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DECOLONIZING ARTS Aesthetic Practices of Learning and Unlearning

source: Jenny Baese

Lecture Series of the DFG Research Training Group “Knowledge in the Arts” in cooperation with the Studium Generale

Mondays from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Berlin University of the Arts
Hardenbergstr. 33
10623 Berlin
Room 158 


Despite decades of interventions in the field of art, the decolonization of art and its institutions remains contested as a consequence of the continuing effects of “epistemic violence” (Gayatri Spivak) in the complexities of the postcolonial present. Aesthetic practices in particular work as a kind of “epistemic disobedience” (Walter Mignolo) to change knowledge, perception, and becoming.

Across eight evenings, the lecture series DECOLONIZING ARTS will bring together scholars, curators, and artists to ask how aesthetic practices of learning and unlearning intervene into the hegemonic production of knowledge and thereby produce minoritarian forms of knowledge.
With what means do these practices plan counter-narratives and how do they create counter-memories in the face of the colonial archive’s potency?

In what way do they contribute to the unlearning of learned colonial/modern and racist forms of knowledge, and to the acquisition of postcolonial and decolonial tactics?
And—what are the consequences of these artistic practices of knowledge for art and for disciplines that study culture, for the institutions of art, and for the question of their dissemination? 

DECOLONIZING ARTS. Aesthetic Practices of Learning and Unlearning

Please note that all lectures whose title appear in English will be held in English 

In the face of continued “epistemic violence” (Gayatri Spivak), the decolonization of the arts and its institutions remains contested, despite the many interventions of the past decades, which have irrevocably changed the field of art. Aesthetic practices in particular, work on the transformation of knowledge, aesthetics and becoming in the sense of an “epistemic disobedience“ (Walter Mignolo).

On eight evenings, the lecture series DECOLONIZING ARTS will ask together with scholars, curators and artists, how practices of learning and unlearning intervene in hegemonic knowledge production: With which means do they create counter-narratives and methods of counter-memories in the face of the effectiveness of the colonial archive? How do they contribute in unlearning colonial/modern and racist knowledge and to learn decolonial and postcolonial tactics? And, what are the consequences of these artistic epistemic practices for art and cultural studies, for art institutions and art education?


Alanna Lockward (curator and author, Berlin/Santo Domingo): Marooning Academia: BE.BOP as a Tool of Decolonial Healing—Lecture 

Moderation: Julian Bauer


11/13/2017  ! Date changed to 12/02/18 !

Marissa Lôbo (artist, curator, activist): tired but not uncool, healing but not esoteric, outside but not forever!, Nana Adusei-Poku (art history and cultural studies): Decolonizing Art University: Emancipated Gazes—On Visual Disobedience and Strategic Appropriation

Kiran Kumar (artist and scholar, Berlin), Sara Mikolai (performance artist, dancer, choreographer, Berlin): Dancing in the Dark: Dialogues on the Aesthetics and Politics of Invisibility—Performance Lecture and Discussion


Moderation: Lisa Großmann

Trinh T. Minh-ha (theoretician, author, composer, and filmmaker, Berkeley): Resonance, Resistance and The Creative Everyday—Lecture 

Moderation: Annika Haas

Additional Event organized by the DFG Research Training Group with Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art: 12/5/17 


Trinh T. Minh-ha: Screening, FORGETTING VIETNAM (2015) (For abstract see below)


Ruth Sonderegger (Philosopher, Vienna): Aesthetics and Art Theory as Colonial Projects 


Moderation: Georg Dickmann

Johannes Ismaiel-Wendt (musicologist, Hildesheim): tracks’n’treks: Delinking AfricC—Soundlecture                 


Moderation: Christina Dörfling

Candice Hopkins (curator, Albuquerque):  Sounding the Margins—Lecture


Moderation: Wilma Lukatsch

Yvette Mutumba (art historian, curator, editor in chief, Berlin), Gabi Ngcobo (curator, Berlin): Curatorial Collaborations as Ways of Knowledge Production—Short Lectures and Discussion


Moderation: Hanna Magauer


Marissa Lôbo (Artist, Curator, Activist): tired but not uncool, healing but not esoteric, outside but not forever!, Nana Adusei-Poku (art history and cultural studies): Decolonizing Art University: Emancipated Gazes—On Visual Disobedience and Strategic Appropriation


Moderation: Maja Figge

Concept: Julian Bauer, Maja Figge, Lisa Großmann, Wilma Lukatsch
Organization: Christina Deloglu-Kahlert, Flóra Tálasi und Katrin Wendel (Studium Generale) 
Support: Friederike Biebl, Johanna Heyne


30/10/17 Alanna Lockward (curator, author, Berlin/Santo Domingo): Marooning Academia: BE.BOP as a tool of decolonial healing 

Revising my own curatorial and academic trajectory as the first student defending a master thesis on Black Studies at the University of the Arts Berlin (2006) will be the focus of this lecture. This self-examination is inspired by the foundational contributions of Mary Helen Washington in her acclaimed lecture: "Disturbing the Peace: What Happens to American Studies If You Put African American Studies at the Center?". I will expose how BE.BOP. BLACK EUROPE BODY POLITICS -- launched at Ballhaus Naunynstrasse in 2012-- has operated as a safe space, a maroon enclave in a European academic plantation where the lack of Black constituencies and knowledge creation is mind blowing. This Decolonial Afropean curatorial project facilitates crucial conversations on the role of activism and Decolonial Aesthetics. Additionally, honouring the lineage of Caribbean (diasporic) knowledge creation and marronage plays a pivotal role in BE.BOP, since most of its peers are linked, either ancestrally or thematically, to the region. Instead of simply critiquing, diagnosing or creating yet another taxonomy of white supremacy, we are marooning academia on our own terms.

27/11/17 Kiran Kumar (artist and scientist, Berlin), Sara Mikolai (performance artist, dancer, choreograph, Berlin): Dancing in the Dark: Dialogues on the Aesthetics and Politics of Invisibility – Performance Lecture and Discussion

Working in/with darkness has been an intentional tactic in both our artistic practices. We have each found the condition of invisibility to make something else visible for us. And this is not a singular unknown/unknowable something else but a wider field of questions and possibilities. Through two talks that offer descriptions and documentation of some of our individual works, we will bring to a discussion the critical and self-reflexive currents which are shaping our individual as well as collaborative practice of dance.

4/12/17 Trinh T. Minh-ha (theorist, author, composer and film-maker, Berkeley): Resonance, Resistance and The Creative Everyday 

Resonance sustains and sets into motion all creative processes. Permanent unsettlement within and between cultures is here coupled with the instability of the word, whose old and new meanings continue to graft onto each other, engaged in a mutually transformative process that displaces rather than simply denies the traces of previous grafting. You are at home, a stranger…. The struggle of positionalities may be said to depend on the accurate tuning of one's many situated selves.

Additional event organized by the DFG Research Training Group with Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art: 12/5/17 Trinh T. Minh-ha: Screening, FORGETTING VIETNAM (2015)


One of Vietnam's creation myths tells of a fight between two dragons, whose intertwined bodies fell into the South China Sea and formed the S-shaped, curved coast of Vietnam. Vietnam’s geopolitical situation makes it dependent upon a balance between economies of land and water. Filmed on Hi-8 in 1995 and on HD and SD in 2012, the images in FORGETTING VIETNAM (2015) unfold as a dialogue between the elements of land and water, while at the same time opening a view into the history of visual technology and the political reality of Vietnam. A third level consists of memories from eye-witnesses to the war that divided the US like almost no other. An event organized as part of the lecture series “Decolonizing Arts: Aesthetic Practices of Learning and Unlearning” at the Berlin University of the Arts. (12/5/17, moderation: Marc Siegel)

source: arsenal – Institut für Film und Videokunst e.V. / DFG-Graduiertenkolleg "Das Wissen der Künste"

12/11/17 Ruth Sonderegger (philosopher, Vienna) Aesthetics and Art Theory as Colonial Projects 

My thoughts are motivated by the conviction that many of today's dominant art-theoretical presuppositions originate from the founding years of aesthetics as a discipline in the eighteenth century. This means that they are rooted in projects of a colonial capitalism that was undergoing a process of self-industrialization from its basis in England. Given this history, my thesis is that we promote a one-sided image of contemporary aesthetic practices when we disregard the historical origins of aesthetics. A closer engagement with the aesthetic discourses of the eighteenth century, by contrast, not only makes clear how colonialism has inscribed itself into aesthetic discourse but also reveals the aesthetic alternatives and points of resistance against which the discipline of aesthetics developed.

1/8/18 Johannes Ismaiel-Wendt (musicologist, Hildesheim): tracks’n’treks: Delinking AfricC—Soundlecture

At some point I found a standard drum pattern with the name “AfricC” on the Yamaha RY 30 drum computer built in the 1990s. In the list of the ninety-nine preprogramed drum beats, the name “AfricC” serves as a placeholder; it represents an entire continent just as other beats come to be representative of European or Latin America beat cultures. Names stand for things and maps represent territories, so Walter Mignolo writes in the Darker Side of the Renaissance. With the list of ninety-nine beats programed into the Yamaha RY 30, I attempt to show (to make audible) that the mapping of music, patterns, beats, and melodies is significantly more than an innocent aid for orientation—it is instead deeply rooted in European colonial thought. The far too usual way of positioning music is the result and often an instrument of colonial thought and action in systems of racist representation. “De-Linking AfricC” is a sound lecture and a live editing choreography, with a thirty-year-old drum computer, that irritates postcolonial mappings of music and negates cultural belonging. It offers a live audio re-mix that is driven by its musical form to aurally disturb cultural clichés and destroy imagined musical geographies to create a cultural knowledge of its own.

22.01. Candice Hopkins (curator, Albuquerque):  Sounding the Margins – Lecture

In one of Candice Hopkin’s lectures on „Sounding the Margins“ she cites the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, who in the early 70ies wrote: „We have no earlids, we are condemned to listen.“ Hokpins complicates this by saying: „in the visual arts we are so conditioned by our eyes that we forgot about our ears,… but while we can't close our ears, it doesn't mean that we listen to everything that is being said.“

For many years Hopkins has been doing research and holding lectures about practices of "a decolonial kind of listening", which she understands as a „non-hungry listening“, and which to her is a missing component on discourses of decolonization (at least in Canada and the U.S.); even though deep listening has been practiced by many people and over many thousands of years. In this way Hopkins pushes the question of: „How can we practice a listening without an intend of what we might want to hear?“ – namely a decolonial listening.
Hopkins has been developing her thoughts about „Sounding the Margins“ for some years now. She does not necessarily see it as a kind of curatorial method or pedagogy, but rather as a thread of research (coinciding with the research she has been doing for documenta 2017), which „will hopefully impact my way how i will think about activism and Indigenous people’s role in the world (and not so much about art only) and our ability to effect change.“
Her lectures on „Sounding the Margins“ are often a mix of things that we can hear and things that we can see – „and the things that you will hear is not always me.“


05/02/18  Yvette Mutumba (art historian, curator,  editor, Berlin), Gabi Ngcobo (curator, Berlin): Curatorial Collaborations as ways of Knowledge Production – hort presentations and conversation

Yvette Mutumba and Gabi Ngcobo will speak about their collaborative practices as curators dedicated to strengthen the visibility of, and discourse around contemporary art from various perspectives. Through a selection of their most recent projects they will discuss their approach and methodologies that seek to mediate marginalised complex (art) histories and debates in an accessible way, creating parallel narratives in a cultural discourse.


2/12/18 Nana Adusei-Poku (Art History and Cultural Studies): Emancipated Gazes—On Visual Disobedience and Strategic Appropriation

What is post-black art? What artistic positions and visual strategies are associated with it and how do these differ from earlier African-American artistic positions? The contested concept of “post-black art” was introduced in 2001 at the Studio Museum in Harlem. This lecture employs the concept as a context for understanding visual strategies that critically interrogate, rewrite, or categorically reject the category of black from a sociohistorical perspective. The lecture argues that questions of visual representation prominent in the 1980s and 1990s have shifted and given way to discussion of black existence per se.


Alanna Lockward is a Berlin and Santo Domingo based author and independent curator. She is the founding director of Art Labour Archives. Her interests are Caribbean marronage discursive and mystical legacies in time-based practices, critical race theory, decolonial aesthetics/aesthesis, Blak feminism and womanist ethics. Lockward is the author of Apremio: apuntes sobre el pensamiento y la creación contemporánea desde el Caribe (Cendeac, 2006), a collection of essays, the short novel Marassá y la Nada (Santuario 2013) and Un Haití Dominicano. Tatuajes fantasmas y narrativas bilaterales (1994-2014), a compilation of her investigative work on the history and current challenges between both island-nations (Santuario 2014). Lockward is the editor of BE.BOP 2102-2014. El cuerpo en el continente de la conciencia Negra (Ediciones del Signo 2016).

Nana Adusei-Poku (PhD) is an independent scholar, writer and educator as well as Guest Lecturer in Media Arts and Master of Fine Arts at the University of the Arts, Zurich. She received her PhD from Humboldt University Berlin for her thesis on post-black art as part of the Graduate program called “Gender as a category of Knowledge”, following degrees in African studies and gender studies at Humboldt University, and in media and communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She has been a visiting scholar at the University of Ghana, Legon; the London School of Economics; and Columbia University, New York. She published i.e. the article  “Post-Post-Black?” In Nka-Journal for Contemporary African Art and „Catch me if you can!“ which is a critical reflection on the state of Diversity and Decolonisation in the Arts and Art education. In her most recent publication “On Being Present Where You Wish to Disappear,” Adusei-Poku questions the notion of nothingness, universality, and whiteness common in the contemporary art world.

Marissa Lôbo is an activist and artist born in Bahia, Brazil, living and working in Vienna after some years in Italy and Portugal. She studied  post-conceptual art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna  and is a PhD candidate in Philosophy there. In her artistic work, often performative, she addresses hegemonic sexualised and racialized body regimes from a queer of color perspective. She aims to de-colonize queer theory and to intervene in white supremacist narratives. For many years she was the head of the cultural department of the association maiz, a self-organization of migrants, where she created projects between cultural and political education, trying to programmatically connect politics, education and the arts from a migrant perspective

Kiran Kumar is an interdisciplinary artist and researcher bon in Bangalore, India. His work focuses on the intersection of artistic and scientific modes of articulation within dance and somatic practice. His artistic works have ranged from performance, video, installation and exhibition, to writing and archiving. His research projects have been supported by the National Arts Council Singapore's Research and Development Grant and the Volkswagen Foundation's (Germany) Arts and Science in Motion program.
Following initial study in mechanical engineering at the National University of Singapore, Kiran holds an MFA in new media art from City University of Hong Kong and an MA in dance from the Inter-University Centre for Dance Berlin. Currently he is an Associate Member at the Berlin Centre for Advanced Studies in Arts and Sciences.

Sara Mikolai is a movement-based artist born in Berlin. Trained in Bharatanatyam, she started to collaborate in various contexts of contemporary dance since 2007. Today, through a decolonizing and queer contextualization, she creates experimental situations/performances, in which she challenges boundaries and the relationship between viewer and performer. After studying Area Studies of Asia/Africa at the Humboldt University Berlin, she graduated in 2016 from the BA Dance, Context & Choreography prorgam at the Interuniversity-Centre for Dance (HZT) (University of the Arts Berlin), where she received a scholarship from the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes.

Trinh T. Minh-ha is a filmmaker, writer, composer and Professor of Rhetoric and of Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work includes eight feature-length films, including Forgetting Vietnam 2015, NightPassage 2004, The Fourth Dimension 2001, A Tale of Love 1996, Shoot for theContents, 1991, Surname Viet Given Name Nam, 1989, Naked Spaces, 1985, and Reassemblage, 1982), honored in numerous retrospectives around the world); several large-scale multimedia installations, including L’Autre marche (Musée du Quai Branly, Paris 2006-2009), Old Land New Waters (3rd Guangzhou Triennale, China 2008, Okinawa Museum of Fine Arts and Prefecture Museum 2007) The Desert is Watching (Kyoto Biennial, 2003); and numerous books, such as Lovecidal. Walking with The Disappeared (2016), DPassage.The Digital Way (2013), Elsewhere, Within Here (2011), CinemaInterval (1999), and Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (1989), Her many awards include the 2014 Wild Dreamer Lifetime Achievement Award at the Subversive Festival, Zagreb; the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award from Women's Caucus for Art; the 2012 Critics Choice Book Award of the American Educational Studies Association; the 2006 Trailblazers Award, MIPDOC, the International Documentary Film in Cannes, France; and the 1991 AFI National Independent Filmmaker Maya Deren Award.


Ruth Sonderegger is professor of philosophy and aesthetic theory at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Her research focuses on the history of aesthetics, critical theory, and theories of resistance. Most recent book publications: Art and Ideology Critique after 1989, ed. with E. Birkenstock, M. Hinderer, and J. Kastner (Bregenz/Cologne: Kunsthaus Bregenz/Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2013); Pierre Bourdieu und Jacques Rancière: Emanzipatorische Praxis denken (Pierre Bourdieu and Jacques Rancière: thinking emancipatory practice) (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2014); Spaces for Criticism: Shifts in Contemporary Art Discourses, ed. with P. Gielen, Th. Lijster, S. Milevska (Amsterdam: Valiz/Antennae Series, 2015); Foucaults Gegenwart. Sexualität – Sorge – Revolution (Foucault’s present: sexuality, care, revolution) (Vienna: transversal texts, 2016).


Johannes S. Ismaiel-Wendt, born 1973, studied cultural studies, sociology, and musicology as the University of Bremen. He completed a PhD with Prof. Dr. Sabine Brock (University of Bremen, first dissertation advisor) and Prof. Dr. Alexander Weheliye (Northwestern University in Chicago) with a dissertation titled tracks’n’treks: Populäre Musik und Postkoloniale Analyse (tracks’n’treks: popular music and postcolonial analysis) (Münster: Unrast, 2011). He writes and teaches about topics that include the aesthetics of electronic dance music and the routes of the black Atlantic. Johannes Ismaiel-Wendt is a state-certified educator who works in numerous cultural-pedagogical projects and teaches percussion ensembles, among other things. He gives sound lectures in which he combines his activities as a scholar and live drum machinist. From June 2010 to April 2012, he worked as an academic advisor and employee at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in the projects HipHop and Global Prayers. His research focuses on the areas of music and/as genesis of knowledge. His most recent publications include post_PRESETS. Kultur, Wissen und populäre MusikmachDinge (post_PRESETS: culture, knowledge, and popular musicmakethings) (Hildesheim: Olms Verlag, 2016 and open access with Universitätsverlag Hildesheim).

Candice Hopkins is a Canadian (Carcross/Tagish First Nation) curator, writer and researcher based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but originally is from Whitehorse.She has held curatorial positions at the Banff Centre’s Walter Phillips Gallery, Western Front in Vancouver and the National Gallery of Canada, where she co-curated the critically acclaimed 2013 exhibition Sakahán: International Indigenous Art. Hopkins was co-curator of the 2014 SITElines Biennial in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was until recently chief curator at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe. Her writings on history, art and vernacular architecture have been published by MIT Press, BlackDog Publishing, Revolver, New York University, Fillip Review and the National Museum of the American Indian, among others. She co-edited the books Recipes for an Encounter (Western Front) and Jimmie Durham: The Second Particle Wave Theory (Walter Phillips Gallery Editions and Art Editions North). Her thinking on and about „Sounding the Margins“ is based on her ongoing reflections and research on protest, Indigenous artists and sound-based practices.

Yvette Mutumba is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the art magazine Contemporary And (C&). She is part of the curatorial team of the 10th Berlin Biennial (9 June - 9 September 2018). From 2012 to 2016 she was curator at Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt on the Main. Here she co-curated the major exhibitions “Foreign Exchange – or the stories you wouldn’t tell a stranger”, “El Hadji Sy: Paintings, Performance, Politics” and “A Labour of Love“. The latter is now on view at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (14 August – 5 November 2017). In 2016 she co-curated „Focus: African Perspectives“ of The Armory Show, New York. Mutumba studied Art History at Freie Universität, Berlin and holds a PhD from Birkbeck, University of London. As author and editor she has published numerous texts/books on contemporary art from African perspectives as well as Global Art History. Most recent publication: I am built inside you, ed. by ifa and C& (Sternberg Press, 2017).

Gabi Ngcobo is an artist, curator and educator currently working and living between Johannesburg and Berlin where she is curating the upcoming 10th Berlin Biennale. As co-founder of the Center for Historical Reenactments – CHR (2010 – 2012 – 2014), a project that was located in Johannesburg, Ngcobo initiated PASS-AGES: references & footnotes at the old Pass Office in Johannesburg and contributed to a two-year long project Xenoglossia, a research project, culminating in four outcomes; as part of the 11th Lyon Biennale (2011), After-after Tears at the New Museum, New York (2013), Xenoglossia, the exhibition at Goethe-on-Main, Johannesburg, (2013) and Digging Our Own Graves101 as part of the 8th Berlin Biennale (2014). In 2015 Ngcobo co-curated A Labour of Love at the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt am Main, which just opened its Johannesburg leg at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. In 2015/16 she was one of the co-curators of the 32nd Sao Paulo Bienal Incerteza Viva. Ngcobo is a founding member of the Johannesburg located NGO- Nothing Gets Organised, a collaborative platform for un/conventional processes of self-organising – those that do not imply structure, tangibility, context or form.