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Cultural Exchange via Internet - Opportunities and Strategies
Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, 12 October - 4 December, 1998

[as of December 1st 1998 the forum has been prolonged - ... open-ended]

Subject:Re: Replay to Manfred Brönner and more
Date:Thu, 15 Oct 1998 12:26
Author:Olu Oguibe  []

i'd rather begin with a quick response to some asides raised in pat binder's posting. first, the reference to the 2nd johannesburg biennale was off-handed, and it is a bit disappointing for anyone to say that if they can't find the url on the internet, then we should rely on one review for our information on the biennale. incidentally, sabine vogel's review of the biennale is one of the very few, truly disingenious and outrightly inane critiques of that the biennale. the other is eddie chambers's in _artmonthly._ other than these and a few in south africa itself where the whole process was nearly engulfed in the politics of resistance against outside curators, the general, global word on the 2nd johannesburg biennale is that it redefined the concept of biennials for the 21st century. if anyone on this forum is serious about global "inter-culturalism", and not merely neo-sectionalism whereby nothing done elsewhere is right unless it excludes europe, then they have to look to the 2nd johannesburg biennale. some of us--and i should know, having lived and practised on three continents, and having been on the receiving end of whatever is negative about the present arrangement of the global cultural power-structure--some of us are rather beginning to tire of sectionalism. and regionalism, no matter what cloak it comes in, is still sectionalist. that is the very orgre that we all confess to battling, yet we find no paradox in turning round and propagating it. some people wanted--and still want--johannesburg to be a "third world" biennale, a biennale for "others", another habana where white australian artists are not welcome, only aboriginals. well, for the little period that we had the chance to direct johannesburg [the conference of which i organized, with ravi sundaram as one of the speakers], we were determined to insist that johannesburg is and should be an international biennale, not a regional, "third world" or "other" biennale. such truly open, non-sectionalist, opportunities are what i have spent my entire career as an artist and critic working for, and that's all that i'll support.

funny enough, many of us simply sit in little offices and divine what should and should not be done, without as much as little concern for what artists around the world think or would want to see. and i can assure you as an artist who has worked with others from all parts of the globe that there is nothing that we wish for in this regard, more than to work together and exchange ideas and experiences with our colleagues and contemporaries from other societies and cultures, and command the same respect and remuneration wherever we happen to be. those who talk nonsense about the second johannesburg biennale fail to mention that there were 70 [seventy] south african artists in that biennale; that these south african artists had an opportunity to exhibit alongside coco fusco, and geeta kapur's husband, vivan sundaram, and african american artists carrie mae weems and lorna simpson and david hammons, and congolese artist bodys kingeles, and nigerian artists ike ude and fatima tugga, as well as fiona tan, keith piper, xhu bing, and sabin bitter, sam taylor-wood, diana thater, beat streuli, gabrielle orosco, pepon osorio etc., artists they have only read about in magazines and admired, but who were now with them, at their doorsteps, working with them, reaffirming for them that we're all artists who have things to learn from one another. was that a terrible thing to do? to bring them the opportunity to meet with these artists, their true contemporaries, to work and talk and exchange with them, rather than lodge them together with some craft cooperative from the deserts of australia or the backwoods of nigeria, or give them an ANC cultural festival in the name of a biennial so as not to sell out to "new york internationality". oh! please, someone spare me the crap. i believe that some of us have some serious soul-searching to do, to find out what it is exactly that we want. whether all we want is not simply to preserve a "third world", where we can go and do good and feel good that we are of some help. perhaps what we truly want is a reservation of cultures locked in a little world of "others" like in-grown nails, "natives" talking to each other, not getting "contaminated", pure, authentic, using their hoes and plough-mules while we jet off to mars because hoes and plough-mules are closer to "their" way of life. might there be some residue of the original sin here? might we be propagating apartheid afresh?

if it means anything to anyone, i know for certain that moshekwa langa, santu mofokeng, sandile zulu, pat mautloa, all cherish the opportunity to show alongside chinese, latin american, australian, austrian, irish, german, italian, american, nigerian, egyptian, dutch artists, and that, whatever a sabine vogel might think--if she does think--or wish, having lived through a century of race-inspired deprivation, the last thing these artists want is to be prohibited from collaborating and showing with other artists on the grounds of race. that is what we do when we prohibit white australian artists from being in a so-called "intercultural" biennial, when we invite england to a biennial but purge the list of artists so that it contains no white artists, when we set up an american pavilion but only include latinos and african americans. that is a travesty because it makes a mockery of everything that some of us have fought for, and i deplore it with every drop of blood in my body.

sure, caucasians have had their fair share of visibility and dominance in the international art scene. some would say, more than their fair share. but we do not correct that by purging caucasians from shows, biennials, or discussions, or by creating new, "colored peoples'" world-fairs which ultimately depend, by the way, on caucasian money to run or survive. at the end of the day you wonder, who is making that decision, anyway, if not some other caucasian do-gooder intent on righting the "wrongs" of his or her ancestors and peers? is that a shift of power?

let me say it at the usual risk of antagonising some; an international, "intercultural" forum or project or space is not worthy of its name if it methodically excludes caucasians. a house of world cultures is not a house of world cultures if it has no room for europe and its diaspora; in the same way that it is not a house of world cultures if it excludes africa and its diaspora. an internet forum on "intercultural" exchange is not worth it unless it has europeans talking _not_ about africa and japan, as if we have reconvened the bismarck conference, but talking about europe as well, and how africa and japan and europe are locked together in this age. as i've always insisted, you cannot be inclusive by excluding. once you exclude anyone, be they white, black, caucasian or aboriginal, you've lost it. that was the flaw in the graz exhibition, inklusion/exklusion. once you take one race or culture out for whatever reason--be it too much visibility or power or whatever--you've failed. it is a new world, ladies and gentleman, that we are striving towards; not a third world, not a first world, not a non-aligned movement or a g-7, not parochialism in the name of neo-regionalism, but a new world where we all are involved with and exposed to one another. i have no overarching desire to sit with ravi sundaram and shut the door on pat binder, and vice-versa. and if that level of openness is what we dismiss rather scornfully as "internationality", then, so be it.

i'll return to manfred's rather slightly frightening idea of an all-powerful, singular forum to make and unmake culture brokers. i'm sure it is well-intended, but it is frightening, nevertheless.

olu oguibe
tampa, florida

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Forum of the House of World Cultures, Berlin, on the use of Internet in the cultural exchange with and between Africa, Asia/Pacific and Latin America. 12 October - 4 December, 1998

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©  House of World Cultures, Berlin. 1998