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Posted 19th August 2009

Abstracts and Speakers’ Biographies

Piotr Cieplak, Department of French, St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge, UK

Known Images: Film in Rwanda

The Rwandan genocide has been the subject of numerous cinematic representations. These representations, in turn, fuelled a number of debates about the way Africa, and especially African conflict and suffering, is portrayed by outsiders and to what extent it is required to comply with Western notions and stereotypes.

The abovementioned debates, important as they are, overshadowed the discussion of a newly-emerging film industry in Rwanda and the role the moving image in the process of national and individual reconciliation.There exists a consensus between Rwandan filmmakers and critics that the film industry in this small East African country emerged after and, some claim, as a result of, the 1994 tragedy. In this paper I explore this assertion and indicate the different ways in which film and film industry are present in the Rwandan society. The paper relies on my observations made during two subsequent Rwanda Film Festivals ‘Hillywood’ (in 2008 and 2009), on an analysis of the operation of the Rwanda Cinema Centre and on interviews with industry people as well as local and international filmmakers.

Special attention is paid to programming decisions and spectatorial processes observed during Hillywood’s rural component (when films are shown to audiences on a big inflatable screen) and in Kigali. Additionally, the paper looks at how the moving image is used by more official channels during the national period of mourning (commemorating the anniversary of the first week of the genocide).

Particular films concerning issues of reconciliation are briefly discussed, but the main point of the paper is to investigate the way in which a film industry is built and functions in a developing and recently traumatised society. It is also argued that any assertions reached through this investigation can only be applicable to a national and/or regional reality and any attempt at wider conclusions results in generalisation.

Piotr A. Cieplak is a PhD Candidate in the French Department, University of Cambridge. He researches filmic and photographic representations of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and its aftermath. He has an interest in and has written about cultural memory, the relationship between image and memory, Rwandan and East African cinema and representations of Africa, especially African conflict and suffering, in the West.

John Masterson, University of Essex, UK

Writing and/as Righting the Rwandan Genocide? A Reconciliatory Reading of Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda and Marie Beatrice Umutesi’s Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire

Debates about the ‘right to write’ predominate throughout such overlapping areas as postcolonial studies, ethnography and travel writing. This paper offers a comparative reading of two accounts produced in the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide. Written by a white, male, American journalist, We Wish to Inform You inevitably raises broader questions about relationships between ‘native informants’ and ‘alien observers.’ Rather than attempt to downplay them, however, Gourevitch’s text foregrounds them with refreshing honesty and lucidity. In this paper, I argue this provides a provocative access point for his largely non-Rwandan readership. As such, it might have counter-hegemonic potential when considering how ‘postcolonial’ African conflict is represented for and consumed in the West. We Wish to Inform You has been accused of pro-Tutsi bias, with Umutesi’s harrowing personal account often cited as a necessary antidote. Surviving the Slaughter details her experiences as a Hutu woman caught up in the genocidal violence and forced to flee her home. Her experiences of ‘life’ in a series of central African refugee camps are described in excoriating detail. Rather than seeing both accounts as diametrically opposed, I suggest a contrapuntal reading approach might prove enabling. In distinct ways, both Gourevitch and Umutesi challenge the murderous dichotomies that came to define popular and political discourses before and during the Genocide. For all their manifest differences, both texts attend to the slippery, because human, stories that exist in-between these hegemonic dualisms. Reading them alongside one another serves the purpose of narrative reunification. Whilst tentative, it might be seen as providing foundations for achieving much broader political reconciliation in the historical present and beyond.

John Masterson currently teaches postcolonial studies, critical theory and European literature in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex. He has published chapters and articles on the work of Chinua Achebe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dave Eggers and Nuruddin Farah. He is currently preparing a monograph for publication. Entitled The Disorder of Things: A Comparative Approach to the Work of Nuruddin Farah, the proposal is under review with Peter Lang.

Cara Moyer, Department of African Studies, Howard University, USA

Truth, Reconciliation and Cinema: Reflections on South Africa’s Recent Past in Ubuntu’s Wounds and Homecoming

Under apartheid, black South Africans were systematically excluded from producing their own images on screen. Since the fall of apartheid, black filmmakers have slowly begun to emerge, using the camera as a tool to confront the past by recasting the gaze. Two recent South African productions, Sechaba Morojele’s Ubuntu’s Wounds (2001) and Norman Maake’s Homecoming (2005), use the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as a backdrop to explore the recent past and its impact on the present. These films focus specifically on the role of memory and truth in the reconciliation process at both the individual and national levels. Additionally, they examine the limitations of the TRC, disappointment experienced in the post-liberation situation, and the legacy of the personal trauma inflicted by the apartheid state. Using Robert Rosenstone’s theorization of the “new history film,” this paper examines how these films challenge “traditional” history, and in particular more mainstream representations of the TRC in films such as In My Country (2004) and Red Dust (2004), by privileging a black perspective and contesting, visioning, and revisioning history.

Cara Moyer is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of African Studies and a Sasakawa Young Leaders Foundation Fellow at Howard University. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Black Studies and Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and Master’s degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University. Cara recently spent four months as a visiting scholar at the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town doing field research for her dissertation, “Projecting Nation: Cinema and the Creation of a National Identity in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” In addition to her research, she teaches an undergraduate course on African cinema and literature at Howard University.

Sarah Longair, Birkbeck, University of London, UK

Number Four prison museum: The embodiment and mediation of violent past in contemporary South Africa

In this paper I will examine Number Four, the museum in the prison at the Old Fort in Johannesburg and new home of the Constitutional Court, in order to highlight how a contemporary museum has interpreted South Africa’s past, following the political transformation of the last fifteen years. The display within the walls of the prison was conceived by artists who wished to record and represent the traumatic and violent events which took place there, with their research itself forming a reconciliation project.

A critical assessment of development of Number Four reveals how the interaction of history and memory is a dominant discourse in the historical museum in contemporary South Africa. I seek to demonstrate, by drawing on primary sources at the site, interviews with key individuals and the history of the development, how Number Four reflects the national consciousness as well as contemporary heritage issues, such as questions about ownership and privileging of memory. The museum development illustrates various contentious issues over reconciliation, for example the subsequent role of ex-prisoners at the site. The heightened self-consciousness and evasion of grand narrative in the displays gives the museum a reflective and non-invasive exhibitionary technique, leaving the visitor to define the story.

I will argue that these techniques of display and interpretation capture an important moment in South African historiography. Number Four’s position in a prominent location in a rapidly developing city and the participation of influential individuals mean that its attempt to use distinctly African genre of historicising will be highly influential.

Sarah Longair is a part-time PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London, researching the history and legacy of the colonial museum in East Africa, with a focus upon Zanzibar. She works as an education officer at the British Museum where she is also involved in the Museum in Africa project. This paper draws on her MA thesis research which examined upon memory, history and heritage in contemporary South Africa.

Tobias Robert Klein, Zentrum für Literatur und Kulturforschung (Centre for Literary and Cultural Research), Berlin, Germany

“It was a terrible time to be alive”: Trauma, disillusionment and the prospects of reconciliation in post-1990 Ghanaian and Nigerian Fiction

The traumatic experience of human rights abuses is in an African context predominantly associated with the exceptional situations created by freedom struggles, civil wars and genocides. This paper, however, focuses on the narration of social conflicts and the misery of daily life, which occupy a prominent place in recent West African fiction.

Four critically acclaimed novels of the last two decades will be discussed in detail: Both in Biyi Bandeles Sympathetic Caretaker and Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel the experience of political oppression is interspersed with the personal agonies of young Nigerian intellectuals: Loss of identity, madness, imprisonment, broken relationships and senseless cycles of violence constitute the traumatic (dis)order of the day. The novels of Benjamin Kwakye (The Clothes of Nakedness and The Sun By Night) on the other hand establish a social panorama of postcolonial Ghana in which an ever increasing gap between haves and have-nots appears as the underlying cause of crime, family rifts or insensitive human cruelty and ignorance. In particular Kwakye’s second novel however also touches upon forgiveness and reconciliation, which have become important political issues in Ghana’s 4th Republic.

In spite of strong individual characteristics all of these novels share a staggering combination of a meticulously realistic mode of description with the extensive use of narrative time shifts and multiple points of view: Psychological symptoms of traumatic experience such as temporal flashbacks or haunting memories are thus simultaneously functioning as sublime narrative devices that generate literary complexity and establish the artistic value of these contemporary novels.

Tobias Robert Klein has schooled, researched and taught in Germany and Ghana, in particular at Humboldt University Berlin, where he read Musicology, African Studies, and Computer Science and Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg (PhD with distinction in 2007). Currently he is a Research Scholar at the Centre for Literary and Cultural Research in Berlin, an interdisciplinary research institution exploring the interfaces between literature and art, humanities, science and scientific history, and an Associate Member of the International Centre for African Music and Dance at the University of Ghana. He is editor of “Texts, Tasks and Theories – Versions and Subversions in African Literature vol. 3” (Amsterdam/Atlanta 2008), author of “Moderne Traditionen – Studien zur postkolonialen Musikgeschichte Ghanas” (Frankfurt 2008) and has contributed to renowned musicological reference works and periodicals such as MGG or the Mozart-Jahrbuch. His publications and current research interests are equally divided between the musical (and literary) cultures of Western Europe and West Africa.

Albert Oikelome, Creative Arts Department (Music Unit), University of Lagos, Nigeria

Hip hop lyrics as tool for conflict resolution in the Niger delta

The last two decades have witnessed tremendous growth in the popular music culture in Nigeria. However, a major popular music genre that has taken the music industry by storm is the Hip Hop culture. This hybrid of music has permeated the whole stream of Nigerian music with its variant forms found in the traditional, neo traditional, popular, and religious music. The proliferation of entertainment media in Nigeria during the past several decades has led to rising interest in its numerous impacts on the masses. While some artistes convey messages of sex, money and fame, others are utilizing the music as weapons of protest against the ills of the society. One area of particular interest is the way some hip hop artistes in the Niger delta area of Nigeria are using hip hop music to spread the message of tolerance, peace and unity in the troubled region. Apart from being the ‘hen that lays the golden egg’ in terms of oil production, this region has produced talented hip hop artistes that are recognized both in national and international music entertainment industry. This paper examines the role of these musicians and their messages as they utilize their music as a conduit for the propagation of peace, love and tolerance in the troubled Niger Delta region. Furthermore, it looks at the import of these lyrics on the government, the Niger Delta militants and the society at large. In doing this, it investigates the way these artistes are using their music in staring painful truths in the face of the government without cynicism and yet placating the war driven militants on the need to sheath their swords and embrace peaceful dialogue.

Dr. Albert Oikelome graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka as the best student in voice in the year 1991. He also had his postgraduate studies at the University of Ibadan. He has over the years featured as music Director in church, school and community choirs. He has also participated in several musical performances in African, classical and contemporary medium within and outside Nigeria. Till date, he is the facilitator of the Choral Festival. Dr. Oikelome has written and published several books articles in both local and international journals. He is presently a lecturer in the department of Creative Arts (Music Unit) of the University of Lagos, Nigeria.

Amy Schwartzott, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

“Transformação de Armas em Enxadas”: Weapons that Destroy and Heal in Mozambican Urban Art

This paper will explore the materiality of contemporary Mozambican assemblage art created from recycled weapons through an expanding framework linking visual culture, social anthropology, and post-conflict resolution theory. I specifically focus on artworks made by the Transformação de Armas em Enxadas/ Transforming Arms into Plowshares (TAE) project, a group whose focus is transforming decommissioned weapons into art. The power of these artworks is twofold, for not only does their transformation into art prevent the weapons from killing again, but the works also serve a healing and commemorative function as their symbolic images serve as witness, revealing memories of past violence. The Mozambican civil war, begun in 1975, directly followed Mozambique’s battle for independence from Portuguese colonial rule. This intense and bloody conflict lasted from 1975-1992, and precipitated economic collapse, famine, and war-related casualties numbering between 900,000 to 1,000,000. Since 1995, TAE has collected some 600,000 weapons left over from Mozambique’s civil war. TAE destroys weapons and gives them to artists to create artworks that evoke the horror and destruction of Mozambique’s protracted internal conflict.

The theoretical framework for my investigation draws from visual culture and social anthropology, specifically, Igor Kopytoff’s seminal essay, “The Cultural Biography of Things,” which focuses on the transformation of an object through its many lives. By exploring contemporary art in Mozambique through the lens of recycled weapons and visual culture, I investigate how TAE combines elements of visual memorialization, psychological healing, and negotiation of the past to rebuild Mozambique with the transformative power of art.

Amy Schwartzott is a doctoral candidate in African art history at the University of Florida. Her primary interest is contemporary African artists who use recycled objects in the creation of their art. Amy’s dissertation research investigates the diverse materiality of recycled objects used by contemporary urban Mozambican artists. A recent trip to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, builds upon Amy’s previous dissertation research in Senegal and Mozambique. In her investigation of Mozambican artistic media, Amy is particularly interested in artists involved with the Transformacao de Armas em Enxadas/Transforming Arms into Plowshares (TAE) project. The transformative aspect of these artworks intrigues Amy, as she explores how the transformation of weapons into artworks by TAE artists prevent the weapons from killing again, but also the artworks serve a healing and commemmorative function as their symbolic images serve as witness, revealing memories of past violence in Mozambique’s protracted civil war.

Keynote Speaker: Jacqueline Maingard, University of Bristol

Jacqueline Maingard is a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies in the Department of Drama: Theatre, Film, Television at the University of Bristol. She has recently published South African National Cinema (2007) in the Routledge National Cinemas series. She has also published in various journals including Journal of African Cultural Studies, Journal of Southern African Studies and Screen, as well as in edited volumes. She directed the short documentary Uku Hamba ‘Ze – To Walk Naked (1995), which has been screened in many international venues and is distributed by Third World Newsreel.

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