Creating space for and calling into being a more complex lexicon for and of Africa, and for an African standpoint in and for the rest of the world. Nadja Ofuatey-Alazard, Felwine Sarr, and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, the curators of the festival »Membrane – African Books and Ideas« played with the metaphor and idea of membrane to engage notions of »Africa,« mostly to complicate the idea of Africa through its imaginary, words, and the thoughts and impressions of those invited to participate. The event and this issue offers associated keywords such as fluidity, synergy, connection, permeation, flow-cross-flow, pulsing, receiving, and repulsing as sites through which this imagining might (or might not) flow.
In imagining a gathering like the festival »Membrane – African Books and Ideas,« what did we envisage? People in celebration; color, curiosity, technology, literature, song, food, visuals, aromas, books, words, movement, creativity, linkages, diversities, commonalities, churning thoughts, questions, provocations, laughter; interrogating the many ways of Africa, multigenerationality, variety, among other things. In keeping with the theme »Membrane,« we imagine the festival and the issue to be a reflection on associated keywords such as porosity, fluidity, selection, barriers, safety, synergy, connection, filtration, osmosis, permeation, concentration, dilution, flow-cross-flow, fouling, blocking, narrowing, mitigation, cleansing, pulsing, filtration, feeding, skin, veil, receiving, repulsing, masks, drums. We hope to blur a few imagined boundaries so that the idea of flow and exchange among living membranes is visible.
What is the imaginary geography of Africa? What is the actual geography? What would a lived map of African space actually look like? Who defines »African« identity? How? For what purpose? Who is an African? What is an »Africa?« What are the other ways of »Africa?«
We are interested in voices that approach familiar ideas and imaginings in refreshed ways, who are suggesting a new lexicon that is commensurate with the age we now live in, who are able to provide us another way of gazing on time (past, present, future, eternity, timelessness, infinity). For the festival, the curators imagine an »Africa,« as, among other things, a »super-membrane«. What does that translate into in terms of the conversations to be had? What is the imaginary geography of Africa? What is the actual geography? What would a lived map of African space actually look like? Who defines »African« identity? How? For what purpose? Who is an African? What is an »Africa?« What are the other ways of »Africa?«
We do not intend or expect to have easy and familiar conversations. Each of the participants/authors are »co-opted« in this hope to make the familiar and assumed just a little more complicated.
There are of course a couple of big Africa-connected questions that also preoccupy our imagination and minds.So many Africa-specific questions can signpost this exercise; for example, how does a new generation in, of, linked to Africa, the ones often listed in contemporary economic reports as part of a »youth bulge,« refer to themselves and imagine their future?It is also no secret that in the current reordering of the world, Africa has once again become a site of overt contestation, of realignment in a new scramble that is arguably by the uncertainty and concern over a rising China, which has a very direct interest in the African space. We are keen…, and be part of those creating spaces where a rhetoric, questioning and grammar that is capable of carrying and containing the world as it truly is might emerge.
We do not intend or expect to have easy and familiar conversations.
Can the Membrane Festival and the Schlosspost issue open up new kinds of thought and idea territories (rather than white space) where new relationalities can be proposed, tested and formed? Perhaps. Can these contribute to the need to complicate and challenge the assumed notion of “Africa”? The visuals and conversations of these witnesses can inform a contemporary quest for a more informed and realistic imagination of Africa, while evoking a sense of discovery, encounter, and connection that is rarely engaged. We are honoured by the presence of the many gifted voices of Africa, of the Africas located elsewhere, of the world in Africa, and the interested that have joined us in the unfolding of Membrane: Festival of African Book and thought.
Nadja, Yvonne, and Felwine
The festival »Membrane – African Books and Ideas,« taking place in Stuttgart May 23 – 26, is an international festival organized by Literaturhaus Stuttgart, Institut français, and the Akademie Schloss Solitude.