Afrocartography: Traces of Places and all points in between – a choreopoem
Mwenya B. KabweThis is a story of migratory proportions and the travels take place in the timeless, surreal space of dreams. The Traveler and her other selves (The Afropolitan, The Afrosettler and The Mapmaker) forge new paths, re-visit engrained routes and imagine a world where contradiction, uncertainty and complexity are the norm. It is an invitation to visit an in-between realm of existence where dreaming, waking, memory and imagination overlap. The heightened text and stylized movement speak of travel, ritual, always belonging and never belonging. The traveler’s journey into a fantastical world of ‘places’ to encounter characters who are from history and from next door, with stopovers in The Black Place of Fables, The Red Place of Conjuring and The Green Place of Letters. Afrocartography is an autobiographical choreopoem. Its first written iteration was produced in Cape Town, South Africa in 2007 in response to the complexities of living and working in the city as a non-South African migrant of Zambian and Zimbabwean extraction. The production itself, as itinerant as its title suggests, has had showings at the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town in 2007; the UNESCO World Festival of Theatre Schools in Barcelona in 2008; at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) symposium on Knowledge and Transformation in Stellenbosch in 2008; at the opening of the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts (GIPCA) in Cape Town, 2009; and as part of the live performance programme of GIPCA’s Exuberance Project in Cape Town in 2012. It has also been performed at the Wits Theatre in Johannesburg and at the Afrovibes Festival in The Netherlands in 2013. In order to participate in this, the latest iteration of the production, you, the audience, viewer and participant are invited to select one character video at a time in order to experience the production from that particular perspective.
Make a PostcardMapping a journey is like working on relationships in process. Like the woman who takes a plane from Accra to Johannesburg, travels by car from Cape Town to Xai Xai, walks from river to mountain, by boat across the Indian ocean, “by diaries from childhood to old age, by monuments from antiquity to the present, by lightning bolts when in love,” she will encounter “… dilemmas in the mode of travelling, the reasons for the trip, the point of departure and the destination, in the places through which (she) will pass; the speed, the means, the vehicle, the obstacles to be overcome, …”(Serres, cited in Thinking Space. 2000. Crang and Thrift (ed.) pg. 21-22). Maps are constellations of affects and intensities that fill space, constantly being redirected and displaced, in the process of becoming. Create your own postcard below by choosing an image and answering the questions. We don’t need to know who you are and there are no points for correct answers. Make more than one. Print it, save it, share it
Answer the questions
Credits:Music Terra del Sol: Sea Goddess, 2009. Abdullah Ibrahim: Calypso Minor Remixed, 2005. Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95, B. 178 “From the New World:” III. Molto vivace, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra & Herbert von Karajan, 1959 Video Camilla Pontiggia
Mwenya B. KabweMwenya B. Kabwe has an MA in Theatre and performance from the University of Cape Town, and is an award-winning director, theatre maker, actress and facilitator. She has many years of experience as an independent trainer and facilitator with 6 years of staff training curriculum, design and delivery experience for a number of international programmes affiliated with the American based NGO, The Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, in their American, European and African programmes. She is also a recipient of the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) 2008 award for Best Upcoming Professional Artist and the 2008 Fleur du Cap award for Best Actress for her performance as Alma in Yellowman. Other achievements include being one of the seven Spier Contemporary 2007 winners for a collaborative performance work titled unyawo alunampumlo and was on the Spier Contemporary 2010 selection and curatorial team. Mwenya is a co-founder of manje-manje projects, an arts collective that was launched with an exhibition at the Association for Visual Arts (AVA) Gallery in Cape Town, titled SCRATCHING THE SURFACE VOL 1 and is also a member of The Bonfire Theatre Company, Phakama Projects and UNIMA South Africa.
Mwenya Kabwe: Afrocartography: Traces of Places and all points in between – a choreopoem.A Postcard in hand
I hold a postcard in hand. One that I wrote. No, not exactly in hand. It’s on my laptop screen. I have not printed it out, I’ve saved it and I have looked at it, many times. For whom I wrote it I’m not precisely sure. Myself? Another? I do not know, except, I do know it is not customary to send oneself a postcard. For now, though, it’s me who looks at it, the way one does at postcards. The way one holds onto the firm cardboard that has made it into your hands through postal sorting rooms, having travelled by air or sea or land from a faraway place, sent by a friend, a loved one to say “I was here” and from this “here” I thought of you and sent you “this.”
Three points of a triangle – coordinates that chart my reach: where I’ve physically been, my experience of that place and my words describing that experience which land up elsewhere, disconnected from me both spatially and temporally, but which become alive again as you read the postcard in your hands. This object you hold connects me to you in this moment of reading: its texture, smell, and the smudge of blue ink where my hand brushed over the still-wet ink to place the stamp in the top right hand corner are traces of me, where I’ve been and the journey the postcard has made to you. It maps my travels and the space between us. And then it lands up on your fridge, held up by a fridge magnet, from some other place that you or someone else has visited, alongside my other postcards. Each now a placeholder of my unfolding journey, of where I’ve been and who I was along the way. Puzzle pieces of the composite you form of me each time you open the fridge to take out the milk for tea, as you keep track of who I am becoming.
Except I have not travelled anywhere. Not physically anyway. But, at this moment in Johannesburg, which I have not physically left, I have a postcard in hand. No, not exactly in my hand, the postcard is at my fingertips, on my computer screen. The postcard is from me. It holds within its four edges my desires and anxieties regarding travel; what I leave behind and what I take along on the journey; and the places I would visit, both real and imagined, literal and symbolic. The collision of these internal and external landscapes through the postcard’s pixels evoke a poetic logic that can only be made sense of through feeling. It connects me, reading it in the present, to that other self, from another space and time. A collection of co-ordinates of me – that together form an image of myself, a self-portrait that can only be made possible through travel and the mapping of that journey. It reads:
I was directed towards this place in which I wrote my postcard – provided only with an address and the purpose of my visit. That being: to conduct an academic Peer Review of Mwenya B. Kabwe’s Afrocartography: Traces of Places and all points in between – a choreopoem, a submission to the WSOA online journal, […].
On arrival I noted, however, that the terrain was foreign. None of the familiar signposts that guide the Peer Reviewer were evident. Instead, the work invited me to participate. It offered me, “the audience, viewer and participant” the opportunity to experience the production by choosing “one character video at a time in order to experience the production from that perspective.” Kabwe frames the work as a story “of migratory proportions” where “The Traveler and her other selves forge new paths.” The character videos that I am to choose are the perspectives of The Traveler’s “other selves” – The Afropolitan, The Afrosettler and The Mapmaker. I notice that there is no sign of The Traveler herself within this invitation to “an in-between realm of existence where dreaming, waking, memory and imagination overlap.” I realize that in accepting the invitation I assume that role. I have been cast as “traveler.” A traveler, with no map to assist her in completing the purpose of her visit. I cannot help but echo the sentiment of The Traveler who repeatedly implores, “Mapmaker, Mapmaker, make me a map.” This role of traveler, who has to find her own way through this journey, is one more closely aligned to the version of myself that wears the hat of “artist” than the one that wears the hat of “academic scholar.” With none of the familiar coordinates of framing research questions, an introduction, the development of argument and a conclusion in written form, that make up the traditional terrain a Peer Reviewer must traverse, I leaned on the version of self more comfortable with and more adept at surrendering to the unknown space of an unfolding experience. I embarked on the journey with the version of self that is more comfortable with the idea that experience can be viewed as a form of knowledge, one that is tacit, implicit, embodied, and experiential. Through my participation the work cast me as an active agent in charting my own journey through the site and in mapping my experience thereof. The unexpected turn was the way in which this participation also cast me as central to the ways in which Afrocartography: Traces of Places and all points in between, as a research project, produces knowledge.
Journeying through the site the traveler-participant is informed of the previous iterations of the work through the framing text by the artist-researcher, Mwenya B. Kabwe, who details its itinerant nature as a performance. The traveler-participant also encounters remnants of these previous iterations of the work. These take the form of production photos that are presented here as moving GIFS and videos from the three character perspectives of The Afropolitan, The Afrosettler and The Mapmaker. These elements do not, however, serve as documentation of the previous versions of the work for some sort of analysis. Instead they are totally re-framed to become the coordinates for locating the thematic and conceptual underpinnings, of Mobility and Migritude, within the work. They are utilized as vehicles that allow the traveler-participant to experience these underpinnings within a new version of the work. One that has migrated once more, this time translated into a new medium – an online interface.
Alongside the thematic and conceptual underpinnings embedded in the work, the artist-researcher plants coordinates, to be discovered by the traveler-participant, that both locates the work within a wider field of academic enquiry and enters into conversation with it. The traveler-participant whose purpose for travel here is to conduct a Peer Review finds orientation, back to the more familiar terrain of traditional academic scholarship, through Kabwe’s reference to Serres in the “Make your own Postcard” text. This reference points to a constellation of enquiry that probes the spaces of experience. It is an area that problematizes and destabilizes the notion of self-presence within experience. Serres is cited in Crang and Thrift’s Thinking Spaces (2000). Crang and Thrift posit that self-presence is separated from experience when the “ground of experience is no longer necessarily ground…the self may no longer be seen as just the body…The notion of experience as a self-evident ‘thisness’ clearly has to change to something more distributed” (Crang, M. & Thrift, N 2000: 19). They outline the assault on “thisness” in modern philosophy and social theory, as somehow related to issues of mobility. This brings a shift in the “notion of the body as a privileged centre of perception, to embodiment, in which carnality becomes a field which only ever has a partial grip on the world…” and an “attention to travel,” where “thought has often been associated with stillness, but writing from experience is increasingly considered to involve travel, both as a means of providing experience and as a means of thinking it” (Ibid: 20 – 21). By including this reference to Serres as one of the co-ordinates in the work, Kabwe signals the artwork’s dialogue with academic discourse as it manifests the disembodied traveler who is afforded the experience of traveling and mapping their journey through the digital version of the work, experienced through a virtual platform.
This Peer Review is therefore a response to the experience offered by the latest iteration of Afrocartography: Traces of Places and all points in between. No longer an embodied performance like its previous iterations, this latest migration into a digital format renders it an original work that operates as an online interface, within a field that disrupts the traditional relationship between presence and experience. The purpose of the review is to determine how this original online work actively contributes to the production of knowledge within the academy. It examines the ways in which, through a Practice as Research paradigm, experience is posited as “a form of knowledge gained as first hand, knowledge gained from praxis” (David George cited in Nelson 2010: 110). The reviewer ventures into this endeavor acutely aware of the irony in having to capture in writing responses to a research project housed within an online journal that seeks to disrupt and challenge the hierarchy of the written word in the academy as the primary way of capturing, generating, disseminating and evaluating knowledge.Afrocartography – mapping the online iteration
It is of course entirely appropriate that a work addressing migration should itself migrate, restlessly, between forms and spaces. (Helgesson cited in Kabwe 2014: 134)
Kabwe uses the quote above by Scandinavian reviewer, Helgesson, to refer to Shailja Patel’s book and production of the same name, Migritude. Kabwe articulates the resonances between Afrocartography and Migritude in a book chapter and sees both works as examples of contemporary African performance practices that use migration and mobility as primary, driving inner experience to be expressed (content) as well as of the varying means and locations through which that experience has been made perceptible (form). (Ibid: 135)
In the same way then it is entirely appropriate that Afrocartography should migrate beyond its multiple performance iterations across continents, into its online form. Kabwe successfully re-imagines the production as an online work, intelligently utilizing the disembodied virtual space as the new playground for evoking the liminal space between dream, memory and imagination of Afrocartography.
Through this process of migration and transmutation into a new form of the work, the new version manages to avoid certain complexities implicit in the practice as research paradigm. By avoiding the use of video and photographs as documentation of a previous iteration, but recasting these elements instead as gateways for accessing the conceptual and thematic concerns of the work, it escapes the way analysis and documentation, and its tools of translation, alter the original performance. It also sidesteps the issue of ephemerality and loss associated with live performance when the performed work itself is framed as research, in a bid to avoid the translation issues of writing and visual documentation. The migration into a new format therefore not only marks a new iteration of the work but enables a new way to engage the artistic product as research.
The most notable shift in this migration to a new form is the absence of the prominence of the performing body. Performers, and their characters, that inhabited the previous iterations appear only in the GIF-like treatment of production photos that flicker past like memories, traces of a past iteration, and through the disembodied voices that accompany the videos that we choose. These GIFS become the portals to the character video perspectives. They become coordinates, reference points against which we chart our own journey through the work. In the absence of the performing body, through which we vicariously journey traditionally, the work opens a greater space for us, as the participant-traveler, allowing our experiences to come to the fore as we chart a journey through the site, select the character perspectives in the videos, and engage with the notions of mobility and migration that meet us.
The implicitly virtual and liminal space of the interface, its aesthetic imbued with movement and transience along with content driving notions of mobility, renders it an “in-between realm of existence where dreaming, waking memory and imagination overlap.” It is a space in which the user-participant can travel and make meaning through the dissolution of the necessity for physical presence to inhabit experience and for movement to enable travel as articulated by Thrift and Crang. It is through our own experiences: the way our own memories and associations are evoked and called forth in the spaciousness that the work allows that we encounter “the dilemmas in the mode of travelling, the reasons for the trip, the point of departure and the destination, in the places through which [we] will pass; the speed, the means, the vehicle, the obstacles to be overcome…” (Serres cited in Thrift and Crang 2001: 21 – 22). Unlike the performed version of the work, which, as a choreopoem, employed the engagement of moving and sounding bodies to disrupt the hierarchy of the spoken word as the primary driver of meaning, this iteration employs the disembodied liminality of the virtual space to the same end. It is through a combination of the content on the site and the traveler-participant’s movement, albeit disembodied movement, through it, as well as the movement between the external engagement with the site’s content and the internal associations it evokes that meaning is made for the traveler. It is only through our travelling through the site, with all our baggage, that we experience the work, for it is in this act that we map not only our journey but ourselves in relation to the content we encounter.
In her book chapter Kabwe quotes Jui Sen, who states that “maps are self-portraits; maps are manifestations of perceptions; maps are portraits of the world in which the manner in which those preparing them would like the world to be understood” (Sen cited in Kabwe 2014:126). And so it is that in this process of mapping, which the interface offers us, that we, as the participants, meet ourselves through the self-portrait we create.
Housed within the Wits School of Arts, the online journal […] is interested in interrogating and giving a platform to that which often gets left out of traditional academic spaces. With the spotlight on the agency of the participant / user to create meaning out of the work through their experience of it, the work as an endeavor of research performs something that conventional research, with a focus on the analysis of a product, cannot. It allows for the participant to be active in the meaning-making and therefore in the knowledge production of the work as a research project. This act disrupts and decentralizes the power of the author of the work or of the researcher as the holder of the knowledge. Instead it is through the participation of each traveler that knowledge is produced. This resonates with the conceptual concerns of the work which cast the subjective individual perspective as central in the mapping process.
The GIF-like treatment of the production photos serve as portals into the videos of each of the character perspectives that we are invited to experience. The photos flash past the eye in a way that resembles memories constructed of flashes of images. Their presence gives us a sense of the previous theatrical iteration of the work but their movement denies us the opportunity to study each image and in so doing make meaning of the work via static images. They are coordinates to the past of the work, and in this way reminds us of other travelers who have been on this same journey, but they are also coordinates for our experience of the work as we have to click on these images to access the character videos and enter the work more deeply, encountering and experiencing the videos which carry the bulk of the content of the work.
Kabwe has stated that video has held a prominent place in the composition of Afrocartography (Kabwe 2014: P128). In this iteration the video casts us, the traveler, in all the traveler’s guises: The Afropolitan, The Afrosettler and The Mapmaker. Through the absence of imagery of people or characters in the videos we, the traveler can more easily inhabit or take on that perspective through the way that the video becomes the visual point of view of the character. The constant motion in the videos of landscapes, hot air balloons, lanterns and flowers evokes the in-between space articulated in the framing text. The eye never settles on any image and in this way gives us the experience of passing through a space, of being on the move, of being in-between. The voice over in each video guides us through each character perspective and it is through the collision of the text that we hear and our responses to it, in combination with our own associations and memories evoked through the visual landscape, that meaning is constructed.
The Postcard process is a simple yet effective device through which the work frames the act of mapping as a subjective process. In this act it delineates the site as a space – a place visited – a place to which and from which we journeyed. A site that has not only provided a catalyst for us to have our own subjective experience but in which our subjective experience becomes embedded through the act of making the postcard. Through this act we contribute in making the work and are inserted into the work.
In these ways the participant-traveler not only has the agency for meaning-making in the work through their engagement with it but also become the co-producers of the knowledge that it produces. This knowledge becomes distributed and decentralized. It remains within the experience of each participant. In this way the work challenges the ways in which the academy traditionally stores and disseminates knowledge. In so doing the work, like many Practice as Research projects, also challenges the “dominance, if not virtual exclusivity, of writing (or other codified symbolic language) which has long since established itself as the appropriate means of storage and distribution of knowledge” (Nelson 2006: 105).
Through the work the traveler-participant is given an experience of the subjective nature of mapping in ways that words could not. In this way the work, as a research endeavor performs what many other examples of Practice as Research examples do, by providing the experience as a way of knowing. Nelson claims:
Some examples of PAR seem to test certain concepts in ways of which words are not capable. For e.g. concepts of space and time, particularly where they foreground human experience of space and time, must best be explained through that experience, through a praxis, rather than through writing or rhetorical debate (Nelson 2006: 108).
Through the experience of the work the participant therefore has a first hand account of the dissolution of the need for physical presence to inhabit the experience of travel, and of the subjective nature of mapping which involves the intersection of movement, affect, association and the interweaving of personal memory. The participant comes to gain knowledge about the notions of space and time in relation to the act of mapping through the actual experience of that mapping.
Afrocartography: Traces of Places and all points in between radically challenges the way in which knowledge is produced and disseminated in conventional academic scholarship. This latest iteration remains true to the integrity of the previous theatrical iterations. It does so in the way that the interface mimics the function of performance – as an arts practice that “has a principled coherence on its own terms…underwritten by a logic that emerges in and through the activity itself” (Pakes 2004: 2). The knowledge that emerges from the work belongs to the realm of practical knowing which foregrounds the “epistemological value of what the artist-researcher actually does as opposed to the cleverness with which s/he theoretically frames or reflectively characterizes that doing” (Ibid).
The work casts the academic exercise of knowledge production and dissemination as an act of mapping by foregrounding the subjective nature of knowledge production itself. In this way the work, as a research endeavor, mirrors the content in which the Traveler and her other selves “forge new paths [and] re-visit engrained routes.”
Kabwe performs a sophisticated act of transmutation in the online version of Afrocartography: Traces of Places and all points in between. The translation into a new format serves the integrity of the original work through the clear and effective choices she makes in re-imagining the framing and usage of existing content. She fully leverages the online experience to support and augment the affective texture of being in-between, of displacement, nomadic wandering and the restless tussling with the notion of home implicit in the investigations of migration and mobility. This iteration not only stands alone as an original work of art capable of evoking a strong experiential journey for the user but within the frame of academic enquiry poses a significant challenge to the traditional ways in which knowledge is produced, where it is located and stored and how it is disseminated.
Crang, M & Thrift, N (eds). 2000.Thinking Space (Critical Geographies.) Routledge
Kabwe, M.B. 2014. Mobility, Migration and ‘Migritude’ in Afrocartography: Traces of Place and all points in between in: Fleishman, M (ed.) Performing Migrancy and Mobility in Africa: Cape of Flows. Palgrave Macmillan
Nelson, R. 2006. Practice-as-research and the problem of knowledge. Performance Research 11.4. 105-117.
Pake, A. 2004. Art as action or art as object? The embodiment of knowledge in practice as research. Working Papers in Art and Design 3