In August 2021, Miss Read, a Berlin’s Art Book Festival founded in 2009 by KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Argobooks and Michalis Pichler, presented the collective: Decolonizing Art Book Fairs: Publishing Practices from the South(s), a workbook for whoever is interested by the publishing activity and the circulation of ideas in former colonies. The book brings together more than 30 actors working on cultures and publishing around the world.
Decolonizing Art Book fair is a huge project that seeks to bring Africa and its diaspora under the spotlight of global conversation. It looks forward to rethinking African books production, promotion and consumption inside the continent, and also to be a tool to propose another alternative to Africa in the global world were its gallivanting voices are silenced in reshaping and discussing Africa for the sake of Africa. Under the umbrella of three cultural magazines Mosaïques, MISS READ and AFRIKADAA, authors, activists, scholars, publishers and artists have decided to voice their ideas and reflect on possibilities of an inclusive approach to the matter related to African culture in Africa and in the diaspora. From Brazil to India, Europe to South-Africa, they were many to contribute to this magnificent project that seeks to reinvent the narrative perspectives on Africa and black people across the world.
Developing of a real publishing space for Africans is at the center of all the reflections carried out in Decolonizing Art Book Fair. Federating cultural activists under a single project with the objective to initiate a platform for conversation and thinking on how to promote books, culture, and art for Black people by Black people. Through cultural associations, magazines and festivals, contributors have all shared their experience on their various cultural activities in Africa and the diaspora, in order to draw parallel and reflect on ways to develop a solid industry of book and cultural exchange for Africans. Sharlene Khan in a brilliant exposé discusses the Press publishing and the cultural space in South Africa from a female perspective. Far from advocating feminism, she presents female writers’ thoughts throughout the continent as a proof of African possession of necessary aesthetics and value judgments to reflect on their own cultural space. She is followed by Bisis Silva, a Nigerian activist, who also pledged for the creation of an African cultural space for artistic representation of black culture. However, in a more alarming and realistic tone, Simon Njami questions African cultural system that has not been able to go beyond political fragmentation after the Berlin Conference in 1884 and the independences during the 60s and the 70s, to build a solid cooperation in term of culture. He refers to it as “Chaos”; the failure of Cultural institutions to bring back Africa to reunite; or to eliminate borders inherited from colonial past and create space for art expression.
Apart from initiating a reflection on an African art and book fair marketplace, Decolonizing Art Book Fair has also given a tribune to promoters of cultural and artistic movements that have already initiated continental projects on publication and art. The case of Jalada Africa, a mulicutural online magazine that has gone beyond borders in promoting artistic representation, books and writings throughout Africa. Through the various series of publication, Jalada Africa has offered platforms for African writers in African and in the diaspora to participate to nine projects of inclusive anthology. This has led to the exposure of young prominent writers whose works are now read across the continent. In Cameroon, Bakwa Magazine has also succeed to initiate a huge publication project that has witnessed acclamation both in Africa and in the world. His Promoter, Dzekashu MacViban shares the secret of his publication approach in this Decolonizing Art Book Fair.
Furthermore, other cultural projects in Africa are also trying to animate the empty space of cultural representation in different African countries. With his magazine Mosaïques launched in 2010, Parfait Tabapsi dreams to develop a cross African press space that will focus on giving account of African reality. Despite difficulties and monotony that can lead to anxiety and frustration, the Magazine is still proposing thoroughly built contents on culture and literature in Cameroon, Africa and its diaspora. Other audacious projects can also be recorded in the continent especially African language geared projects, which promote African language through the valorization of literature materials produced in African languages.
Building a marketplace for African books is a huge challenge in a world where their voices are ignored and sometimes underestimated by international institutions. The work proposed by Grada Kilomba ‘Who can speak?’ brings forth the necessity for African to shift from the position of subaltern to oppose their voice to the colonial history and the subtle racism in knowledge institutions that have always told the history of African from their own perspective. The process here proposed by Grada. Kilomba faces lot of challenges that expand from the absence of purely black and afro-descendent knowledge production to the simple refusal of the latter to unite and speak for themselves. Shifting from the white space to build and implement a space for African appears to be a postcolonial dream nurtured by Africanists and sometimes mocked by the white institution, and even some illuminated Africans; but the issue lies on that factor and many others like the language and the economy of black culture institutions. To that Djimeli Raoul, a cultural activist who has travelled across Africa presents his experience with Chadian literary space as inspiring and also as a first step into decolonizing book fair in Africa. As he clearly posits, it is through murmurs and resistance that black African Culture will conquer its own space and the world to regain its initial position if not winning back its freedom to think in and outside the continent.
The workbook, Decolonizing Art Book Fairs: Publishing Practices from the South(s), is edited by Yaiza Camps, Moritz Grünke, Pascal Obolo, Michalis Pichler, Parfait Tabapsi with Nkule Mabaso as contributing editor. This book was launched along with an Idea Poll featuring ‘about 100 responses from diverse international networks’ published by Conceptual Poetics and MISS READ.
Decolonizing Art Book Fairs: Publishing Practices from the South(s), Miss Read, Afrikadaa, Mosaïques, Berlin, 2021.
Njipendi Daouda, University of Alabama