africologne (13): Marie Yan’s last report “Caged in old visions”

Kagayi Ngobi performing «For my negativity» (Photo: Jackson)

by Marie Yan


Africologne came to a close two days ago and I have changed place and desk. What remains then of ten days of festival, watching two to three events a day, walking through Cologne, talking to artists, organisers and audiences?

I will remember for a long time the mind-shattering performance of Ugandan poet Kagayi Ngobi in For my negativity. I thank him and his team for bringing on stage a man of mad language, but clear sight, bleeding from his forehead, telling truths of the split postcolonial self, of the erring witness of crime and corruption. Who projected them onto us with the storm of his pacing around, of his giggles, of his dolls and gifts of matchboxes. The choruses of his piece gave me the sort of food only poetry can give, one that you keep chewing on because its taste changes the shape of your jaw.

Alas, once the emotion of the great performances I saw simmers and leaves, the fatigue from the first day comes back to me. [1] The festival left too many impressions in my ears of a thing not yearning enough for this time of new metaphors and archetypes the writer Yvonne Adhiambi Owuor was calling for in her opening speech. I still felt lingering in the unquestioned curatorial interstices of otherwise longstanding and sincere relations between the festival and its artists guests, a universalism that lost its naivety in the crime of colonisation. The universalism that says too fast «We are all equal» the same way you awkwardly leave a conversation that just started in the tribunals of history.

In that, it reflected the opening of Cologne’s African Futures all around programme, where many – white – officials talked about dialogue and exchange begging the question: what are the conditions of said dialogue and said exchange, when, according to the organisers of the European Conference of African Studies, fifteen guests students and professors were denied a visa to Germany? Same at africologne, where three participants were missing: Hyppolite Ntigurirwa (artist, activist, founder of Be the Peace; England/Ruanda) from the panel «Dialogforum: Recognise, restitute and repair» and the musicians Collin Serunjogi and Mudhasi Jaffer (Uganda), part of the team of For my negativity. Their absence digs a bottomless hole in the futures presented during the events.

This final article could be a call for change, but it is not, as it is not mine to make. It is much more to all involved in it, from afar or up close. But if change there must be, a note:

In For my negativity, a voice celebrates the independence of Uganda saying «Let us keep the best of the British administration». In 1922, in another British colony, Hong Kong, the administration adopts the Emergency Regulations Ordinance: whatever regulation it wants to pass, it can now do so in a blink of the eye. Very convenient to suppress freedoms, in a time of strikes at the city’s ports. The ordinance remains in the law. It is used again during the 1967 protests against freedom of speech and assembly. Then the British leave, but the law remains. In 2019, it is used one more time, against pro-democracy protests.

What does it mean to keep the best of the worst? What does it mean to cook with the knife that once stabbed? Who decides what is best? Who has interest in keeping in place interpretations of what is or is not in the good of a collective group inherited from an earlier time? What is best, like negativity, are not absolutes, but relations. And in good intentions, lie seeds of power, growing fast as decisions shape a shivering common reality.

During the festival I asked some of the artists or participants how they saw the future. One answer I wrote in a previous article [2] and two others are still on my mind. One was given to me with a grave face. «How do you see the future?» I asked Mireille Fanon Mendès-France. «Dark. Going towards chaos. If we do not do anything.» The other one was the shape of a question. Reacting to the name of the programme the city of Cologne has launched, this «African futures all around» programme: «Is it to Germany to decide African futures?» Is it in Germany that African futures can be decided?

I would like to close quoting again Kagayi Ngobi:

«I am sorry

If I upset any stars

In the skies of our optimism

With unpleasant feelings «

To africologne, who did welcome me well, I say in my turn, sorry for my negativity, but too much dies of the future through «untold intentions / caged in old visions». [3]


[1] Opening

[2] Eyeland: The future is looking for us.

[3] For my negativity, Kagayi Ngobi, Kitara Nation, 2019.

Marie Yan (Photo: Yan Ho)

Marie Yan is a multilingual writer and dramaturge with a focus on postcolonial perspectives. She writes in French and English, speaking German, learning Cantonese. In worlds that range from near-documentary to speculative fiction, she has written stories about borders (I need to cross, commission of the Eskişehir’s city theatre, 2019), conspiracy theories (La Théorie, Festival Impatience, Paris, 2021), climate disaster and authoritarianism (A Tidal Home, Hong Kong, 2021). Her ongoing project Minotaurus or the child of the labyrinth, after Dürrenmatt, researches the incarceration of minors in France in association with theatre company Lou Pantail. She received the Mary Leishman Award for Theatre for her first play The Fog and the Crossing Borders scholarship for her upcoming essay Hong Kong: Struggling home. She works between France and Germany.

@_marie_yan (IG)

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