AFRICULTURES: INTERRELATED WORLDS

The Africultures Manifesto

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SINCE THE AFRICULTURES JOURNAL WAS LAUNCHED IN 1997, THE AFRICULTURES ASSOCIATION HAS BECOME BECOME A VERITABLE HIVE OF ACTIVITY AND DIVERSIFIED ITS PRESENCE ON THE WEB. ITS OBJECTIVES, HOWEVER, HAVE REMAINED UNCHANGED. THIS TEXT SETS OUT WHAT UNITES THIS TIGHT-KNIT, COMMITTED TEAM. IT IS A SORT OF MANIFESTO OF THE ISSUES AT STAKE.

« […] IT IS WHOLELY BARBARIC TO DEMAND THAT A COMMUNITY OF IMMIGRANTS’INTEGRATES’ INTO THE HOST COMMUNITY. CREOLIZATION IS NOT FUSION. IT NEEDS EACH COMPONENT TO PERSIST, EVEN IF ALREADY BEGINNING TO CHANGE. INTEGRATION IS A CENTRALIZING, AUTOCRATIC DREAM. […] A COUNTRY THAT UNDERGOES CREOLIZATION ESCHEWS STANDARDIZATION. […]
THE BEAUTY OF A COUNTRY ENHANCES ITS MULTIPLICITY. »
EDOUARD GLISSANT (1)

The Africultures association, which publishes an initially monthly, now quarterly journal in France, a whole host of websites and, since 2007, the bi-monthly free magazine Afriscope, was set up in 1997 out of the desire to view African arts as contemporary; not contemporary in the sense that they are simply a reflection of our times – in which case they wouldn’t be adding anything particularly new – but in the sense that they reflect our present and future. Africultures thus seeks to document and analyze contemporary art forms that are both innovative and outward-looking, an antidote to the universalist tendencies that established racial hierarchies. This means highlighting these works’ role in deconstructing the colonial stereotypes that still fuel discrimination today. Our aim, therefore, is to contribute to a world in which all individuals are truly equal in both dignity and rights, in our shared belonging to humanity.

Neither ideological nor political, we above all defend art and creativity as a response, as a space in which to break down barriers in the French social context. Defending an analytical critical approach to the works of the African continent and diaspora is to assert the power and place of innovation. It is about eschewing exotic settings and folklore and returning the human. The Africultures journal has constantly challenged the notion of Africanity and examined the creolization at work in the world in an attempt to escape identity-based fixations.
The Afriscope magazine, which was launched in 2007 as a complement to this critical approach to the arts, covers associations’ noteworthy activities and initiatives. It keeps its finger on the pulse of the diaspora’s cultural events, while at the same time avoiding presenting them uniquely through the prism of immigration.

Indeed, the heart of our critical work is to challenge these works’ being assigned to an identity: that of foreign. Racialization creates the subalternity of erased Black people and stigmatized Arabs, and racialization makes the cultural question central. Differences in skin color and physique – so varied they are impossible to categorize – denote the cultural diversity of this entity that we call the French nation. If there is such a thing as an identity, it is one that takes this diversity into account in all its dimensions, and notably its historic one; in other words, as part of the French national narrative too. There is no intrusion, no breaking and entering, no invasion: there is only a shared History. Standardization is impossible when it comes to humanity: the creolization underway in all societies makes a nonsense of all purist and conservative designs on identity. A living identity is always in the making, evolving.

This is the crux of our struggle! In other words, we work for this diversity’s imaginative realm, and notably that whose works draw on African cultures, to be sufficiently well-known, recognized, and taken into consideration so that these works participate in the richness of our society in the making. Territorial foreignness is spurious when people take an interest in what is already present. If there is such a thing as foreignness, it is our own, in the diversity of our parts. Sociocultural experiences, and notably those of our youth, deconstruct inequalities every day. But media discourse, economic practices and short-sighted electioneering political strategies tend to revive them. They fan the fears that degenerate into all levels of violence. This struggle thus remains essential and completely topical. For, what is at stake is quite simply creating the conditions of living together.

Taking the imaginative into account means following those who create the expressions of this diversity and listening to what they have to say. We thus strive to highlight such creative endeavors. We do not dispense knowledge to be swallowed per se, but offer an opening, a proposition, a contribution to the debate sparked by every act of speaking out and by all artistic expression.

We try to avoid superficiality or banal promotions to enrich, as far as is possible, the relation created between cultural players and their public. We thus seek to popularize and reinforce interrelated worlds, not based on difference, but on the solidarity that comes from sharing.

Beyond the cultural, it is the entire question of interculturality that is posed in a diverse world. « Diversity », writes Edouard Glissant, « is not a melting pot […] Diversity means a clash of differences, which can be self-regulating, conflictual or in accord, but always generators of unpredictability. » (2) For us, this notion of unpredictability is essential: it is by no means the least of the African arts’ contributions, for they draw on lived experience there where, given life’s difficulties, people have never known what tomorrow will hold. As Africa’s art forms construct hope against all odds, they develop a positivity; in our world undergoing both economic and ecological crisis, they see not anguish to be surmounted, but the need to devise new ways of living together. And they do so by forging a greater sense of collectivity and solidarity, in a new humanism that spurns all human hierarchies, by adapting and constantly reinventing our relations.

Highlighting and taking diversity into account is a permanent negotiation: it is the result of both political will and the demands made by those who suffer discrimination. But being in a relation also means being together on a human level. It means trusting the intelligence and maturity of those concerned to defend and organize themselves if they are subjected to the constraints of their cultural history. It is a complex process and it takes time. We don’t believe, therefore, that any single practice should be imposed in a diverse society. Everyone should be free to wear culturally distinctive signs in public. One cannot ignore the protective force of the law when it comes to reprehensible practices, of course, but we should not allow the law to become a factor of stigmatization. That is where we stand in the debates currently agitating French society: we are for taking people’s specificities into account, for respecting diversity and for being aware of the ensuing new ways of living together. Diversity is not a problem; it is a concrete solution, a social catalyst: it’s what keeps society thriving! We position ourselves within this positivity.

Of course such positivity is not always an easy ride: the confrontation of differences can be uncomfortable and problematic. It requires that everyone forgo a little of their quietude and accept that the boat be rocked. The Other is an alter ego, an Other of our kind: embracing this similarity opens the way to solidarity. But he/she is also a different Other, with an irrevocable part that I will never understand, an opacity that will always be a difference. It is a right. But should never lead to any form of apartheid. Our work at Africultures lies in its acceptance and the promotion of its pertinence for those concerned.

Africultures has always striven to root its reflection in current issues, while remaining open to developing new perspectives in keeping with our society’s evolutions.

Africultures is a project for life, for a future together.

1. Traité du Tout-monde, poétique IV, Gallimard, 1997, p. 210.
2. Introduction à une poétique du divers, Gallimard 1996, republished in 2006, p. 98.
Translated by Melissa Thackway thanks to Black Camera, United States///Article N° : 12677

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