|Its point of departure is the history of the "middle passage", the abduction and shipping of slaves from Africa to the "New World". As a result of its experience of cultural "uprootedness" caused by the slave trade, as well as through its contributions to global (pop) culture, the modern African Diaspora has developed a culture that questions the dominant Western concepts of culture and art in many ways.
The term used in the title was coined by British sociologist Paul Gilroy. Gilroy, along with historian Fatima El-Tayeb and Tina Campt, whose research focuses on women's studies, worked together with the House of World Cultures in developing the overall concept for the project.
Black Atlantic refers not to a clearly defined region or specific period, but to a multidimensional and trans-cultural space characterised more by movement and networking than by particular sites. Paul Gilroy sees the Atlantic Ocean as a negative continent that makes it possible to trace lines of social, historical and cultural connection between the Americas, Africa and Western Europe. The background for the Black Atlantic project is the network of relations of the African Diaspora and the search for "dissident" identities that eschew the assertion of an unambiguous essence. The project explores artistic expressions of this search and the significance of art for the diverse systems of reference at work. Abduction and dispersal, as well as collective and individual traumas of racist oppression, have challenged and inspired artists to develop new aesthetic techniques and strategies. Although written texts are very important, for example, they are not the dominant driving force of the travelling cultures of the Black Atlantic: The written word was forbidden to slaves on penalty of death, causing musical expression to assume a central role. Music, therefore, has influenced other art forms. Interwoven with the stories of the sounds and the sounding of the Black Atlantic are traditions of visual culture that play with the boundaries of the visible as well as forms of literary expression that know of the limits of what can be said. These "arts of darkness" can be understood as a strong "counterculture" to Western modernity.
The Black Atlantic project also seeks to question conventional ideas of modernity and to conceive a "counter-history" to Western historiography. For example, what is the "modernity" of institutions such as the slave castle and the plantation? The project works from the premise that major conflicts of modernity can be traced back to the slave trade and the beginnings of Europe's colonial expansion. German colonial history plays a prominent role in the development of the project, as does the history of the Black presence in Germany and in Berlin. Why has the history of Blacks in this city hardly been documented, although it was the site of one of the most important conferences in shaping the geopolitical order of colonial territories? Black Atlantic will examine the issue of how Germany is facing and can continue to face its suppressed colonial history.
By declaring music the leading art form, this interdisciplinary project at the House of World Cultures pays tribute to the historic dimension of this art form. But here we are concerned with music in a broad sense, namely as "sound", "sounding", "sonic": These are "landscapes" in which suppressed history, defiant realities and dissident identities are given voices.
Black Atlantic will be structured in three thematically conceptualised "academies". A different art form will assume a leading role in each one and at the same time it will be reflected in other disciplines, whether films, discussions, lectures or concerts. A continuous music and film programme connects the three academies. Visual art is represented not in a traditional way in a single exhibition, but by large multi-media installations by Isaac Julien, Keith Piper, and Lisl Ponger and Tim Sharp. Displayed throughout the entire building, they encourage the artists to enter into dialogue with each other.
The opening weekend will be immediately followed by the first academy on the subject of memory and counter-memory. This first intensive art and workshop phase is based on a project by dancer and choreographer Ismael Ivo. It connects the personal narratives of three women intertwined with Black history in different ways with performative memory inscribed in the body to approach the subject in a way that can be perceived sensually. This artistic argument of memories, suppression and the issue of the presence of history today will be accompanied by intensive talks on the project's relevance in Germany. Two history workshops will take place on the impact of German colonial history on Germany's self-concept as a nation today as well as the question of acceptance and repression of Black presence in Germany, especially in the twentieth century.
The second academy, Congo Square, directed by jazz guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly, will start a few weeks later with a musical focus on the idea of the network. This transnational exchange of creative potential as well as vital survival information or philosophic background provided the basis for the Black Atlantic project. It will pursue the question of the fundamental influence of "Black music" on "Western" culture.
The third academy, with an intensive programme of conferences, workshops and lectures, will explore how the history of imperial power and colonial relations affect the moral and political thought and imagination of modern Europe. A central question seeks the relationship between modernity and terror. Thus it takes up themes such as "Race and Human Rights" and the "Herero Genocide".
Duration: 17 Sept.-14 Nov. 2004
Opening weekend: 16-19 Sept. 2004
Following the Opening the project is structured in three consecutive so-called platforms, each focussing on one theme and highlighting a special form of artistic expression:
Platform I: 17-26 September 2004
How do(n't) we remember
Performing Arts; a few showings of the performance by dancer and choreographer Ismael Ivo. This will be linked with a conference on the thought, work and life of African-American sociologist and philosopher W.E.B. Dubois, accompanied by conferences on German colonial history and Black German history.
Platform II: 15-23 October 2004
Music, Resistance, Encounters
A series of concerts arranged by musician Jean-Paul Bourelly. This will be connected with symposia and panels on the history of jazz and the impact of new technologies on music.
Platform III: 11-14 November 2004
Racial Terror and Human Rights
Science and Literature; colloquium and literary voices.
For the duration of the event, other artistic projects will be exhibited or performed, including installations by the internationally known artists Isaac Julien, Keith Piper and Lisl Ponger; and a series of concerts by internationally acclaimed musicians/orchestras, a literature series, a film series and a young people's programme.