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Beads, Pixels, and Nkisi: Contemporary Kinois Art and Reconfigurations of the Virtual

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 April 2021

Abstract

In the 2016 Abiola Lecture, Mbembe argued that “the plasticity of digital forms speaks powerfully to the plasticity of African precolonial cultures and to ancient ways of working with representation and mediation, of folding reality.” In her commentary, Pype tries to understand what “speaking powerfully to” can mean. She first situates the Abiola Lecture within a wide range of exciting and ongoing scholarship that attempts to understand social transformations on the continent since the ubiquitous uptake of the mobile phone, and its most recent incarnation, the smartphone. She then analyzes the aesthetics of artistic projects by Alexandre Kyungu, Yves Sambu, and Hilaire Kuyangiko Balu, where wooden doors, tattoos, beads, saliva, and nails correlate with the Internet, pixels, and keys of keyboards and remote controls. Finally, Pype asks to whom the congruence between the aesthetics of a “precolonial” Congo and the digital speaks. In a society where “the past” is quickly demonized, though expats and the commercial and political elite pay thousands of dollars for the discussed art works, Pype argues that this congruence might be one more manifestation of capitalism’s cannibalization of a stereotypical image of “Africa.”

Résumé

Résumé

Dans la conférence d’Abiola 2016, Mbembe a soutenu que «la plasticité des formes numériques parle puissamment à la plasticité des cultures précoloniales africaines et aux anciennes manières de travailler avec la représentation et la médiation, de plier la réalité». Dans son commentaire, Pype essaie de comprendre ce que «parler avec puissance» peut signifier. Elle situe d’abord la conférence dans un large éventail de recherches scientifiques qui tentent de comprendre les transformations sociales sur le continent depuis l’adoption du téléphone mobile et de sa dernière incarnation, le smartphone. Elle analyse ensuite l’esthétique des projets artistiques d’Alexandre Kyungu, Yves Sambu et Hilaire Kuyangiko Balu, où les portes en bois, les tatouages, les perles, la salive et les ongles sont en corrélation avec Internet, les pixels et les touches des claviers et des télécommandes. Enfin, Pype demande à qui parle la congruence entre l’esthétique d’un Congo «précolonial» et le numérique. Dans une société où «le passé» est rapidement diabolisé les expatriés et l’élite commerciale et politique paient des milliers de dollars pour les œuvres d’art discutées. Pype soutient que cette congruence pourrait être une manifestation de plus de la cannibalisation par le capitalisme d’une image stéréotypée de «l’Afrique ».

Resumo

Resumo

Na Lição de Abiola que proferiu em 2016, Achille Mbembe defendeu que “a plasticidade dos meios digitais tem forte relação com a plasticidade das culturas africanas pré-coloniais e com métodos antigos de trabalhar a representação e a mediação e de interpretar a realidade”. Nesta sua análise, Pype procura esclarecer o que pode significar “ter forte relação”. Em primeiro lugar, a autora enquadra a Lição de Abiola numa conjunto mais vasto da entusiasmante produção académica atualmente em curso, a qual se propõe interpretar as transformações sociais que têm ocorrido no continente africano desde que a utilização dos telemóveis de generalizou, e desde que ganhou terreno a sua mais recente encarnação: os smartphones. Depois, analisa a dimensão estética dos projetos artísticos de Alexandre Kyungu, Yves Sambu e Hilaire Kuyangiko Balu, nos quais portas de madeira, tatuagens, missangas, saliva e unhas se relacionam com a internet, píxeis e teclas de teclados e controlos remotos. Por fim, Pype questiona-se sobre a quem se dirigirá a correlação entre a estética de um Congo “pré-colonial” e o mundo digital. Numa sociedade onde “o passado” é facilmente diabolizado, ainda que os expatriados e as elites económicas e políticas paguem milhares de dólares pelas referidas obras de arte, Pype defende que esta correlação pode ser mais uma manifestação da canibalização capitalista de uma imagem estereotipada de “África”.

Type
Forum: Decolonizing the Virtual: Future Knowledges and the Extrahuman in Africa
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the African Studies Association

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Footnotes

This text comments on the 2016 Abiola Lecture “Knowledge Futures and the State of the Humanities,” delivered by Achille Mbembe, and is part of a special Forum for the African Studies Review, which I am curating along with Sasha Newell. I would like to refer the reader to our introduction for a reflection on the various strands of the Abiola Lecture and our commentaries.

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