An International Conference on Art, Public Space and the Culture of Memory
16 – 18 September 2014 | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Report by Grit Köppen, photos by Anike Joyce Sadiq
On the occasion of the art competition for the African Union Peace and Security Building in Addis Ababa, to which numerous artists from Africa submitted designs, ifa and the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design at Addis Ababa University held the conference FUTURE MEMORIES in Addis Ababa from 16 to 18 September 2014. This conference linked the competition for an artwork with a public debate on contemporary art, and it focused on art as one component in cultures of memory and its place in public space. The conference was financed by the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The FUTURE MEMORIES conference was attended by African and European artists, curators, academics and students. The aim was interdisciplinary, combining processes and ideas from the fields of the fine and the performing arts, architecture, film, literature, history, and art history. One of the aims was also to move away from traditional conference formats and instead develop a more interactive and dynamic form that used on-site visits and action formats to more directly address the potential of remembering through the medium of art in public space.
Visible and invisible layers of traces of history
During a drive through Addis Ababa, architect Fasil Ghiorgis and artist Bekele Mekonnen opened up a perspective on the visible and invisible layers of traces of history and the memories associated with these in this city. Their approach was based on normative cultures of memory and how these are inscribed into a public space in the form of commemorative plaques, memorials, statues and architecture. This made it possible to formulate questions on the performative and representative nature of culture and the enactment of historical events. Doung Anwaar Jahangeer by contrast performed an own performance in the city centre in which he intervened in the reality of public space and thus more strongly emphasized the apparent present and an interaction with it. Jahangeer performed his action, which he especially developed for the conference, on the pedestrian way adjacent to St. George’s church and the statue of Menelik II. This performance in the city space led directly to the question as to how art actions can be a form of intervention that changes our perception of reality.
The conference discussions also dealt with the relationship between art and normative practices of representative memory (N’Goné Fall, Jimmy Ogonga) and also the intervention potential of art (Alya Sebti, Ato Malinda). It became clear that art can serve both as a normative means of fixing memory and be understood as a way of addressing the ephemeral and transitory in negotiations of social issues. In the course of the conference, the focus shifted increasingly to a third intermediate space and an ephemeral memory culture. In his contribution, Abebew Ayelew, for example, talked about narrative contradictions in the naming of historical sites in Addis Ababa, contradictions that make us aware of multiple levels of meaning and spaces of memory. In her reading, Stacy Hardy showed how real and fictional narratives enter into art and social space. Khwezi Gule looked at the polyphony of the street in cities, and Alya Septi considered the movement of bodies thorough urban space as a resistant gesture. Patrick Mudekereza by contrast explored the moment of quiet in his lecture, while Premesh Lalu reflected on popular cinema as a spatial and temporary interval and a moment of interruption and intensification of political and social movements.
"Important specialist complement"
According to Berhanu Ashagrie Deribew, this debate was an important specialist complement to the art competition selection procedure: "The three-day international FUTURE MEMORIES conference was a critical and successful platform in which existing cultures of memory and memorials in different African cities were presented and discussed by professionals representing various African countries. The role of art in public spaces and how memory should be preserved, represented, constructed and maintained through the rapidly changing urban landscape of many African cities was reflected. The conference also generated an opportunity to develop alternative ways of thinking about how we understand memory and memorials, which actually informed and productively influenced the discussion and decision of the jury members evaluating the public art project proposals to take place in the African Union compound, at the Peace and Security Building."
Emeka Ogboh: Urban acoustic memory traces
The conference debates were mirrored in the jury decision to select the Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh as competition prize-winner. His on-site sound installation will be completed in time for the inauguration of the new AU Peace and Security Building (expected in March 2015). Emeka Ogboh works primarily with urban acoustic memory traces and has already created sound installations in Lagos, Yokohama, Helsinki, Madrid and Cologne. In a first statement, he said: "This is great news for sound art and aspiring sound artists on the continent."
The jury was chaired by the artist Olafur Eliasson and included N'Goné Fall, curator and author (Dakar), Stacy Hardy, writer and art producer (Cape Town), Patrick Mudekereza, curator (Lubumbashi), Alya Sebti, curator (Marrakesh), and Berhanu Ashagrie Deribew, artist and rector of the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design (Addis Ababa). Alongside these voting jurors, the jury also included representatives of the German Foreign Office (Irmgard Maria Fellner), of the African Union (Ewnetu Ferede), and of ifa (Elke aus dem Moore, Christina Werner and Sophie Rau) as non-voting members.
The director of the ifa Art Department, Elke aus dem Moore, commented on the results of the conference and the jury session: "I am absolutely thrilled about how fruitful the discussion has been and about the jury’s final selection of the sound artist Emeka Ogboh, which sends a crucial signal. Ogboh’s artistic practice constitutes a clear rejection of the monumental in art — of the manifestation of remembrance in monuments. The jury’s decision was clearly informed by the impressive discussion that took place at the FUTURE MEMORIES conference. At the same time, it represents a continuation of the trans-African discourse by other means."
ifa has now been commissioned by the German Foreign Office with the production of the installation by Emeka Ogboh in the African Union Peace and Security Building Union.