Collaborative writing


Orderly Disorderly (2017) completes the trilogy of large scale end-of-year exhibitions held by blaxTARLINES KUMASI, the contemporary art incubator and project space of KNUST, in collaboration with Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB) and its subsidiary, the Museum of Science and Technology (MST) in Accra. The exhibition features works by fresh graduates, alumni, and guest artists (living and dead). The previous two exhibitions — The Gown Must Go to Town… (2015) and Cornfields in Accra (2016) — honored Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and Ama Ata Aidoo respectively. “Cornfields” also honored the memory of Cameroonian conceptual artist Goddy Leye (1965-2011). Orderly Disorderly shares and celebrates the political vision of artist and educator Professor Ablade Glover who mobilized artists toward economic emancipation within a hopeless artistic milieu in the early 1990s when Ghana’s cultural institutions had been famished of domestic and international support.

Intergenerational conversations, collective curating and accessibility programming are vital to the curatorial model adopted by blaxTARLINES KUMASI during this series of exhibitions. blaxTARLINES actively collaborates with GMMB and MST in programming and curating to incorporate artefacts in their permanent collection into its exhibitions. The terms of the exhibition trilogy were set by “Silence between the Lines” in 2015 based on a deliberate misreading of the Sankɔfa legend by karî’kạchä seid’ou. In this new reading, the Sankɔfa bird unfastens its customary anchor of nostalgia and “attempts to grasp what it might have forgotten from futures that are to come”. This summarizes the new spirit of the Kumasi Art School which would be interpreted as anagrams of emancipated futures.

Orderly Disorderly combines the political attitudes and principles underlying Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s practice — notably The Bread and the Alley (1970), Orderly or Disorderly (1981) and The Chorus (1982) — and seid’ou’s emancipatory art pedagogy. Kiarostami is reputed for his deliberate use of non-actors and unprofessional crew to produce very significant films. His vital efforts to intervene in the film form saw him subvert conventions of filmmaking in order to transform and reinvent the medium. This spirit aligns with that which animates contemporary art production in the Department of Painting and Sculpture (KNUST, Kumasi). seid’ou’s egalitarian and emancipatory teaching practice “encourages student artists and other young artists to work in the spirit of finding alternatives to the bigger picture which excluded their voices but paradoxically by first becoming an anamorphic stain in the bigger picture itself.” This typifies his politics of ironic overidentification.

With this background the exhibition reflects on the status of art in the early decades of the 21st century. The exhibition posits art as a site of multiplicity. Art that is de-substantialized and emerges from a void: a state of indifference that is not pre-emptively prejudicial to any particular medium, content, skill, material, trend or process. If anything can be said to be art today it must necessarily be invented.

There are important analogies to be drawn from the artistic and political indifference espoused by the curatorial team of Orderly Disorderly, and the state of hopelessness and indifference experienced by sufferers and witnesses of the current global crises of public commons (refugee crisis, economic precarity, threats of ecological crisis in the epoch of anthropocene, new forms of apartheid emerging as invisible walls in the public sphere, gentrification of digital space and intellectual property, etc). As a response, the exhibition features a generic participant, ‘The Unknown Artist’. This character embodies the void, the disavowed, which haunts the consistency of exhibition projects operating within the finitude of contemporary capitalist processes but disavowing the precarity they leave behind.

Orderly Disorderly countenances diverse multi-site projects extending from MST into the city of Accra and further into virtual spaces — straddling human-centered and posthuman, art and non-art practices alike — by over 90 artists, including seminars, outreach programs, art talk events and a body of archives of the Kumasi School among which are manuscripts of poems authored by Uche Okeke. The exhibition invites its audience to deal with the contradictions that are constitutive of their everyday lives.

Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh and Curatorial Team.

‘ORDERLY DISORDERLY’: KNUST end of year exhibition
OPENING: Friday, 30TH June – Friday 1st September, 2017
Museum of Science & Technology, Accra
Organizers: blaxTARLINES KUMASI
Supported by: Ghana Museums & Monuments Board (GMMB)

I had a conversation with Johannesburg based artist and filmmaker, Kitso Lynn Lelliott, about the theoretical underpinnings, conceptual preoccupations, techniques, visual and display strategies which characterize her work. Full interview below.

IUB: What are the core subjects or questions raised in your work?

Kitso: Mmm…I may have been clear(ish) on the answer to this at some point in my practice and explorations, but at the moment its hard for me to say. I know we are supposed to always be perfectly clear and concise about what we do, yet I’m afraid I’m just not. I’m struggling with things at the moment. I suppose in some ways my questions are about being, ways of being, and ways of coming into being. I suppose there are multiple ontologies, but the one that is dominant in the space you occupy, the hegemonic, tells you that your space of being is questionable, that your humanity is questionable, that you are constituted by lack… despite one’s own embodied reality rendering such questions nil, void and utterly absurd – how does one find a space to be in such an environment? So my questions have to do with competing realities, ontologies, and how these determine one’s being and capacity to be/become. I imagine the comprehension of any ontological reality from the perspective of its other to be somewhat of an apparition, something beyond its reality, in another realm and thus ghostly. So I think through the ghostly in terms of the ways something from beyond the bounds of comprehension from any one perspective might appear, and how ghosts can interrupt on and be in spaces they are not supposed to be. Ghosts give me a way of articulating things that are where they are not supposed to be, where they are denied, as they don’t really abide by the parameters of being that are ascribed to them there.

“Sankɔfa Hauntings, Ghosts of a Futures Past” Installation view inside women’s dungeon of Cape Coast Castle, 2015 image by Desire Clarke

Kitso Lynn Lelliott, “Sankɔfa Hauntings, Ghosts of a Futures Past” Installation view inside women’s dungeon of Cape Coast Castle, 2015 image by Desire Clarke

IUB: On ghosts, you have also said elsewhere that they “not only articulate the presence of something missing but also embody the violence in processes of eliding that produces them”, and that this violence is not only visceral (i.e. acted upon the body) but epistemological with deleterious effects on one’s consciousness (or a collective consciousness for that matter). What are the ways in which the ‘ghostly’, perceived in this sense as inhabiting a position of alterity (from the perspective of the other), manifest in your work?

Kitso: I suppose it’s a thing of questioning the idea of alterity as a static singular state of being in a way. I think the ghostliness or what I am describing as ghostly is dependent on the perspective that is perceiving it. Alterity from the perspective of hegemony is not (or not necessarily) alterity from oneself as I am both the centre of my own experience as much as I may be the marginalized outsider/denied being from the perspective of power. I suppose the ghostly lets me explore this simultaneity as well as trouble and bring some crisis to the ‘reality’ that would produce me as other in the first place.

I feel like there is some ambiguity in the question itself “alterity (from the perspective of the other)”… is this to say the ‘other’ of those who are socially and structurally othered? That is to say seeing from the perspective of the other, the marginalized, rendering the otherwise ‘normative’ as other? Or, alterity in reference to the those who are normatively othered?

But this “convolution” in the question itself starts to point to the things I am playing with in my work and conjuring of ghostly.

There is a woman in my work. She is kind of a ghost, an ancestor, a traveler through time who carries a lot of baggage with her. She is haunted herself, carrying the experience from her past lives with her while she time travels and troubles the futures that has come out of her experience. She appears in places that are tied up with processes of erasing her, her humanity, her agency and even presence. Her presence in these places insist on a reconfiguring of their narratives bringing their complicity in her dehumanization, and the dehumanization of those like her, to the centre of the narrative while her presence also denies the ability to erase her.

She is a ghost troubling a world where alterity is possible, a world where things that are not held within the bounds of hegemony’s normative can be denied, where people and their humanity can fall within or without the bounds of human. It’s a way of shifting the way of seeing that is privileged so that her/my being is no longer seen from the perspective of hegemony as an exotic, peculiar other somewhere beyond the realm of human — the image prescribed by hegemony’s discursive production of alterity — but rather a being described from where she is. A place where her difference from another, her other, does not render her peculiar, as she enunciates herself. So the ghost is just about being – being in ways and showing up in places where one is not supposed to be and owning it. Hegemony denies her and would make her a non being. But she is there, somewhere between her denial and her being, that struggle between absence and presence pointing to a tension between the hegemonic world as it is and a more inclusive world as she would re-make it. She troubles hegemony and the very idea of alterity I think…

Kitso Lelliott, Alzire of Bayreuth, Neues Schloss (Bayreuth), installation view

Kitso Lynn Lelliott, Alzire of Bayreuth, 2015, video still, installation view inside Neues Schloss Bayreuth

IUB: What are some of the visual strategies and techniques that are used to articulate stories or ideas in your work as well as in exhibitions? For example, how do functions like repetition, loops, simultaneity and sound come together in the way you compose your moving images and installations?

Kitso: Repetition, or maybe something more closely resembling multiplicity can be seen in this woman who reappears through multiple avatars throughout a great deal of my videos. She is many versions of a subjectivity, a singular kind of entity but she is also porous and is refracted and reflected across multiple subjectivities. She is a marker of what they have in common. She has lived through many incarnations, in different places and different times, circumstances,  realities and has a sense of how fickle ‘reality’ can be. I think each time she appears in a different guise or avatar she speaks to a different part of this subjectivity, but also across her own difference — between the different version of herself. So she will often appear in different ways in different videos in the same installation. The simultaneity and slippages between her various selves is a key strategy I think. Simultaneity, opacity and the poly/many/multiple and fragmentary.

She is a self that becomes in relation and is constantly becoming in relation and her constantly shifting presence in spaces and palaces shift those contexts that in turn are constantly shaping her. So there is a relational dimension to her constitution where she is simultaneously shaping the world as it shapes her. She exists in a sense of a loop, a labyrinth of relation where the parameters of self and the world are constantly in negotiation. She produces a sense of instability in time and place and even in the presence and being of her own character.

Repetition is also a key strategy as it complicates temporality and the realities situated in ordered linear time. With the sound elements the repetitions function to leave one suspended in moments that keep returning. Repetition along with simultaneity of difference and the relation across it pulls the experience (of the installation) out of seaming linearity into this labyrinthine space where the world is not set, refuses to be set, comes apart at the seams of what is tenable and as such necessitate active fabrication, creation. The repetition, opacity, uncertainty makes some space for stories that are elided to be imagined, for them to inform perception, for one to conceive of her body differently from how a context would have prescribed.

“My story, no doubt, is me/older than me” (2015), 5min57sec

Kitso Lynn Lelliott, “My story, no doubt, is me/older than me” (2015), video still, 5 min 57secs

In this way place is an important part of the work process/set of strategies I use. My work is predominately presented in site-specific locations. As much as there is a sense of simultaneity and relation across videos in any one installation or iteration of the work there is also a relational aspect that runs across exhibitions in different places with a tracing of relations across multiple space in which this woman appears. Each iteration making visible and contesting the historical processes that produce lack through eliding humanity, and in the process tracing links across multiple moments where this ghostly woman interferes with those histories. As the project travels it augments, picking up fragments and traces of each place it comes into contact with, changing form in response to each place and its histories. She travels across space and time each time the work takes form in a place, her presence in that moment transforming space as it transforms her until she moves on, taking the trace with her to where she goes next.

Because I am concerned with articulating things that are just beyond a grasp or capacity to reach I tend to have to speak towards them or in that gesture that Trinh T Minh-Ha describes as speaking nearby. I gesture towards the articulation/visualisation of a thing that is itself not ‘graspable’. The tension between articulation and a refusal to be articulated comes to be imbued in my work through those strategies.

IUB: On site specificity, your work seems to also belong to the paradigm in contemporary art where the site is thought of as ‘unhinged’ (Miwon Kwon), which is to say expanded from its physicalness and/or geographical boundaries into a more “discursive network of different practices and institutions, other subjectivities and communities” (Hal Foster): where the site as text derives its specificity from the location of communication — which could be desire, memories, or in your case beingness. This then leads me to the Bakhtinian theory of the dialogic work; in the way relationships are built across your videos in an installation or how you describe your woman as “constantly shifting presence in spaces and palaces shifting those contexts that in turn are constantly shaping her.” That is essentially what Bakhtin’s literary theory proposes with respect to meaning, form and context. For example, I could see this more evidently in your installation ‘Sankɔfa Hauntings’ (2015) at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. The work participates in the histories of the Castle, proposes its own argument to that discourse as well as is informed by other projects you have carried on from places like Bahia (Brazil) and Saint Louis (Senegal). Could you elaborate a little more on how projects like Transatlantic Saudades (2013), ‘Sankɔfa Hauntings’ (2015) and Rituals of the Living (2015) speak to each other and engage the broader contexts of your research?

“Sankɔfa Hauntings, Ghosts of a Futures Past” Installation view outside door of no return Cape Coast Castle, 2015 image by image by Desire Clarke

Kitso Lynn Lelliott, “Sankɔfa Hauntings, Ghosts of a Futures Past” Installation view outside Door of No Return, Cape Coast Castle, 2015, photo by Desire Clarke

Kitso: The work certainly is about, or functions through a discursive process. I suppose these things, these moments of relation, dialogue, encounter and intersection become central to and are apparent, or pronounced in my work as they constitute the thrust, or mode or operational underpinnings that my practice hinges on. On the one hand it is about the theory and the importance of this kind of intersectionality in enacting the decolonial gestures that permeate all the things that I try to do, but it is also a lot of the time my default impulse and instinct. I don’t necessarily have a lot of this theory apart from Bakhtin. I have had a look at the writing by these theorists since reading your question and yes, what they say is relevant to my practice in some ways. But in practicing and doing on my part I was not thinking about it in these terms explicitly, the practice grew kind of organically out of process, experience and opportunities. The various works are almost different articulations of the same impulse, so they speak to each other through a relation to the underlying questions and preoccupations I bring to each space. The spaces themselves also have their own relationship to each other, which is why I suppose I am drawn to them and seek them out in order to work through my questions. My questions have to do with certain things, and I work in response to places that are pertinent to those questions, thus the connections are there because I am asking a set of questions governed by particular preoccupations so I am producing some kind of relationship in that respect, and, on the other hand, the spaces that I necessarily seek out have something to do with those preoccupations already in their own right which is why I am drawn there in the first place.

So the projects you have mentioned deal with the idea of erasure and eliding, and are in a gesture towards making the processes of erasure that the places were/are complicit invisible while at the same time contesting the erasure by speaking from that elision that is being produced. It is contesting the production of erasure in a place that is potent, a pregnant site in relation to how erasure is/has been produced. If we exist in a space that sees the systematic erasure of certain kinds of bodies and peoples and voices and value for certain kinds of lives I tend to seek out and interfere with these potent places that were involved in producing erasure and because they are related to each other the work necessarily starts to produce its own network across these already networked places, but this time tracing connections of contestation and interference through that relational dialogue of utterances of difference that would have been silenced.

Kitso Lynn Lelliott, Alzire of Bayreuth, 2015, installation view inside Neues Schloss Bayreuth

Kitso Lynn Lelliott, Alzire of Bayreuth, 2015, installation view inside Neues Schloss Bayreuth

Kitso Lynn Lelliott Bio:

KITSO LYNN LELLIOTT has an MFA in art and is a PhD candidate at Wits University. Her work has shown at film-festivals, art galleries and museum shows around the world. She is preoccupied with articulations from spaces beyond epistemic power and the crisis such epistemically disobedient articulations cause to hegemony. Her current work and doctorate engage socio-cultural formations that took shape over the Atlantic during the African slave trade, a project initiated during her residency with the Sacatar Foundation in Brazil. Her work is an enactment of enunciating from elision and between historically subjugated subjectivities while privileging South-South relations imaginatively and epistemologically unmediated by the Global North. She is alumna of the Berlinale Talents in Durban and Berlin. She was one of the Mail & Guardian’s leading 200 young South Africans, was laureate of the French Institute 2015 Visas pour la création grant and exhibited in the Bamako Encounters 2015.

who becomes the self, who remains the other? the case of an unwilling transvestite
by michelle afrifah

all through history, the west has viewed the rest of the world as a secondary civilization, one shaped by the ideas, philosophies and influence of the west. the african, among others, has each time been examined in relation to her history as a colonized subject; hence her admittance into a ‘still under-construction’ cosmopolitan culture has often been met with the glare of jealously-guarding white-male gate-keepers. in the first place, colonial rule has coded the african as a culturally inferior and primitive signified. consequently, her art objects and normative expressions have been assigned a similar status. ‘magiçiens de la tèrre’, 1989, paris, curated by jean-hubert martin show-cased the western and the non-western artists on the same platform. in many respects the exhibition became arguably the first major challenge to the ideological foundations of a hitherto hardly questioned western cultural hegemony. where hubert-martin may have failed in his bid was his use of a bipolar scheme of choice; while western arts were selected on the basis of their conformity or their challenge to ‘modern’ artistic canons, the arts of their non-western counterparts were selected largely on the basis of their naiveté. this clearly did little to dispel the already bloated western ego of cultural superiority.

nevertheless, some subsequent exhibitions continued to seek to eliminate such dysfunctional ideologies. ‘africa explores the 20th century’, curated by susan vogel, held in 1991, conceptually, a sequel to ‘magiçiens’, made visible previously invisible currents in contemporary african art. its aim was to challenge certain stereotypes in cultural reading and canonizing, especially the notion that africa’s celebrated traditional art belonged to cultures glorious but extinct, dead upon contact with the west, that there is no modern african art of merit and that contemporary african arts were mere surrogates of western culture[1]. the 11th ‘documenta’, curated by the nigerian okwui enwezor[2], and his team of nine co-curators from three different continents, to a very large extent, kept its promise of a programme for global inclusion; it successfully challenged western complacency and pretensions to commitment to cosmopolitan cultural inclusiveness. the efforts of okwui enwezor and his kind in this direction have made remarkable impact but their inherent pitfalls may be located in the consequent unbridled diasporization of evolving artistic canons of contemporary africa. the privileged ‘self’ may be expanding his domain to include the hitherto invisible ‘other’, an unwilling transvestite. who remains the ‘other’?


*michelle afrifa was a final year bfa student in 2004 when she wrote the article. the article predates sylvester ogbechie’s “the curator as culture broker” (2009) and rikki wemega-kwawu’s “the politics of exclusion” (2011/2012). the article was first published in gbedidi journal of contemporary art and culture, student edition vol 1, no. 1, april 2004, founder and editor: kąrî’kạchä seid’ou. the article is from the archive of blaxtarlines kumasi, project space of contemporary art, department of painting and sculpture, knust.

[1] for example, a british critic, brian sewell, had stated that non-western artists deserved nothing more ‘than a footnote in the history of modern art in the 20th century’. see hassan salah m. and oguibe olu, ‘authentic/ex-centric: conceptualism in contemporary African art’, new york: forum for African arts, 2001.

[2] okwui enwezor also curated the 2nd johannesburg biennale. the aim of the setting up of the biennale was to present inclusive and comparative narratives of contemporary art with sufficient evidence of the presence and strength of African artists as part of a global contemporary culture. the exhibition was amazingly well-received internationally but was attacked in south africa partly because of the perception that it failed to serve much of the ‘national community’.

Kwabena Agyare Yeboah: Ghanaian artists before you like El Anatsui and Brother Owusu-Ankomah have explored the subject of identity through local (Ghanaian) textile. It is quite fascinating that you choose Asafo flags which are as cultural and historical artefacts as symbols of violence to explore the same theme.

IUB: I suppose this constitutes the broader category under which my recent research series titled Prison Anxieties can be placed. The specific concern of this series is identity in the form shaped by nationhood and the nuances this form of existing in the world come with. The work titled “Notion:06, 03” uses Asafo flags as a form of representation through which a critique of nationhood or national identity can be made. Asafo flags play a fascinating role in Ghana’s cultural history— from violence to poetry. My interest was to see how I could appropriate its formal language to re-interpret political identities from the Ghanaian perspective in relation to others in today’s world.

Kwabena Agyare Yeboah: Subtly, the Asafo flags are imitation of colonial infrastructure. Same can be said of the concept of nationhood we see today.

IUB: Historically, Asafo flags were adapted from the British settlers’ use of their own flag by the warrior or Asafo groups of the Akans. One significant feature of the Asafo flags, before 1957, was the Union Jack in either the left or right canton. This was a way of pledging allegiance to the colonial authority at the time. The symbolism changed after 1957, when the Gold Coast attained its Independence and became Ghana. The Ghana flag was now represented in the canton. The flag essentially stayed the same in form but the elements within it changed to reflect the politics of the time. This is something important to begin to think through: that a cultural symbol is ‘big’ enough to contain the nationalist spirit. Perhaps there is something to discover if we focus a bit more on what this could mean.

Kwabena Agyare Yeboah: Your series title Prison Anxieties reminds me of Efo Kodjo Mawugbe’s Prison Graduates. It should be the metaphor of prison as colonial power.

IUB: There is a common logic that ties the phenomenon of slavery to colonialism and capitalism: and that is exploitation – of people, land, material, resources, etc. and so it is important to look at the subject of colonialism a bit more broadly. I am not familiar with Efo Mawugbe’s Prison Graduates but the metaphor of prison as colonial power is implicit and shared in my own research series. The series explores a subjective unease and seeks to come to terms with difficult questions surrounding the political identities and realities one inherits – such as, in my case, Akanness, Ghanaianness, Africanness, blackness, otherness and so on – by existing in one or simultaneous locations, and the cultural baggage that accompanies it.

Kwabena Agyare Yeboah: How contestable is what one inherits, these political identities and realities?

IUB: I would say they are certainly contestable. But this a cultural fact which is not so obvious. It is not so obvious because we tend to take what we are (or in this case what we become) for granted. For example, I agree with James Baldwin, who, speaking on the condition and predicament of the American Negro, said that “Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality”.(1) Zora Neale Hurston echoes this idea when she, too, says “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background”. I take this to mean that we become things when an antithetical ‘other’ is present or invoked. But classical logic tells me that the contradiction of ‘white’ is not black but rather ‘not-white’ and vice versa. This challenges my perception of identity in many ways. The power system that invented and produced the American Negro perceives it solely in relation to itself; therefore the gaze is not reciprocal. It is essentially the same as the system that necessitated the creation of the ‘Ghanaian’ in the African historical context. And although Baldwin may have been speaking particularly to race relations in America, we find parallels everywhere around the world when we look particularly at economic and political issues. ‘Ghanaianness’ must assert itself against other nationalities but it does so solely in relation to itself and this always denotes a power dynamic. For me to espouse my own nationality also means juggling it alongside other pre-existent forms of identities, ie. what preceded Ghanaianness — Akan, Akuapem, etc. which may come with privileges, or not, in the milieu within which I use them. My work looks at the intra-ethnic relations within Ghanaianness as a microcosm to some of these more global problems.

Kwabena Agyare Yeboah: It seems as an unending journey. You talk about pre-existent forms of identities. Take Akan for example. It is made up of different states like Asante and those states are founded on clans which have principal towns. Like Oyoko for Kumasi. Biretuo for Asante Mampong. Aduana for Dormaa Ahenkro. Juxtapose this with what Taiye Selasi advances with her TED Talk “Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local.” With migration as fluid as never, can identity, be it personal or political, ever be true?

IUB: You make a good point. In this case, I think its absoluteness is what is being contested. The political hats we put on or the personal identities we espouse are always susceptible to change but truth, as a concept, implies that which is self-evident. I do not, for example, think that my Ghanaianness or so-called ‘blackness’ is self-evident (and I should add that no racial categorization is). It is something I become and use as ideological currency where necessary. Empires come and go; nations rise, fall, merge (West Germany/East Germany) or break up (Sudan/South Sudan). What then happens to the forms of identities that are contingent on these? They transform. I have to say, however, that I do not think the journey is unending or should go on forever. For example, out of migrations and interactions between people and people and people and land we have groups such as those that constitute the Akans. This is a concrete point in the continuum and it should be plausible to begin the narrative with this as an axiom. The field of identity is replete with paradoxes which also form part of our realities. To be able to deal with these complexities, we must appeal beyond classical logic.

Kwabena Agyare Yeboah: I cannot get over the fascination of Asafo flags. Let’s talk about transnationalism. The flag admits many nationalities, warriors who fight on a side based on all manner of reasons. The performance of such citizenship is like that of modern state-nation.

IUB: I think the Asafo flags have something to contribute to contemporary discourse on nationalism and other such subjects.

Kwabena Agyare Yeboah: Edward Snowden says “I would rather be without a state than without a voice.” When one renounces the political identity, is it sufficient to just give up one’s passport?

IUB: To realize revolutionary change – in the sense of a new social system or political order – goes beyond merely willing it into being. There are those who wish to implement change on a symbolic level. And there are those who wish to implement actual change, by recognizing their position within the current state of affairs and being part of the production process of implementing this change. The two are not the same and they, obviously, elicit different results.


Kwabena Agyare Yeboah lives in Accra. His poem was nominated for PushCart prize by The Ofi Press in 2015.


1. Letter From a Region In My Mind – James Baldwin, published by The New Yorker, NOVEMBER 17, 1962 ISSUE

Independence: A Psychology of Transition

By Serubiri Moses

Film still from Je prends la parole_Serubiri Moses (2015)

Je prends la parole, Serubiri Moses, 2015, film still


‘Je prends la parole,’ or ‘I rise,’ implies assertiveness as opposed to reticence. It implies rather than declares. It does not “declare” anything. It simply explores the possibility of ‘what if.’ The world of the video then becomes a world of possibility. It is contextualized with a quote from ‘Cahier d’un retour au pays natal,’ by Aimé Césaire. It is taken from the same stanza ending:

‘Beware of crossing your arms over your chest in the sterile pose of a spectator, because life is not a spectacle, a sea of pain is not a proscenium, and a screaming man is not a dancing bear.’

The sense of reticence in the poem—of this specific line—speaks about the silence of the subject of the poem. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, who quotes this line in his feature film, A Screaming Man, forms a drama based on the what if’s of silence: on possibility rather than on “declarations.” Here, I also quote the subject matter of the exhibition, Voyage of (Re)Discovery, being ‘independence’ and ‘freedom.’ I rephrase: ‘A screaming man is not a dancing bear’ positions its viewer in the psychology of transition. It makes Independence seem far from the ‘declaration’ it has come to be as written, or represented, in history.

In this way, the moving image, Je prends la parole, explores the psychology of transition, as a story of Independence. Through a set of emotions the character in the film transitions from reticence to discovery. This is a change in the plot.

From the very beginning, this character is seen to be experiencing a certain form of agony. Really, the character is seen to be trapped in darkness. This is shown by the minimal form of lighting that forms an outline rather than shades his face entirely. This light does not fully reveal them.

There is, also, the close frame that exposes the character’s emotions, shown through the dancer’s facial expressions. Specifically, this point of view, which is a profile, or side-portrait, accentuates the nature of light as an illumination. More specifically, the performance is controlled by the movement of light, and it is, therefore, as if the character is pulled to consciousness: the dancer pulled to light.

In the transition, the character enacts the emotion set by their entrapment. They further experience a heightened sense of trauma. This is shown by the activated, and agitated arm, and upper body movements. This continues until a Reversal of the Situation. As Aristotle’s Peripeteia, it is defined as a form of recognition, subject to probability or necessity. This form of recognition implies a change from ignorance to knowledge.

In the transition, from emotions of reticence, something suddenly occurs within the character’s mind. It could be a radical realization. It causes them to laugh, their teeth illuminated by the light. His raising of the neck and fist, perhaps, is a form of ecstasy. The fire that continually flashes, and leads to the climax of the film is not only a form of illumination. It is part of my own formation of the image, or of the photograph. He constructs, here, the image with the fire, as a kind of process of ‘painting with light’ as well as a physical installation. During the making of the moving image, the fire made in an open setting, attracted a number of people, who each, though invisible, became part of the action, or the event.

Fire, this ephemeral part of the artwork, is a social, cultural, and traditional, way of communicating. Like the title, Je prends la parole, it is essentially a form of speech. This illumination, and fire, is therefore a physical, though ephemeral, reminder of the social, and national, conscious. The character’s transition from feelings of reticence to those of ecstasy can, likewise, be contextualized within the larger framework of historical (and national) transitions: from pre-colonial to colonial; from the early to late colonial; from the late colonial to Independence; from Independence to the postcolonial; from the postcolonial to disillusionment, and so on, and so forth. By forming a retrospective and largely introspective work, I invite the viewer to reconsider the emotions of transition, and by doing so to (re)discover the possibility of Independence.


*This text was written for the Voyage of [Re]Discovery exhibition in March 2015. See exhibition catalogue.

Serubiri Moses is an independent art writer, photographer, and curator. His interests lie in coloniality, language, and politics of urban space. His research experience has been through writing essays and academic papers on contemporary art and culture, published in different magazines, and books; as well as through curating exhibitions and panel discussions. He holds a Higher Diploma in Software Engineering (2013), and a Diploma of Photography (2009). His research includes, ‘Life mu City’ (2014), a research project on urban language in Kampala, presented at the Goethe Zentrum Kampala; the biennial contemporary art festival, KLA ART 014 (2014) looking at sociological studies on urban mapping and social classification in Uganda’s cities; as a research intern for C& (Contemporary And) magazine in 2014, he produced biographical notes on contemporary artists, collectors, institutions, and curators from Africa and its diaspora. Moses was selected to participate in Minga Exploring Utopia, a project by Arts Collaboratory focusing on interpretations of utopia in the Global South. Currently, he is researching the religious drawings of British painter and educator Cecil Todd of the Uganda Martyrs, for the 2015 NYU conference, Black Portraiture(s), in Florence, Italy.