history, and a valuable declaration of human rights promoting, among other things, social peace in diversity, the inviolability of the human person, the prohibition of raids and the slave trade, the duty of care for each individual, the community and education as a pillar of society, political integrity, the duty of memory and the preservation of the territory and freedom of expression.

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View of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. HKW 2022.

The third historical episode is devoted to the Empire of Mali. It evokes the great facts of Mansa Kankan Moussa who reigned from 1312 to 1337: The social and political organization deployed during his time (including the mixed constituent assembly), the functioning of his economy, the prosperity of the Empire, his control of resources and mines, and the Mansa’s pilgrimage to Mecca, which left its mark on people’s minds through his unlimited generosity (Zakat) and the grandiose demonstrations of his wealth, which brought down the price of gold in Egypt, then in Medina and in the holy city. On his return from his trip, during which he established solid diplomatic relations, he continued to make his empire flourish by carrying out important architectural projects, including the mosque of Djenné, and by developing the great university centers of Gao and Timbuktu by bringing together numerous astronomers, philosophers and physicists. He attracted scholars from all regions and had the largest library in Africa after Cairo. The influence of his fame and that of the Empire became, in the short time of his reign, preponderant from the Sahara to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean as the Catalan Atlas testifies. At the end of the 14th century, after a series of regional political crises and serious epidemics, the kingdoms of Europe began to open up to the world and discovered that they were on the fringes of the most important trading area on the planet: the Sahara. From this they began to covet the resources of the richest region in the world: Africa. Mention is also made of the brother of the Emperor Aboubakar II who is said to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean and reached America one hundred years before Columbus.

Two audios then deal with the regional political formations after the dissolution of the Djolof Empire, the kingdoms and the power relations that were exercised over the territory, including the Moors in the North and the Europeans who set up their first trading posts on the coast in the West in the 17th century. The first part is dedicated to the history of the resistance of the Waalo, to the sacrifice of the women of Nder in 1820, as well as to the career and great deeds of Queen Ndaté Yalla Mbodj, who led a fierce resistance to protect the territory, its populations, its culture and its trade routes against the invaders and against Faidherbe’s colonial army until her defeat in 1855. Mention is also made of the transgenerational continuity of the struggle to oppose colonization, despite the annexation of the region of Saint-Louis and the kingdom of Waalo by the French, through the character of his son, Sidya Ndaté Yalla Diop. The second capsule is dedicated to Mouridism and the particular role of the Sheikhs in 19th and 20th century society in the face of colonization, through the research of archivist and historian, Oumar Ba, and the life stories of Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba, Sheikh Ibrahima Fall and Sheikh El Hadji Malick Sy.

The next three vignettes are dedicated to resistance stories from the Caribbean diasporas: The story of Solitude’s struggle in the 1802 rebellion against the re-establishment of slavery in Guadeloupe, the story of Carlota’s uprising in the Triunvirato rebellion in Matanzas and her central role in the decisive La Escalera era in Cuba, and the story of the revolution led by the Fireburn Queens (Mary Thomas, Axeline Elizabeth Salomon AKA Agnes, and Mathilda McBean) in 1878 on the island of St. Croix against the Danish Plantationist regime. These three stories are approached from the facts known in official history, but especially through the spectre of their resurgence in contemporary times, which allows for a look into the lived history of the workers and rebels, rather than from the perspective of the colonial archives. They remind us that opposition to slavery and forced labor was as regular and recurrent as it was diverse and widespread. They also stand in stark contrast to the self-promotional discourse usually disseminated in Europe, according to which colonial administrations graciously abolished slavery in the name of human rights. Finally, particular attention was paid to the production of the audios to building bridges between the times of these three rebellions and the contemporary post-colonial context of their territories (plantationism, high living costs, extension of the systems of governance inherited from colonization, anti-racist movements, recent waves of popular uprisings, etc.).

“Thiaroye” part of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. 2022.

The succeeding narratives focus on the early 20th century, the pivotal period of the two world wars and the opposition experienced by the colonial administration at the height of its extractive policy. This part is introduced with a summary of the origins of the administrative formation of colonial control of the territory resulting from the Berlin Conference and on the evolution of the attitude of colonial policy from the end of the 19th century onwards (which included extraction, transformation of the territory and of agricultural production by political force, universal exhibitions and human zoos and the implementation of repressive educational systems). A capsule is dedicated to the history of the Senegalese riflemen and the resources forcibly mobilized by France during the two wars and the inter-war period. Particular attention is paid to the Thiaroye Massacre and the still burning news of the tragedy, the extent of which continues to be kept out of reach to the public and international and local research. This account draws a parallel between the violence of the French authorities towards the combatants and the Senegalese civil society and those observed in other regions of the African continent (Madagascar 1947), which contrast largely with the image of the “resistant French” narrative promoted by the general education system, and announce the series of massacres (namely in Cameroon, Algeria, Congo Brazzaville and Vietnam) perpetrated by the French army at the time of independence. The following audio deals with the Casamance resistance and the political opposition conflicts that arose from it in the 1980s and even today. It takes as its starting point the story of Aline Sitoe Diatta (1920-1944), meditating on her roles as a healer and priestess whose wisdom and devotion to her people led her to be seen as a leader of the opposition against colonial forces. Mention is then made of the role of women in the Casamance revolutions of the 1980s and the continuing influence of Aline Sitoe as a tutelary figure in the uprisings.

“In the memories of Issa” part of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. 2022. With Mour Fall, Babacar Traore Doli et Ican Ramageli Samb, Laboratoire Agit’art, Dakar.

The era of independence is approached through the lens of Issa Samb’s AKA Joe Ouakam’s journey through the 20th century and his various stances in favor of uncompromising emancipation for the world of the arts in Senegal and civil society without dissociation. The audio dedicated to him evokes his youth and his travels, notably to Poto Poto, before independence, and then deals with the particular role he played for the world of culture in Senegal from the early days of Senghor’s presidency, around the creation of the National School of Arts in Dakar, and rapidly, as a figure of opposition to the cultural policies developed by the president and against the affiliation of new academism. It is told how Issa Samb, defender of the free arts and of all political alienation, burned all his works in refusal to participate in the international exhibition organized by President Senghor on negritude – as a showcase of the cultural policy promoted by the latter – and then regularly destroyed his work in a gesture of opposition to any political or mercantile recovery. His relationship with Omar Blondin Diop and the various actions they carried out together shed light on the specific context of Senegal in May 1968 and the singularity of the popular uprisings that animated the period of the 1960s and 70s. Finally, an important part of the story is dedicated to the creation in 1973 of the Agit’art Laboratory by Issa Samb and Djibril Diop Mambety who brought together generations of artists, writers, poets, filmmakers and playwrights in the creation of an ever more emancipated art, dedicated to the enchantment of society through its imagination, and to the maintenance of a voice of contestation in the collective consciousness.

“One people” part of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. 2022. With Alioune Samb, Colobane et Bibliothèque Terme Sud. Dakar.

The last soundtrack is dedicated to the popular uprisings and civil revolts that have marked the contemporary era from the end of the 20th century to the present day. On the one hand, it evokes the protests against unfair trade agreements with international powers and the country’s internal policies that run counter to the needs of the population and the territory, connecting the events of 2012 and 2021. On the other hand, she recalls the importance of the socio-artistic movements in the various protests and the rise of opposition in favor of a governance closer to the realities of the population and of an economy more oriented towards the interests of the territory and its preservation rather than towards globalization.

The confrontation of the stories with one another draws the outline of a set of values specific to the societies from which they originate, including those set out in the Manden Charter. Although stories evolve, change their wording, are added to or removed from, they nonetheless form a solid trunk, recalled and extended by these stories and defended by those who have ensured their transmission, particularly orally. Throughout the narratives, and according to Cheikh Anta Diop, a continuity has been maintained since Egypt and its pre-antiquity roots around values such as: the interweaving of body and spirit, death as another state of being rather than the opposite of life, animism and its syncretism as a respect for the living and things, and on the philosophical spectrum, the common good prevailing over individual profit, charity, the humility of the individual within their community and environment, the unquestionable place of women in the epics both as leaders and as bearers of societal change and lastly the insubordination of peoples and individuals in the face of attempts to impose other, unjust values.

“Aliin”& “Mapping Nder,” part of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. 2022.

To illustrate the above-mentioned narratives, I have created a gallery of invented portraits, some of which are composed as digital paintings from archival images deliberately diverted from the photographic collections of the colonial era and from the Google Earth image gallery. To these more pictorial pieces are added objects, smells, photographic works of places and contemporary characters who prolong the presence of these memories or embody them concretely through time. I benefited from the support of the members of the Agit’art Laboratory, Ican Ramagelli Samb, Babacar Traoré Doli and Mour Fall, to tell and illustrate in images the story of the resistance fighter Issa Samb AKA Joe Ouakam. I was accompanied and supported by Alioune Samb for the documentation of the 2021 revolts, as well as by Mour Fall and Jean-Baptiste Joire for the raising of France Dégage.

I imagined this mobile and evolving installation so that it could support the sharing of these stories while in motion and complete them over time with the help of associated contributors and different audiences. I conceived it as an object for sharing and discussion in Senegal, but also for an international context, as these stories seem to me to be essential in the weaving of a transversal history, which to be completed must bring in different experiences. Thanks to Olga Schubert’s suggestions, I had the great pleasure of conceiving the installation as a support for Ivonne González and Paulina Marquez’s performances on the heritage of marronage. Ivonne González herself contributed to the constitution of the library by making the sound capsule dedicated to the history of the Cuban resistance figure, Carlota.

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View of the installation “True stories of resistance.” Image: Miguel Brusch. HKW 2022.

Paulina Marquez and Ivonne González: Maroon memories as guides in future practices of resistance

Paulina Marquez and Ivonne González Núñez see their work as a continuation of the Maroon legacy as a spectrum of memories, analysis of the relations of tension in world history and strategies of resistance to escape from any form of domination.

Paulina Márquez is an Afro-descendant visual artist, photographer, printmaker, curator, director and creator of several multidisciplinary cultural projects. She studies history at the University of Havana. Her work is related to the African diaspora, women, gender and race, and reclaims the aesthetics of beauty of black and Caribbean women. Her work expresses her spirituality and her close relationship with nature and the urban environment. Ivonne González Núñez is an Afro-Cuban lawyer, performer, musician, singer and Afrofeminist activist. She is the director of the association Noircir in Geneva. As a musician and singer, she performs the repertoire of Latin jazz, Cuban, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian music and salsa. She has performed Afro-Cuban orisha dances and given workshops in Switzerland, Serbia and Argentina, among others. Ivonne created the Black Guiris collective, which carries out participative performances on decolonial issues and negritude as a necessity, a dreamlike, political and artistic act that must be expressed without spatial limits.

They opened the Commonings meetings as a duo with a ritual dedicated to the commemoration of Maroon resistance. The aim was to recall the path taken by the fugitive marchers, and the scope of the insubordination effort from their time to ours, while being sensitive to the violence that inhabits this memory and what makes it so current. Through a series of symbolic gestures and offerings, they expressed their gratitude for the heritage of their ancestors and their land and formulated their commitment to preserve and extend it over time, whatever the obstacles may be.

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View of the performance “Maroon march ritual” by Paulina Marquez and Ivonne González Núñez. Image: Miguel Brusch. HKW 2022.

The memories were summoned by adding white banners with the names of the resisters to the installation “True stories of Resistance” and calling them out. Through this gesture, they manifested the presence of the Maroon community in the event and recalled its leading role in the history of the commons and undercommons struggles long before they were the object of inspiration for other currents of revolution and appropriated by cultural and academic institutions, including the Commonings event itself.

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View of the performance “Maroon march ritual” by Paulina Marquez and Ivonne González Núñez. Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. HKW 2022.

The ritual was also intended to transmit to the representatives of the resistant commons of different horizons, present or under construction in this context of encounter, the force of opposition, the fire that animates the rebellion of marronage, as a tutelary example of resistance, of insubordination. In this ritual dedicated to the marchers, they also created a space of protection and pronounced talismanic words against the dangers, the violence, the destitutions and the appropriations that the so-called “minority” communities suffer from.

Video Performance Maroon Un-Archiving – Ivonne González Núñez and Paulina Marquez – Commonings. HKW Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. 2022.

Please watch here: Maroon Un-Archiving – Performance – Ivonne González and Paulina Marquez – #COMMONING – HKW

Throughout the duration of the gathering, they took over the “True Stories of Resistance” installation on a daily basis to carry out an artistic performance that brought back the memory of the Maroons and their heritage in a continuous and sustained way, which consisted of making ephemeral drawings inspired by the fugitive modes of communication and creation practiced in some Maroon communities.

Addressing the practice of archiving as an extraction of resources and living objects to create “collections” that are characteristic of the Western colonial cultural and museum attitude, they oppose adopt the practice of non-archiving: a gesture that brings back to life, activates and prolongs the memory through the forms recreated, perpetually reconstructed and then transmitted.

View of the performance “Maroon un-archiving” by Paulina Marquez and Ivonne González Núñez. Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser and Maya V. El Zanaty. HKW 2022.

Maya V. El Zanaty: a quest for consciousness to heal embodied violence and return to the world

Maya V. El Zanaty crossed the different fields of research in the humanities before becoming a curator and art theorist, investigating the mediations between social life, current issues and committed artistic practices that collide in the city, particularly in Dakar where she lives and works. She has founded several structures with projects focused on social fabric and urban life, including the Terme Sud Library, a center for research, arts and healing practices. She has also become a healer herself in continuing her education by exploring, among other things, the relationship between the methods of healing and repair of the intimate and social body transmitted by traditional knowledge in Senegal and those from Egypt and Asia.

She responded to the call of Commonings by forming the Fugitive Library project as its curator. She also took advantage of the space for exchange in the form of a guided meditation workshop, which came out of the reverberations of the different interventions presented in the Library. Avoiding the format of a theoretical, rational conversation detached from the body, she tried to use experience and self-exploration as a way to enter into a direct connection with the subjects discussed in the program: understanding the formation of systemic violence, the source of anger, its motives, its reasons, the tributaries of pain, the knot of trauma.

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View of the guided meditation “Light Archive” by Maya V. El Zanaty. Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. HKW 2022.

She has developed a performative protocol based on her research in the sciences of energy manipulation and the support of sounds and portals for cognitive displacement. In the proposed course, the participants were invited to work on their own knowledge of feelings and political themes under debate as objects within them, inscribed in the body as energies. At the end of this inner exploration, they were invited to act through awareness and concentration on the sources of pain, transforming what appears to be an object of imported, suffered violence into material for creating change, into energy for reinvention.

Mour Fall: going through discomfort as a condition for healing

Mour Fall, a multidisciplinary artist and Senegalese breeder, horticulturist and activist, seeks through his work to raise awareness of the environment, understood both as ecological and natural and as a medium for human relations. His works deal with the cultural pillars of the African continent and its culture of belonging, respect, humility of the individual towards his surroundings, care for beings and things without hierarchy and the close relationship maintained between human communities and natural and spiritual forces. His productions are open critiques of the blind behavior to the state of climatic and environmental emergency, contestations of the cultural forcing of globalization and post-colonial legacies on the evolution of lifestyles in Senegal, as elsewhere. But above all, his works are pleas for care, and he constructs each gesture of his practice with exemplary attention and listening that he tries to awaken through his works.

Through large-scale performances and installations dedicated to the specific spaces and contexts in which he works, his energy is invested in generating an experience that engages the body and its surroundings together. He attempts to convey to his audiences the messages of the vulnerabilities at risk in the evolution of both urban and rural environments, and to channel debates towards a renewed awareness of diversity and the importance of nurturing it, from a local to an international perspective and vice versa. Thus, he sees his work in a pedagogical, social and spiritual dimension; his projects are dedicated to public space, youth, students, politicians and sensitive bodies.

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Video-performance edit of Mour Fall’s “Dëpp – Guiss guiss yu wuté.”

Please watch here : https://youtu.be/XHhAsgefwH0

The performance “Dëpp – Guiss guiss yu wuté” that he presented in the context of the Commonings event and in relation to the dynamics of the Fugitive Library had as its initial ambition to propose an artistic ritual of collective healing, to form a circular space where the body of the artist becomes a catharsis, a channel and an intercessor for repairing individual and social wounds. For his production, he drew on the intangible cultural heritage he inherited, also envisaging this presentation as a tribute to the cultural and traditional wealth of Senegal. He drew inspiration from a healing practice specific to the Lébou culture and the Wolof people (the Ndëpp) and invoked the rhythms and onomatopoetic sounds from non-verbal modes of communication and the means of historical-cultural transmission specific to Senegalese and African cultures.

By bringing this experience to HKW, the artist wanted to participate in the reversal of the dynamic of contempt maintained in Europe towards Africa, its authority and its knowledge.

Once immersed in the context of the event, Mour Fall developed his performance project by incorporating the constraints that he was confronted with. From the initial proposal to have a participatory ritual in a circle that draws on the natural and mystical presences around it, galvanized around a fire and in contact with the earth, the work became a space for representing the distances and boundaries that are superimposed in the experience of Western society and the institutional cultural milieu. His work has become a practice of shaping these relational challenges. As the only artist to use the outdoor space of the museum, surrounded by forest, he moved the participants of Commonings outside, where his intervention in the space made the distance evident. A linear rather than circular scenography was observable to the viewer, from the heights of the building’s monumental stairs to the shadows of the forest, between which large empty spaces seemed impossible to fill, to inhabit. The artist created an almost secret installation, barely visible to those who did not dare to leave the positions determined by the frame of the space: a symbolic assemblage turned towards the waters, the plant and animal presences and the invisible portal.

A picture containing tree, outdoor

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View of the installation part of Mour Fall’s performance “Dëpp – Guiss guiss yu wuté.” Image: Cléophée R.F. Moser. HKW. 2022.

A fire, contained in a small brazier, was lit before the performance, but instead of gathering around it, it was perceived at a distance, as an external witness. A great gap separated the zone inhabited by the presences summoned by the artist, in the shadows, which included his installation and the intermediate space, portal, where he arranged a large quantity of dead leaves, branches and incense smoke from the place, which was initially thought to be the center of the performance’s action. A drum sat isolated in a halo of light from a show projector, about ten meters away from the ritual set back in the branches and separated from the steps of the staircase and the audience by a considerable distance. It was freezing cold, the kind of cold that stings the limbs and skin from the inside.

The performance unfolded as the artist’s body moved through this space, crossing “no-man’s land” to meet the audience and bring them back to the true center of the ritual. The traditional “roles” have been challenged, the artist in front of the audience is forced to observe, to wait, to be cold, to look at themselves instead of contemplating a scene detached from them. The audience itself then had to become a performer, be put in the shoes of the artist giving a performance or make a spectacle of themselves.

This effort to deconstruct the positions and the gaze of the “other” led to a moment of gathering in the starting point, having progressed towards displacement, despite all the distance and the cold, in order to deposit wishes and prayers in the water on the paper boat.

A picture containing ground, outdoor, dark, night

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View of the performance “Dëpp – Guiss guiss yu wuté” by Mour Fall. Image: Laura Fiorio. HKW. 2022.

By working on discomfort, displacement and showing distance as a malleable object, Mour Fall’s performance appeared as a practical setting of this relational challenge. It directly questioned the problem of constraints and changes in position to access what is offered in sharing, what we can learn from others, what we can heal in ourselves through the knowledge held in the other.

Alibeta & Band: la musique comme espace de tissage sociétal

Alibeta is a curator, artist, musician, author, composer, performer, film director, theatre maker, researcher and teacher in social sciences. His practice, deeply transdisciplinary, weaves networks that bring people, ideas and creative actions together in a single large web dedicated to society – Senegalese, African and international – and the writing of its future and development. In Ouakam, he founded the Kenu arts centre, a laboratory of the imaginary, with the composer, performer and artist Ibaaku, which houses their music studio, as well as the theatre company, La Fabrique des Possibles, and regularly brings together local and international cultural actors. They organize large-scale thematic collective exhibitions, produce performances, concerts and theatrical representations dedicated to the neighborhood as well as to the world of culture, and through its network and its vocations, it is part of the pan-African sphere.

A couple of men playing guitars

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Extracts from Alibeta & Band’s concert – please watch here: Concert Alibeta & Band – A Fugitive Library #COMMONING HKW

The concert produced at HKW is part of the continuity of his project of action through music, generating wonder and questioning representations and self-knowledge, and contacting those who precede us, functioning as a portal to other dimensions of the same world.

The performance draws on the great capacity of sound to create a space for listening and receptivity, to draw an enclosure with porous contours, a vector of communion, a feeling of temporary but total belonging in the moment. The artistic material, sound, passes through the bodies and unfolds in them and in their midst. And the music’s address goes to the heart. He says: “The human heart is like a musical instrument, there is something hidden inside, divine. A being without love does not hear the music singing in it.”

In the powerful tradition of the itinerant musician and the jazzman, he gathers around his partners who join his story and bring their own sensitivity to it. The compositions he presents are rich in multiple inspirations, from the Dogon wisdoms to the songs from different traditions and identities that are mixed within him. His creations are celebrations of pan-African cultures, values and images that form the cosmogony of the landscape in which he flourishes and from which he gives his music its thick identity. On another, more universal level of listening, he also summons sensitive textures, rhythms and visceral, more ancient tones that directly connect the body to other, organic, tressautes of reality. To this, the very present influence of Afrobeat and its political and social dimension are added.

Indeed, through the messages in his pieces, but also the interpellations addressed to the public and finally by dialoguing with specific sound archives, he defends the musical if not artistic space as an instance of social construction.

For the Commonings live show, he dialogued with a sound recording extracted from the speech given by Chimamanda Adichie at the inauguration of the Humboldt Forum for the reopening of the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art this year.

All countries have parts of their past that they are not proud of,
That they would rather forget
But it takes courage to face those pasts and bring in some light.
And this is a time for courage.
This is a time for courage
The courage to hear dissident voices
Such as those of the people that are out right now, protesting,
They should be heard, and included,
They have valid concerns.
The courage not merely to say we take your criticism
But to follow it with actions
The courage to say, we were wrong,
The courage to say about art acquired illicitly
This is not ours, tell us what to do with it.
The courage to do provenance work
And to actively use local knowledge
The courage to act and to act now,
And to become crippled by endless planning and endless talking.
The courage to believe that it can be better
We can not change the past, but we can change our blindness toward the past.

View of Alibeta & Band performance. Image: Laura Fiorio. HKW. 2022.

The meditation into which he invites us to dive into during the concert forms a setting that is both emotional and pictorial, concrete. The performance unfolds as a complex, living, initiatory story, containing different levels of reading and listening: a celebration of one’s cultural heritage, the historical strength of community relations that transcends borders in space and time, the awareness of the power issues that drive the relations that other communities have with the latter and its current struggles. Finally, collective responsibility, the challenge of recognizing the past that binds peoples together, resonates on an individual scale, becomes a present in each person.

Creating is caring – caring is changing <3
Isn’t a non-curatorial statement a non-caring statement? <3 <3 <3

The interventions proposed in the Fugitive Library are based on the fundamental idea of care as a vehicle for social change and a strategy of resistance. It appears, however, that care is not a comfortable space for those who engage in a healing process.

For the healed just as for the healer, one never goes without the other, care is an ordeal of displacement. A displacement within oneself, like a stage of constructive deconstruction which implies, like the snake’s molt, a leaving behind of a skin, abandoning parts of one’s previous thoughts. It is also a trans-territorial displacement from one environment to another to deepen listening and understanding beyond borders, and to take one’s place within. It is also an effort to move in practice, through in-depth creative work that invents forms of communication, sharing and exchange that do not reproduce the systemic violence to which it is opposed to. If this effort is made on the part of the practitioners – artists and speakers – what shift can we expect in return from the institution?

The Commonings experience, it is true, has enabled certain projects, including mine, to be presented in an unprecedented way, in an international and official context, despite its experimental nature, with the support of a cutting-edge technical team. However, the question of the coherence of such a presentation and the vocation/reason for the event remained problematic in my eyes. I questioned the meaning of being an artist engaged in an independently curated program within an institutional event that rejects the idea of the curatorial action itself, as formulated in the event’s non-statement. Indeed, the Commonings event was announced as “not curatable.” Was this statement by the five facilitators for such an important gathering with over 90 invited international speakers and collectives an admission of disarray, or did it mean that the “commons” do not deserve the care of the institution, since they are alien to it?

Within the framework of the New Alphabet School, techniques developed by practitioners were presented which, through their content and their method of sharing, propose answers to the problems of relational, societal and environmental fractures in connection with the formation of representations and systems of hierarchization of knowledge. The rallying point of these practices is to consider art and research as deeply relational: considering that shared experience is generative of change. Certainly, by virtue of the School’s aspiration to be in direct contact with the public in an effort to have an effective impact, these relational practices willingly go beyond the limits of the traditional role attributed to the work of art, to take on certain “curatorial” dimensions; the environment of the presentation of the work and the conditions of interaction with the public being included in the work itself. It is therefore conceivable that the curator’s approach will evolve with the practices they exhibit, that they will be forced to displace and change imperatives. How, then, can we envisage this care that might be taken when we think of the position that the institution might adopt in its relationship with research and engaged art? Perhaps an answer lies in breaking down the relationships of distance that it continues to maintain with its guest speakers and with the audience that is increasingly distant from decision-making bodies and museums themselves.

At HKW, for the closing of “New Alphabet School,” I was surprised to see that the conclusion of three years of production and reflections on power issues and innovative practices of relationships resulted in a return to confinement and a fragmented program in which it is difficult to be heard, as well as to listen, inside the depopulated museum, without communication, without visibility for those interested outside the walls, without the presence of the commons of the museum’s immediate environment to which our work is dedicated and without the institution bothering to define itself. For in the end, although advertised as “public,” the event was not made accessible to potentially interested audiences and appeared more like a symposium dedicated to a closed circle. Wouldn’t the Commonings program have seemed more coherent, more alive, if its curatorial team had taken into account the principles defended by the event itself, if the team had been in line with the work presented and had taken advantage of it to define its position and its policy for action in society?

The question central to the ecological and political struggles that drive us obviously arise within our respective professions and practices. I believe that the deconstruction of power relations within the cultural sphere – as an incubator of societal relations – is not synonymous with the extinction of roles. On the contrary, I believe that this desire for revolution invites a profound rethinking of positions and the taking on of new ones. Similarly, there is a pitfall in the attitude that by wanting to avoid being seen as ‘extractive,’ the practices that are invited to occur are made invisible, absorbing them into itself without citing them, without mediating them, without really listening to them, without giving them the care to curate them. In this respect and as an inspirational resource, a thoughtful guide that I highly recommend for a change of position in the institution is Fannie Sosa’s, “A White institution’s guide for welcoming artists of colors* and their audiences.”

In the midst of Berlin Art Week, the last days of the Biennale and the closing weeks of Documenta, my experience of the season has left me with a feeling of social and media failure, and a renewed fracture with the institutions that claim to want to propose resolutions to ecological and historical struggles and to the troubles of society in light of engaged art, but in return struggle to position themselves.

Faced with the subjects they confront, these institutions are perhaps led today with the idea to go beyond questions of production, economy and logistics and to conceive of themselves as places of care and practice of relational ecology for society: care in the creation of listening spaces, care in the human relational weaving around its project, in its social inscription outside the walls, care to make those it invites shine and to protect them in the framework of this displacement. Perhaps it is through the curation that care is lacking. Perhaps by ensuring the understanding of the works as well as their conditions for sharing and their visibility, this compromise and this step towards the encounter would leave no room for the bitter feeling of a flawed contract. Perhaps the salvation of the institution in the context of the social and ecological crises on which it builds its programming, it is deconstructing its own status, its own function. In its own dismantling as an entity, its reconstruction outside of what it believes it is and the privileges it believes it must retain, notably that of being inaccessible, detached from its society and its local audiences, of rendering its programs and its data intangible, it becomes absorbed within itself.

While writing this article, I was re-reading Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, and I wanted to share again this passage from the introduction written by Jack Halberstam:

If you want to know what the undercommons wants, what Moten and Harney want, what black people, indigenous peoples, queers and poor people want, what we (the “we” who cohabit in the space of the undercommons) want, it is this – we cannot be satisfied with the recognition and acknowledgement generated by the very system that denies a) that anything was ever broken and b) that we deserved to be the broken part; so we refuse to ask for recognition and instead we want to take apart, dismantle, tear down the structure that, right now, limits our ability to find each other, to see beyond it and to access the places that we know lie outside its walls. We cannot say what new structures will replace the ones we live with yet, because once we have torn shit down, we will inevitably see more and see differently and feel a new sense of wanting and being and becoming. What we want after “the break” will be different from what we think we want before the break and both are necessarily different from the desire that issues from being in the break.

I would like to thank the HKW team for this rich experience and wish them success in their future programs and their potential impact on the radical decolonization of relational consciousness and transversal environmental imaginaries.

Bibliography of the installation True Stories of Resistance:

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Films :

Thiaroye 44 : enquête sur un massacre de tirailleurs au Sénégal • FRANCE 24, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kmJCukdl2Q.

Camp de Thiaroye – Ousmane Sembene (1987) – [Legendado em Português], 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOyD3u0vXvI.

Podcasts :

Wane, Ibrahima. XAM SA DÉMB, XAM SA TEY – Goeth Institute en collaboration avec les archives du Sénégal et Kër Leyti La Maison de l’Oralité et du patrimoine.

Nivelon, Valerie. La voix Mamadou Dia. RFI. La Marche du monde. https://www.rfi.fr/fr/podcasts/20200405-la-voix-mamadou-dia-1-en-exclusivit%C3%A9-rfi