Baraza – a conversation series by curator Renée Akitelek Mboya
In 2021, in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and discussions about social justice and accountability in the art field, Fotogalleriet asked writer, filmmaker, and curator Renée Akitelek Mboya if she would facilitate a conversation series highlighting diasporic voices in a global art context.
Invited on the basis of her unique experience at the intersection between writing, curating and film, Mboya’s work revolves around the representation of memories and how we can rehabilitate historical misconceptions. She has previously curated a number of projects in Europe, including at the De Appel Art Center in Amsterdam, and is the curator of the contemporary art biennial Sesc Videobrasil in Brazil. She has consistently worked with issues related to the global South and North, and has taken part in curatorial workshops at Tate, London, Frame, Helsinki and the Berlin Biennale, among others.
Over the span of a year, Mboya held four conversations, or “digital studio visits”, with artists, writers and curators who have proven to be crucial voices of supporting artistic production and freedom of expression, and even dissent, in several modalities, ranging from large-scale institutions to independent project spaces.
We invite you to listen to all four conversations further down on this page
The title Baraza (mabaraza in the plural) is a central concept in the East African public, which allows an understanding of social institutions as an extension of “revelations” that escape clear distinctions and sociological definitions. The ‘baraza’ is a place where people sit, meet, talk and rest. There is a diversity of understandings of the term, so the project’s title also reflects a range of possibilities for social and temporary organisations. It is considered an information base, a place of entertainment, a social entity, a political platform and a religious base.
Renée Akitelek Mboya is a writer, curator and filmmaker. Her custom is one that relies on biography and storytelling as a form of research and production. Renée is presently preoccupied with looking and speaking about images and the ways in which they are produced but especially how they have come to play a critical role as evidence of white paranoia, and as aesthetic idioms of racial violence.
Mboya works between Kigali and Nairobi and is a collaborative editor with the Wali Chafu Collective.
Dr Uhuru Portia Phalafala is a senior lecturer in the English department at Stellenbosch University, a public research university situated in Stellenbosch, in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Her research interests are in critical race studies, material and expressive cultures, black radical traditions, black internationalism, translation, and decoloniality.
As an author, in 2018, she published the poetry collection ‘Mine Mine Mine‘ (Nebraska Press), a personal narration of her family’s experience of the migrant labor system brought on by the gold mining industry in Johannesburg, South Africa. Using geopoetics to map geopolitics, Phalafala follows the death of her grandfather during a historic juncture in 2018, when a silicosis class action lawsuit against the mining industry in South Africa was settled in favor of the miners.
She has published a monograph that reframes often unseen and unaccounted-for Black women as bedrocks of Black revolutionary thought titled Malibongwe: Poems from the Struggle by ANC Women (Uhlanga, 2020) and in 2024 will publish Keorapetse Kgositsile & the Black Arts Movement: Poetics of Possibility (James Currey, 2024), a key study on writer, activist, and former South African national poet laureate Keorapetse Kgositsile that presents a new approach to studying the radicalism of Africa and its diaspora and makes a major contribution to the histories of Black lives, gender studies, jazz studies, politics, and creativity.
Academically, Phalafala has headed the Mellon-funded research project ‘Recovering Subterranean Archives’, which investigates South African culture in exile, with the view to repatriate and republish it. Through this project she republished the anthology of poetry from 1981, Malibongwe, by ANC women in exile. She is the co-editor of Safundi Special Issue on “Cultural Solidarities: Apartheid and itineraries of expressive culture”, and part of the research group ‘World Literatures: Cosmopolitan and Vernacular Dynamics’, based at Stockholm University. In addition to her engagement at Stellenbosch University, she was in 2018 the University of Michigan African Presidential Scholar, the 2019 African Humanities Program fellow, and 2021 Department of Higher Education and Technology’s Future Professors Programs fellow.
Soñ Gweha is an artist, researcher and community organiser who lives and works between the outskirts of Paris, France and Vienna, Austria. Navigating through contemporary creation, research and collective practices for transformative justice, they uses analog DJing, sounds and their voice as an instrument (under the name SOÑXSEED), moving images, poetic writings, archival conversations, body gestures, textiles and fruit & plant matter, in order to explore intimacy, love, tribulation and joy from a afrofeminist and queer perspective.
Pulling from their personal archive – often-time looking towards their cultural heritage (Cameroon) – and from the works of black musicians, feminists, queer activists and theorists, as well as black musicians, they questions the property of Utopia, visionary and speculative fiction, spirituality and mysticism as vectors of emancipation and inter- connectivity between beings and elements.
Gweha participated in the Sex Ecologies programme with Kunsthall Trondheim (Norway), as well as in two fellowships in Dakar, Senegal in 2019: As a fellow for Koyo Kouoh’s art center Raw Material Company’s Raw Academy (session 7), on the subject ‘Images for our time’ hosted by filmmaker Eric Baudelaire with the participation of John Akomfrah, Mati Diop, Alfredo Jaar, and more. They also participated in the “L’école doctorale des Ateliers de la Pensée” hosted by philosophers Felwin Sarr, Achille Mbembe, Nadia Yala Kisukidi or Françoise Vergès.
They are published in Sex Ecologies anthology (2021, MIT Press) and in Afrikadaa Magazine, and been invited to present their work at Palais de Tokyo (2021), Mumok in Vienna (2022), l’Arsenic, Lausanne, CH (2022), La Station Culturelle, Martinique (2022), Mostra des Artes Cênicas Negras de Porto Alegre, BRASIL (2020), the TU-Théâtre de l’Usine in Genève, CH (2020), Kaiku Club, Helsinki, FI (2019), Museum of Black Civilisations of Dakar, SEN (2019), Magasin des horizons – CNAC Grenoble, FR (2019), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2018), and Kader Attia’s La Colonie (barrée), Paris (2017), and contributed to the Afrocyberféminismes cycle at La Gaîté Lyrique, Paris (2018).
In the episode, Mboya and Gweha discuss their project Safou Lover , in which the artist continues to explore healing music through a performance where Safous/Bitotos (fruits widely cultivated in Cameroon) claim their narrative, their propagation, their erotic powers, their own reparation.
Inspired by her research on so-called “exotic” fruits and on R&B Slow Jams, the artist tells the story of a character named Ngomboa by offering a vocal and poetic composition involving matrilineal stories and magic realism. By eating these unmuzzled fruit-bodies, Gweha uses her voice as sound material to experiment with notions of Queer Temporalities (E. Freeman) and the Power of the Erotic (A. Lorde), while exploring themes of migration, coming of age, ancestrality and twinning. (Source: Artist homepage)
Kaino Wennerstrand, who records as Kaino Kim Vieno, is a Helsinki-based artist who does performances, videos, and texts, with a degree in sound design from the Helsinki Theater Academy. Her works have been shown in EKKM, Tallinn, FACT, Liverpool, Kunsthalle, Helsinki, Babycastles, New York, White Building, London and . She was awarded the Finnish State Prize for Media Art in 2021.
In 2023 they participated in the programme for the exhibition ‘Dear Friend: Tracks as Envelopes’ at PUBLICS (FI) by LUGEMIK 100 BOOKS and Marge Monko with the release of their sophomore albu ‘European Histories in E(strogen)’. Published by the Helsinki-based Minna Records, the album moves around the murky political affects surrounding the history of the European Union and NATO. The album is based on Kaino’s stage performance ‘Fixit’, which premiered in ANTI Festival, in 2022, and was broadcasted as a radio essay for Yle Radio 1, live from Oodi central library, in 2023, and features vocals from Karin Mäkiranta, Tuomas A. Laitinen (TAL), Sami Suova, and Ulijona Odišarija.
Source: PUBLICS (FI)
陳思穎 Hera Chan is a cultural worker living in Hong Kong. With Alvin Li, she is Adjunct Curator, Asia-Pacific at Tate. In the summer of 2017, she began her international search for Miss Ruthless. Otherwise, she has worked as a researcher and community journalist.
Chen’s work engages with performative infrastructures such as elections—as co-producer of KomBIJ1 TV, a political talk show aired in the Netherlands and the occupied Dutch Antilles leading up to the Dutch parliamentary elections of 2021; beauty pageants—as co-founder and curator of platform Miss Ruthless International in Hong Kong in 2017; and diasporic networks—as founding director of para-institution Atelier Céladon in Montreal in 2015.
In Hong Kong, she was associate curator of public programmes at Tai Kwun Contemporary, director/ curator of Videotage from 2017 to 2018, and researcher at the SEACHINA Institute, where she focused on socially engaged art practices in contemporary China. Chan has staged exhibitions and public programmes at Bedroom, Para Site, and Spring Workshop in Hong Kong, UCCA Beijing, SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin, Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, and articule, SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art, and Studio XX in Montreal. Chan completed the Curatorial Programme at De Appel in 2021. She received The Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant in 2022 and is writing a series of texts about artistic practices that are significant to our understanding of the global uprisings of 2019, with a focus on the Milk Tea Alliance—movements for freedom initiated primarily by people from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Myanmar.