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by Gözde Filinta

“Who No Know, Go Know”: How to Shift Knowledge about/of Africa Interview with Stacy Hardy – Chimurenga Magazin

Founded by Ntone Edjabe in 2002, Chimurenga (a Shona word that loosely translates as “struggle for freedom”) is at the centre of vibrant new cultural projection across Africa, which includes championing new music, literature, and visual arts. Drawing together myriad voices from across Africa and the diaspora, Chimurenga takes many forms operating as an innovative platform for free ideas and political reflection about Africa by Africans. Outputs include a journal of culture, art, and politics of the same name, a quarterly broadsheet called The Chronic, The Chimurenga Library—an online resource of collected independent pan-African periodicals and personal books, and the Pan African Space Station (PASS)—, an online music radio station, and a pop-up studio. The projects are meant “not just to produce new knowledge, but rather to express the intensities of our world, to capture those forces and to take action,” and collectively they have started conversations about African cultures, including the rewriting of the continent’s history, the role technology plays in its future, and its music scene. Their motto has been “Who No Know Go Know”—the ones who do not know will know.

Chimurenga is reviewed by newspapers and magazines, and it is presented in conferences, events, and exhibitions. In 2007, it was part of the documenta magazine project within the documenta exhibition in Kassel; in 2008 it was reviewed by an article in The New York Times. [1] Its director Ntone Edjabe also spoke about its approach during numerous interviews and conferences at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Art Academy in Berlin in 2005, at the Dakar Biennale in 2006, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009. In particular, the capacity of Chimurenga to influence ideas and writing and its role as an innovative educational model is recognised by initiatives such as Meanwhile in Africa... in 2005, and Learning Machines: Art Education and Alternative Production of Knowledge in 2010. In 2010, Chimurenga began a collaboration with the magazine Glänta to translate Chimurenga into Swedish.

Gozde Filinta: What is your role within Chimurenga?

Stacy Hardy: I’m an editor and a researcher. I’ve been working with Chimurenga for the past fifteen years, and I’m still working. Most of our participants are around the world, and we work globally. While there is a base in Cape Town, we operate anywhere.

GF: How did you choose the location of your base, in Pan-African Market, Cape Town? Was it a conscious choice?

SH: We are a Pan-African organisation with various contributors all around the world, and we don’t see ourselves as South African. We see ourselves as a global Pan-African network, and our office is in Cape Town.

Our first and longest office was in the Pan-African Market. The decision to place ourselves in a market, within Cape Town, an area which has always been very resistant to outsiders and others, was a conscious decision. Being placed within a market, as a space of sale, space of people, and in some ways being distant from the art world, galleries, and office spaces was again an intentional choice. The market space, in traditional African culture, is always seen as the centre of everything. Generally, in African cities, the market is recognised as the centre, so locating within a market was embracing of that and locating ourselves in what we see as the centre in Cape Town.

GF: How did being in the Pan-African Market influenced Chimurenga?

SH: Since the beginning, there has always been a daily relationship. Coming into the office through the Market gave the feeling of excitement, freedom, and also comfort. Nevertheless, the ideology of the project was set out aside from the Market.

The founder of the project, Ntone, is Cameroonian by origin, and he found himself in Cape Town, just like rest of the editors who are from other parts of the African continent. So, the ideology and the ideas were born within the project and Chimurenga became a Pan-African project. While the location fit that spirit, I don’t think it changed it. It just fit what was already a vision.

GF: Has gentrification played a role in your project?

SH: Yes, unfortunately there is an ongoing gentrification in Cape Town, and we have been affected by it. After a legal battle and attempts to prevent it, the building of the Pan-African market, after its twenty years of existence, was sold, and Chimurenga was forced to move as well. So, now we have a new space in a new area, out of the Pan-African market.

GF: What motivated the project initially? What is it that you want to change?

SH: The Chimurenga was born out of an ideology as seeing politics as firmly embedded in culture and the refusal of separating politics and culture. The name of the organisation, “Chimurenga,” is a Shona word, which means “liberation,” and it gives a clue about our ideology: try to fight for a free and better world, along with ideas and imagination.

I think all of us in Chimurenga think that in the contemporary world, what is primarily under attack is the imagination. There is an urgent struggle to be done on that level. Stating and pointing out that what we have is imagination and innovation. If we look at Africa, it is one of the great spaces of great innovation and imagination, on a daily level. The act of survival becomes an act of imagination and innovation. So, we often think of innovation as something as creating great technology, but really in Africa it is how you look and how you survive in conditions that are in many cases unliveable.

That leads to questions of “How can we find ways to rethink and re-understand the imagination and innovation?” and “How can we unite and draw what we already know in Africa and take that information seriously as knowledge?”

Chimurenga Library at the San Francisco Main Library, 2014. Photo: Andria Lo. Courtesy Chimurenga.

GF: How do you position yourself to be visible and accessible?

SH: Chimurenga is a platform that curates and produces multiple projects. So, we put out a

Pan-African newspaper that comes out quarterly, called the Chronic, and we distribute to at least all centres in Africa, and we do issues in other languages and distribute it around the world, including Europe and the US. We also run the Pan-African Space Station, an online radio station that operates 24/7, open to anyone and always streaming. In this Pan-African Space Station, we try to take music as a serious knowledge. We also regularly hold live events in various venues around the world as we attend talks and discussions, both globally and on the continent. We also bring publications of books and magazines. We produce online content to be accessible online, on our website.

GF: How has the community responded to your project, and how has it shifted over the years?

SH: Chimurenga is a community itself. We are our readers, our listeners, and our viewers. It’s a community built on friendship and a shared belief in the practice of the black radical tradition, as it supports, inspires, and extends contemporary social and political thought along with aesthetic critique. Inevitably, it is always changing and moving, as our lives change and move, too.

Since we really work on multiple levels globally, our community has always been and still is global. I think, like in our current era, centres and peripheries, senses of “where is where” are getting blurry, as our community is growing in Europe, America, and the continent.

GF: What kind of questions are you aiming to find answers to through Chimurenga?

SH: Our questions and concerns are more around the Global Pan-African Network and questions around Pan-Africanism itself. Some of our main questions are: How do we learn to know what we know? How can we draw from disparate and often intersecting practices through which we stylise our conduct and daily life on the continent? How do we harness the inventiveness, the generative resilience, and the agility with which we live?

The Chimurenga Library, The Showroom, London, 2015. Photo: Daniel Brooke. Courtesy Chimurenga.

GF: Where do you see Chimurenga on the spectrum between centre and periphery?

SH: The centre and periphery depends on where you are standing, but it’s also necessarily as an artificial construct. Fela Kuti is Africa’s biggest artist, but he lived his life within radical counter-strategies that resist colonialism’s ongoing domination and attend to entanglement, the blurring of borders, and other practices that trouble notions of centre and periphery, self-determination, and sovereignty. Chimurenga is not interested in centres and peripheries, but rather in how to forge communities, production, and circulation of knowledge and its operation in border zones between informal and formal, licit and illicit, or chaotic and ordered.

GF: You have four bases on the African Continent: Nairobi, Lagos, Johannesburg, and Cape Town. By owning more than one space, would you consider yourself one of the cultural centres in Africa?

SH: I think we’d disagree with the notion of “cultural centres.” For Chimurenga, Kinshasa, Kisangani, Joburg, Maputo, Harare, Luanda as well as Paris, New York, Mexico City, and Palermo are all cultural bases, all of which Chimurenga works with and from. Lagos is a world cultural capital, Cape Town is a European cultural capital, and we exist in it as an ongoing state of resistance.

GF: How have cultural differences within the collaboration with writers, researchers, artists, and other publishers played a role in shaping the project.

SH: Collaboration, as “encounter, ensemble, improvisation, and the invocation of the knowledge of freedom,”[2] is both a method and an ideology behind Chimurenga. So, yes, the project is defined by the self-organised ensemble of social life that is launched every day across the continent.

GF: “Who no know, go know.” How does this saying relate to your project?

SH: It means, “If you don’t know… go find out.” It raises some of the fundamental questions of our project, such as: “The knowledge is there but how do we know what we know?”; “How do we embrace knowledge not as information but as a methodology – a way of learning that expresses the conditions of our lives, our very existence?”; “How do we shift knowledge about/of Africa, from ‘What it should be’ to ‘What we imagine it to be’?”;  and “How do we make visible what is emerging or re-emerging across the continent?”

GF: How is the project funded?

SH: Chimurenga receives more global funding than that from the local government. This is also about Chimurenga’s position: it operates outside the boundaries and borders of state and national government.

The Chimurenga Library installation view, The Showroom, London, 2015. Photo: Daniel Brooke. Courtesy Chimurenga.

The Chimurenga Library installation view, The Showroom, London, 2015. Photo: Daniel Brooke. Courtesy Chimurenga.

Stacy Hardy is a writer, teacher, and researcher working between Egypt and South Africa. Since 2008, she has worked as a researcher, edito,r and finally Associate Editor at the Pan-African journal Chimurenga. Her writing has appeared in a wide range of publications, including Pocko Times (UK), Ctheory (Canada), Bengal Lights (Bangladesh), Black Warrior Review (USA), Evergreen Review (USA), Drunken Boat (USA), Joyland (USA), Black Sun Lit (USA), New Orleans Review (USA) and, of course, Chimurenga. Several of her short stories have been published in books, literary anthologies, monographs, and catalogues, and a collection of her short fiction, Because the Night was published by Pocko Books, London, in 2015. She is involved in the production of an ongoing series of multimedia works in collaboration with Angolan composer, performer, and instrument designer, Victor Gama, and is currently working on an experimental performance piece, titled Museum of Lungs together with Egyptian director Laila Soliman as well as musicians Neo Muyanga (SA) and Nancy Mounir (Egypt).

Gozde Filinta is a curator based in Zurich. She has taken part in many various art projects since 2012, including The Moving Museum 2014 and Yama Istanbul 2016. Between 2017 and 2018 she worked as a program assistant at SALT, Istanbul and as the Project Management at OJ Art Space, Istanbul. Currently, a MAS program student, in Curating at ZHdK and Gozde is working on several independent projects in Zurich. She is interested in urgent global issues, planetary problems, and researches on Post-Anthropocene.

Go back

Issue 41

Centres⁄Peripheries – Complex Constellations

by Ronald Kolb, Camille Regli, Dorothee Richter

by Heike Biechteler

by Ella Krivanek

by Giovanna Bragaglia

by Francesca Ceccherini and Noriko Yamakoshi

by Paola Granati & Ronny Koren

by Domenico Ermanno Roberti