The Performance of Pan-Africanism: from Colonial Exhibitions to Black and A...
The Performance of Pan-Africanism: from Colonial Exhibitions to Black and African Cultural Festivals
20-22 October 2016
Andrew Apter (UCLA)
Cheryl Finley (Cornell University)
Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Columbia University)
Martin Munro (Florida State University)
Tsitsi Jaji (University of Pennsylvania)
David Murphy (University of Stirling)
'In April 1966, thousands of artists, musicians, performers and writers from across Africa and its diaspora gathered in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, to take part in the First World Festival of Black and African Culture (Premier Festival Mondial des arts nègres). The festival constituted a highly symbolic moment both in the era of decolonization and the push for civil rights for African Americans in the United States. In essence, the festival sought to perform an emerging pan-African culture, to give concrete cultural expression to the ties that would bind the African ‘homeland’ to black people in the diaspora. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Dakar ’66, this conference seeks to examine the festival and its multiple legacies, in order to help us better to understand both the utopianism of the 1960s and the ‘festivalization’ of Africa that has occurred in recent decades. The conference is also interested in exploring the role of colonial exhibitions and world’s fairs in establishing a set of representational frameworks that would later be contested but also sometimes (unwittingly) adopted by black/African groups in the aftermath of the Second World War.
The Dakar festival was the first, and one of the most significant, attempts to perform and translate African culture in the era of decolonization, forging in the space of the festivalscape a rich, multifaceted, ephemeral, unstable but highly charged sense of a shared Pan-African culture. The conference is interested in exploring whether cultural Pan-Africanism as posited in postcolonial festivals acted as a complete rejection of the representations of blackness in colonial exhibitions or whether it sometimes in fact continued such tropes, and if so, how?
The festival was organized in the middle of a period extending from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s during which a wide range of cultural, sporting and political organizations were created, and major events were held, all of which were informed by Pan-Africanist ideals. In terms of festivals alone, the 1966 Dakar event was followed by hugely ambitious Pan-African cultural festivals in Algiers (Algeria) in 1969 and in Lagos (Nigeria) in 1977. From an early twenty-first century perspective, the Pan-African ethos of the period appears strikingly utopian. Nonetheless, the Pan-African ideal has endured, in particular in the domain of culture. Indeed, it might be argued that it was the series of cultural festivals organized in the aftermath of decolonization that marked the most meaningful articulations of Pan-Africanism. As was argued above, these festivals witnessed the ‘performance’ of a Pan-African culture, and they facilitated concrete encounters between Africans and members of the diaspora that forged a new and profound sense of cultural affiliation. For instance, in his autobiography, Music is my Mistress(1973), the great US jazz musician Duke Ellington wrote of his performance in Dakar in 1966: ‘the cats in the bleachers really dig it. […] It is acceptance of the highest level and it gives us a once-in-a-lifetime feeling of having broken through to our brothers’.
If Pan-African cultural festivals of the 1960s and 1970s were marked by a profound utopianism, over the past five decades, we have witnessed a growing festivalization of culture across the world from which Africa has not been exempt. There are now literally thousands of festivals held across the continent each year and, in such a context, it is important to assess whether any of the idealism of the past has survived. In 2010, a Third World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture (widely known as FESMAN) was held in Dakar. For Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, organizing FESMAN was a process of looking to the future but also of renewing with an idealistic, utopian Pan-Africanist past, which was primarily articulated through evocations of the 1966 Dakar festival, indicating that processes of recuperation, nostalgia and amnesia play a major role when we engage today with landmark but ephemeral cultural events from the past.
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306