The A* Piece of Street Festival was 3-day international public performance festival organized in parallel to the 7th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS) held in Basel in 2017. The festival was conceived in response to the conference thematic focus on urban Africa.
Urban dynamics, indisputably, manifest first and foremost in public spaces – in the proverbial streets – often highly contested spaces where urban planners, investors and residents compete with each other for access, ownership and mobility. Inhabitants are exposed to gentrification, forced resettlement and environmental destruction, sometimes they resist them. Informal street vendors sell in front of department store chains, (uncommissioned) public art works are exhibited next to galleries, street football competes sports clubs. Streets are stimulating places for negotiation, exchange, movement, experimentation and innovation. Not just in Africa.
It was therefore critical that the A* Piece of Street Festival try and transport art and knowledge production about urban Africa from the university buildings, libraries, event halls and museums into the streets of Basel, and to include the perspectives created in public space to the debates held behind the closed doors of the academy and art institutions. In doing so, the A* Piece of Street Festival aimed to contest the physical and symbolic boundaries that separate knowledge production in informal spaces such as the street from that harboured in formal places such as the university or museum, and to contribute to overcoming them.
The festival was staged in two strategically chosen public settings, which were temporarily occupied and freely accessible to the public, international visitors and the broader public of Basel alike: Petersplatz in Grossbasel and Matthäusplatz in Kleinbasel (marked by the x and o separated by the river Rhein in the logo). Petersplatz is located next to the university of Basel in the historically more prosperous part of the city: Grossbasel. Matthäusplatz is located in a traditionally more working class and culturally diverse environment: Kleinbasel.
The A* Piece of Street Festival does not view African “cityness” as an isolated, distant phenomenon, but rather implies and makes references to local urban conditions, developments and political debates. The festival recognises and explores the interrelationships between the African and European continents – in historical, socio-political and economic terms. Africa is already very much here. The festival aimed to highlight the roles artists play in understanding and translating urban dynamics in and beyond an African context; curtailing the gap between “here” and “there”. The invited performers came from both African as well as European cities, many live transnational existences. They work across disciplines, from poetry to music, enactment to installation, and investigate diverse topics: commodity trade and colonial entanglements, racism in multi-cultural societies, the culture of language and decolonial healing.
MerKaBa for the Hoeteps by Tabita Rezaire (Cayenne)
An interactive performance in the form of a kemetic yoga session focusing on “decolonial healing power” through technopolitics.
“Join in a meditative journey into Kemetic wisdom to awaken your light beings and reclaim your hoetep powers. In our times of ultra disconnection, ancient African teachings offer guidance to raise our vibrational frequency and tune into our energy source. The spiritual technology of Kemetic Yoga enable us to reconnect, remember and nurture our divine juice. Come turn your MerKaBa on.
Instructions for optimum experience: wear a comfortable power outfit, bring a yoga mat (if you have one) and water to stay hydrated.”
Swiss Psychotropic Gold by Knowbotiq (Zurich)
An interactive installation looking at the gold trade and processes of gold refinement from a historical as well as socio-affective and psychotropic perspective.
The colonial and later the postcolonial, neoliberal entanglements of Switzerland’s commodity trade go back more than three hundred years. The Swiss myth of neutrality disguised the business with raw materials as discrete forms of technocracy, security, philanthropy and white hegemony.
Once mined, gold goes through a repetitive cycle of purification, processing, melting and refining. It lends itself as the perfect metaphor for all kinds of erasure of traces, anonymisation and colonial amnesia. The shiny metal breaks down, into the molecular, the narratives of violence, exploitation, violation of black bodies, enrichment and indebtedness. Gold, God’s Money, becomes affective excitation, a stabiliser and tranquiliser, a golden needle.
In this work, knowbotiq intend to make tangible the specific form of psychotropic gold refinement. To this end, a “psychotropic gold-refiner” is being installed in a public space, in front of the mosaics by Walter Eglin that decorate the Kollegienhaus of the University of Basel.
The refiner consists of several refining processes:
Acupuncture for the public with golden needles for the activation of the olfactory sense, enabling the client to smell ubiquitous gold across the cityAcupuncture for the public with golden needles for the activation of the olfactory sense, enabling the client to smell ubiquitous gold across the city
Meditation on “mundane” gold
Vaporisation of golden Viagra into the Swiss ether
Acte de Dire III by Fiston Mwanza (Lubumbashi/ Graz) & De rives et de rhythmes by Henri-Michel Yéré (Basel)
A poetry slam with two poets on the themes of identity, language and locality
Fiston Mwanza: “I feel like I am a crowd…I carry the same name as my father: Mwanza Mujila. I rent it or lend it, it depends, to my father. He also rented it, for years, from his grandfather. The name is a museum, a moving one. An assembly of dreams. An underground architecture…I am thus accompanied by all the Mwanza Mujilas when I recite a text. They are with me on stage – “auf der Bühne”, as they say in German–, bringing their voices, their cries as well as their desires of hope. They are within me. They speak in me. They speak with me. We drag around the same sidereal energy to give out our voices to the four corners of the earth, to name the things, to look up and down the sun.
Congo adds to the family. The opposite is possible. I bring the country wherever I go. I carry it in the head, the stomach and the legs. The Congo sticks to my skin like a pest or the sleeping sickness. The country (with its 2345409 square metres) lies dormant in me.
Of solitude I will not die when I throw the poetry out of my body. The multiple MWANZA MUJILA, the river, the mountains, the disconcerted volcanoes of Kivu, the sun, the rain, participate in part of the scenography. They explode the stage and the scenography. Hence the urgency to bark in the open air.”
Henri Michel Yéré: “The poetic word constantly seeks to go beyond itself. At the frontier of language, the word flows like a river and its depth, its meanders, its falls mirror the poem so well that they become it.
The poet chooses the bank from which to speak. Abidjan, a city that bravely faces lagoons, seas and rivers the way other cities are torn through by mountains; Abidjan, a bank in itself from the day of its birth; Abidjan is the firm ground from which the word shall run along the Rhine.”
The poets were accompanied by two of South Africa’s renowned jazz musicians, Marcus wyatt (trumpet) and Siyasanga Charles (trombone).
Lost Cargo by Ntando Cele (Bern)
A performance of new musical material, dealing with, yes, racism. Specially adapted for the A* Piece of Street Festival.
Lost Cargo is an experimental performance, in which Cele searches for her highest expression of blackness. Lost Cargo is a mash-up of freedom songs, slave prayers and dance from the slave ship.
A Random Audience brought by The Brother Moves On, featuring Itai Hakim and Kajama (Johannesburg)
The Random Audience explores the EPs of Makongela, Itai Hakim and Kajama as one long performance for the enjoyment of A Random Audience.
A multi-aesthetic, multi-disciplinary, performative installation communicated through music, which the artists describe as “tradition-trouncing trans-Atlantic Afro-centric futuristically ancient fusion that jack knifes between off-world spectral dub-metal, hyper-rhythmic rock psychedelia, indie-township and astro-asfrofree-jazz.
Nobody Will Talk About Us by Mouna Karray (Tunis/ Paris)
Between 2012 and 2015 Mouna Karray created a photographic series entitled Nobody Will Talk About Us. She imagined an unidentified body confined in a white bag, moving across a mineral landscape in the Tunisian South. Karray integrated this disturbing figure in her photographs of the beautiful and wide southern landscape, thereby unsettling both the landscape and the beholder. The figure embodies the solitude, confinement, and restrictions of the people of the region in their difficult conditions. By bringing the captive body to Basel Mouna Karray intends to give the figure and its struggles, its encounters and its displacements a more universal meaning.
This is the first time the artist stages her figures in public space, not as a mise-en-scène for her photography, as is usually the case, but as a stand alone public performance.