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von Jean-Paul Bourelly

Salvador de Bahia, Kingston, Jamaica, London, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and New York have been recognized as main ports of activity for Black Atlantic music today.
The central idea of CONGO SQUARE will be to define how slavery, industrialization and now the information age, transported African cultural aesthetics through time and space in writing, language and most prominently, music to arrive at the contemporary art forms converging in and around the centers of cultural life mentioned above.
It is a tribute to the resiliency and adaptivity of black culture that these elements have now become global. Through the immediacy of dialogue and spontaneous composition (better known as “improvisation”) CONGO SQUARE will reveal the anatomy and functionality of the Black Atlantic's consciousness.

Under the artistic direction of guitarist, composer, and conceptualist Jean-Paul Bourelly (former creator of the BACK ROOM), this project will serve as an arena to trigger those impulses that made the music of the Black Atlantic survive. It will reveal parts of the genetic pool of thoughts and emotions that build the art forms as well as new styles that have influenced trans-global cultures of today, viewing the state of Berlin as a new Black Atlantic cultural hub.

Finding common points of reference to interact in order to create a new language for new conditions was a vital striving impulse for the various cultures in surviving the trauma, isolation, and terror of slavery.
That impulse is, or might have been, at the origins of jazz music, salsa, samba, funk or probably any music resulting from the trans-African experience.
Through the dialogues and the creative flexibility of the artists involved, Congo Square will take a modernist view of where music may be headed in the future.

Short Artist list of some participants
Dou Dou N’ Diaye Rose
Archie Shepp
Jean-Paul Bourelly
DJ Spooky
Torch -rapper
D’Nice (formerly w. Boogie Down Productions)
Joe Bowie (Defunkt)
Tony Allen (Fela Kuti)
Cheick Tidiane Seck
Ayibobo (Hatian Voudou jazz)
Kim Clarke (Defunkt)

For more info contact Congo Square at:

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Paul Gilroy
Curator's note
The Black Atlantic project is rooted in the half-remembered history of the modern African diaspora into the western hemisphere. It asks what significance that great dispersal and traumatic relocation might now have for the Americas, for Europe and for the world. It explores how the continuing cultural impact of that great shift might be used to re-think the experience and predicament of Europe’s racialised minorities as well as to explore the changing character of a western civilisation which has not always been able to recognise them as human beings. In particular, we want to show how the traumas and injustices of racial division have challenged art and culture to find forms that are capable of capturing the uncomfortable truths of this history of suffering, of healing its wounds, mourning its losses, protesting against its wrongs and affirming the dissident identities created by the historic obligation to re-make a world that has been broken and compromised by the rational irrationality of white supremacy.

Moving beyond these specific concerns with the racialisation of the modern world, the project also addresses more general aspects of contemporary art and culture which have recently become central to cultural debates. On the one hand, processes of trans-nationality and trans-culturality provide major themes. On the other, the project is open to a critique of modernity that has been articulated from a post-colonial perspective through various artistic genres, as well as political, aesthetic and philosophical frameworks.

The project conceives the Black Atlantic not as a period or region but as a trans- and inter-cultural space. It is a novel variety of space, a space defined by flows rather than places in which the ocean becomes a negative continent that requires us to redraw social, historical and cultural lines of communication between the Americas, Africa and western Europe. Culture crosses the Black Atlantic and histories of crossing as both mixture and movement mean that culture itself will have to be reconceptualised. Its links with land and territory are placed in question and culture is no longer to be understood as an exclusively sedentary phenomenon.

Our programme encompasses the various patterns and “vectors” of the Black Atlantic’s itinerant cultures. It shows that they exhibit distinctive communicative tactics and commodities. Though they are central, texts are not the only or the dominant vehicle for this restless culture. There are journeys to consider, sounds and music to interrogate. We must also reflect upon the technologies that helped this culture to move and, more recently, to supply a vibrant soundtrack for globalisation. Braided into the Black Atlantic’s histories of sound and sounding are traditions of visual culture that play with the limit of what can be seen and literary expressions that know the limitations of what can be turned into words. Taken together, these arts of darkness have shaped a powerful counterculture of western modernity.

The project aims to question the overly innocent European conceptions of modernity that try to confine its unfolding to the tidy urban environments of western Europe. The Black Atlantic directs attention to the modernity of institutions like the slave castle and the monocrop plantation. Postmodernist critiques of modernity have routinely been confined to and largely shaped by the industrial killing and genocidal atrocities of the 20th century. The Black Atlantic project follows a different historical path into the contested moral imagination of western culture. It suggests that all the ambiguities and conflicts that characterise modernity can profitably be traced right back to the start of Europe’s colonial expansion. This counter-history is oriented, but not exhausted, by the central event of the slave trade.

The middle passage represents a beginning as well as an end. Its traumas initiated a new and distinctively modern diaspora with a special cultural ecology. Literacy was forbidden on the point of death and music moved into a dominant position that influenced the shape and quality of the other artistic creations made by slaves and their descendants. By making music into the central art-form for our season, we remember and celebrate this historic development.

Mass migration into Europe from its formerly colonial territories has become a defining characteristic of our time. It has helped to transform familiar places into unknown landscapes where old Europe is exposed to new strangers and new patterns of trans-culturalisation develop. Multiple identities have become a commonplace that brings abstract globalization alive in everyday life. Rather than see this process of contact and mutual influence as a loss, or a process in which the purity of civilisation has been contaminated by unwanted alien influences, the trans-national structures of the Black Atlantic invite us to consider the possibility that trans-culturalisation might provide a host of cultural opportunities and could potentially supply significant resources for the building and enhancing Europe’s multi-cultural democracy.

The Black Atlantic project will take place in Autumn, 2004, in Berlin. German colonial history will play an important role in its unfolding. There are for example, many questions arising from the presence of a largely unrecorded and bitterly contested history of the black presence in this city and this nation. That presence has done more than shape contemporary Berlin. The city was the location of one the major conferences to shape the geo-political ordering of colonial territory. The project will explore a number of pivotal problems that have a bearing upon how the nation might begin to re-imagine itself and to accommodate its forgotten colonial past. These include the impact of the Haitian revolution on German political and philosophical thought, the circulation and dissemination of new world black cultures including the local manifestations of jazz culture and their relationship to an expanded and revised account of modernism.

The Black Atlantic favours low frequencies. Its cultures of sound and histories of sounding have been celebrated by diverse artists and thinkers. They have provided our project with its central themes. Taking sound and sonic technologies as a point of departure, we have set out to map a variety of reverberations that includes the power of dispersed and fragmented counter-memories, the recovery of lost histories of resistance and the difficulties involved in the process of re-inscription through which we learn that we are no longer what we were and cannot return to a fixed and knowable point of origin. The project will place the meaning and functionality of music within a series of curated soundscapes shaped by the obligation to improvise and the desire to be heard. These ciphers of the black Atlantic’s hidden public sphere, become places that capture the distinctiveness of its responses to both modernity and modernism.

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Shaheen Merali
Curatorial Statement
The making of an exhibition programme is both a private and public enterprise. It exemplifies by choice and site as much about the artists concerns and skills as well as the curators ambition and motivation. To deal with such a plethora of material, positionalities and substantial ideas, which are in due course to be introduced into the public domain can be daunting in its planning stage- for all unforeseen reasons from the technical failure of the method of delivery to its contextual flaws. But it is within this exciting frisson that contact will be established that assists in displacing doubts, subsequently allows amplifications beyond that which had been envisaged, planned or executed as "the exhibition".

In making exhibitions; curators, artists and organisations take a chance with the public- even with great planning the whole event remains unrehearsed and feels overwhelmingly experimental on various levels. It is in these embryonic conditions of "making" and "exhibiting" that establishes a forum within which both curators and artists find their space to enable a form of translation, explaination and make available their research, their work. Within the framework of the Black Atlantic interdisciplinary project all of these conditions of exhibition making became intertwined with burdened histories, intermingled positions about modernity and portable identities. Here, the curatorial position and the process of exploring the conceptual and critical terrain became itself a transcultural space. Here transatlantic diversity, forced movements of peoples and the longeviety of the pursuit of moral rectitude made the project seem highly urgent.

This sensation to promote its moral background especially within middle Europe has also substantially moulded its format, allowed and exposed an understanding beyond the logic of inside and outside. The outcome has been a series of decisions that allow for a more vital contemplation on the contemporary global environment. This vision of the global has been resolutely formulated by corollation with the local history and placing the local central to the discourse . Central to the works is the issue of contact. The artworks are committed to fostering a growing uncovering of the abundance of historic contact between divergent spaces, communities, and even continents. No place remains innocent or aloof from the networked global condition. The notion of contact helps us to deepen our collective understanding and rethink residues of historical facts including slavery, colonialism and the empirical quest for domination of peoples and resources. The exhibition exemplifies by digging for evidence and re-siting these unearthed remains to throw new light on the contemporary European Transatlantic relations.

What we know, why we know it and how we know it. Are the primary tools of excavation to construct a counter geography. Even the idea of belonging or national citizenship- these accepted norms and their ontologies are questioned- to demand a radical disjunction in the quest to re-imagine/ represent a different geopolitical arrangement. The Black Atlantic register, its framing helps us to reconfigure the given that has existed as different and difference. The works in the exhibition creatively helps to modify the way we look at the world - a way of visual comprehension and settle difference into a diasporic formation - which in itself specifies an important cultural formation.

One of the most important paradigms of human consciousness is ""resistance" - to make us who we are, who we want to be and gives back a sense of humanity - realising a sense of power - these ideas/ notions feature in some of the artists work. Not necessarily as a romance of resistance, or of bravery but as a model of exchange around the experience of survival - in their visual vocabulary these artists articulate resistance as movements, or as moments and even constellations where a fact remembered is not only a fact imagined but the very act of re-invention.

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Fatima El-Tayeb
Curator's note on the film programme
Film has arguably been the most influential medium of the 20th Century. Combining the immediacy of visual representation with the ability to convey complex narratives, films have been central in forming our perception of both our own world and those worlds too distant in time or space to directly experience them.

Movies, from the early days on, were also central in constructing black people as the Other - from ethnographic documentaries through the complex appropriation process of blackface to contemporary action movies, blackness has been an ever present feature of a visual culture shaped largely by moving images. At the same time, film always was an important means in the attempts of black artists like Oscar Micheaux, Spike Lee or Julie Dash  to counter the flood of commodified blackness with their own images.

The Black Atlantic is a key theme in this culture of counter-representations, the site of a dialogue involving African, Afro-European and African American artists interacting with each other as well as with Hollywood or the luminaries of the European ethnographic tradition.

The immense influence moving images had and have on popular culture demand an inclusion of a film series in the Black Atlantic Project, while at the same time the popularity of the medium film at the same time promises to attract a large audience
The program will be divided in four blocs following the thematic lines of the project and using the time slots not taken by other events: each bloc consisting of Wednesday-Thursday-Friday sessions, two are scheduled for late September/early October, and two for late October/early November. Depending on the budget, all or most films will be introduced by experts from various fields, film historians, community activist, filmmakers: the four Friday screenings will be followed by panel discussions bringing together international as well as local artists and scholars.