This unique symposium takes the modus operandi of Senegalese artist collective Laboratoire Agit-Art, particularly its explorations of performance, as a starting point to examine contemporary art practices in Africa. It looks specifically at artists and organisations that engage with socio-political issues through performance art and music and poses the questions: could an art experience be considered an institution? What is the legacy of an experience which deliberately refuses the conventions of art-making in order to engage with a more critical social dialogue?
Founded in 1974 in Dakar, Senegal, the artist collective Laboratoire Agit-Art aimed to agitate existing institutional frameworks, to question the tenets of Leopold Sedar Sengor's Négritude and to encourage artists to adopt critical approaches toward their practices. At that time, Dakar was a place where political consciousness was actively being articulated, and artists' collectives such as Laboratoire Agit-Art went beyond aesthetic experience to critically promote the development of cultural and artistic endeavours.
The goal of artists participating in the Laboratoire was to blur the disciplinary boundaries and to propose the experience of a 'total art' that was powerfully influenced by vernacular cultures and languages. The artists’ studio was a place in which the making of objects was a continuation of the performances and conversations taking place there. It represented a microcosm of the wider political shifts in its radical rearrangement of aesthetic and social relations.
This symposium uses Laboratoire Agit-Art as a case study to reflect on the current presence of cultural platforms and artist collectives in Africa. Such collectives use performance, visual art, music and art stage within public space in attempts to engage with socio-political concerns affecting their immediate environment. Clémentine Deliss presents documentation of over ten years of working as curator with Laboratoire Agit-art and artist El Hadji Sy, and Simon Njami introduces us to the artistic and political world of artist Issa Samb. Elizabeth Harney explores Senegalese modernism and Negritude as a philosophical term and as a national cultural policy and the symposium also provides an introduction to the Kinshasa based performing arts platform KVS and experimental digital music channel Pan-African Space Station.
10.00–13.00Elizabeth Harney Clementine DelissSimon Njami
14.00–18.00Elvira Dyangani Ose Jan Goossens Neo Muyanga
Clémentine Deliss is director of the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Deliss’s interests include bridging mechanisms between artists working in different parts of the world and curatorial modalities beyond exhibition. She has edited the journal Metronome and curated the ground-breaking exhibition Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, in 1995.
Elvira Dyangani Ose
Curator International Art, Tate Modern, Supported by Guaranty Trust Bank Plc. She is an art and architecture historian, currently completing a PhD in History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University, New York. She is as well Artistic Director of Rencontres Picha. Biennale de Lubumbashi 2012/2013, the third edition of the Biennale.
Jan Goossens is artistic director of KVS, Royal Flemish Theatre, Brussels, which aims to make an artistic contribution to the intercultural city of the future. KVS activities in Africa include supporting artists and organising the Kinshasa-based performing arts festival, Connexion Kin, founded in 2005.
Elizabeth Harney is Associate Professor in the Department of Art, University of Toronto, where she teaches modern and contemporary African and diasporic arts. She is the author of In Senghor’s Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-Garde in Senegal, 1960–1995 (Duke 2004).
Neo Muyanga is a composer, librettist, musician and founder of the Pan-African Space Station, a music platform on the internet and in venues across the African world, streaming cutting edge music live online 24/7. His operetta, The Flower of Shembe, premiered to critical acclaim in South Africa in 2012. Muyanga tours widely as a solo and ensemble performer.
El Sy is a Sengalese contemporary artist and curator. El Sy’s artistic practice is embedded in performance and painting. His participation in experimental performance has for over twenty years informed his visual art practice. In the 1970s and 1980s El Sy painted primarily with his feet – a rejection of the ideals of negritude once proposed by President Senghor as a foundation for art and independence in Senegal. El Sy’s positioning of the body into his paintings and sculptures places him as both witness and actor in works, which can be politically controversial. El Sy is a founding member of the Laboratoire Agit-Art in Dakar.
Note: We regret to inform you that owing to unforeseen personal circumstances El Sy is unable to participate in this symposium.
- Download the programme notes for the symposium (PDF, 125 Kb)
Curated by Elvira Dyangani Ose, Curator International Art, Tate Modern, Supported by Guaranty Trust Bank, and Catherine Wood, Curator Contemporary Art and Performance, Tate Modern, in collaboration with Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Commissioned and produced as part of Corpus, new collaborative network for commissioning performance-related work co-founded by If I Can’t Dance, Amsterdam, Playground (STUK & M), Leuven and Tate Modern, London (as part of BMW Tate Live). With the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union.
BMW Tate Live is curated by Catherine Wood, Curator, Contemporary Art and Performance, Tate and Capucine Perrot, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern.