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Foreword Afterall Journal issue 43

If there is a leitmotif to be found in this issue, it is in the variations of these mutating questions: What is indigeneity? Who defines it? Where does it exist? What is the role of kinship, communitas, comunalidad? And what role does art or the museum play? The rhythm might loop, it might skip, it might enter a fugal dissonance. And at times it might go silent.

A year ago, the Afterall editorial team met in Toronto to work on the issue you hold in your hands. Conscious that it was the first time the London-anchored journal met in the ‘colony’, Wanda Nanibush and myself organised a private round table with local Indigenous elders, artists, curators, students, professors and writers as well as the Afterall editorial team. 01 As the day grew long, the conversation shifted from histories of inclusion to understandings of structural change, which resulted in an invitation to documenta 14 curatorial advisor and Indigenous curator Candice Hopkins to join the editorial team. The current issue is also one of our most global issues to date, bringing together artists and communities that have manifested a collectivity for resistance, visibility and imagined political futures. Within these pages are artists, writers and organisations from South, Central and North America; the UK, Europe, Russia and Africa; and now Asia, since, with this issue, the journal has added the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore and Ute Meta Bauer to the editorial team.

Lee Maracle’s poem ‘Dedicated to the Anishnawbekwe’ opens this issue as we attempt to reorientate the scope of the journal’s voice. In establishing unprecedented histories, several of the essays make inclusionary moves, such as Lee-Ann Martin’s, Griselda Pollock’s and Cédric Vincent’s. Martin recounts her insider’s view of the catalysing protests, exhibitions and symposia from 1988 to 1992 that radically reshaped the cultural sphere of Canadian museums and the practice of exhibiting Indigenous art. In parallel, Pollock writes about the importance, in the UK, of ensuring she acquired a work by Black diasporic painter Lubaina Himid in the 1990s – just so ‘that Lubaina Himid was visible in a public gallery’. Vincent’s contextualisation of a contemporary art exhibition in Dakar in 1966, ‘Tendances et confrontations’, considers what was at stake at the Premier Festival mondial des arts nègres (First World Festival of Negro Arts). Vincent proposes the exhibition did not perform an ‘expression of African cultural unity’ as the overall festival was designed to do, but instead produced ‘a great heterogeneity’. Such important histories must also take into account refusals, including that of the African-American artist William Majors when he did not accept his award from the festival on the grounds he kept his art and his identity claims separate.

The inauguration of a pan-Africanist political aesthetics in Dakar in 1966 is picked up in this issue’s conversation concerning the South African collective Chimurenga, in which Kodwo Eshun, Emily Pethick and Avery F. Gordon discuss their Foucauldian-like (think of ‘Fantasia of the Library’) project at The Showroom in London. Ntone Edjabe, introduces their artistic intervention of maps into these pages in a short essay challenging the legacy of colonial surveying in Africa, which asks, ‘How do we, on the continent, create a cartography that is so exactingly representative of our fluidities, complexities and material realities?’

In contrast, Anders Kreuger considers the counter-intuitive possibility of a European indigeneity. Kreuger has meandered through oil-rich western Russia, working with artists of the Finno-Ugrian region who have survived the ebb and flow of Russian oppression for over a century. As the USSR fractured, a sliver of artists initiated the techno-utopic art movement ethno-futurism. Perhaps unexpectedly, the most compelling section of Kreuger’s essay is his philology of ‘indigeneity’, from the Samoyeds to inorodtsy. Tracing the kisiskâciwani river back to her birthplace, Métis scholar Zoe Todd challenges herself to imagine the ‘carbon and fossil beings’ of the oil that the Alberta tar sands industry is extracting as her ancestral kin. Todd’s writing frames an intergenerational family narrative, transforming a story about her grandfather’s resistance to colonial pressures into a manifesto for a future decolonised art based on care and kinship.

With the established incantation that coloniality is the dark side of modernity, Walter D. Mignolo’s text on decoloniality directly responds to the Afterall editors’ proposition to consider the relationship between the refugee crisis in Europe and the recentring of indigeneity on local practices instead of modernist ideas of decolonisation. In danger of creating an epistemological argument that cannibalises any knowledge system it encounters, Mignolo attempts to navigate the paradoxes of universal residues in academic Western thought while undercutting such deep biases with declarations of plurality. A strange pairing comes to mind: ‘We have never been modern.’ / ‘We are all indigenous.’ Similarly, Lucy R. Lippard wrestles with the tangled threads of artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña’s self-identification with indigeneity and long-term engagement with environmental issues and colonisation. Her essay pivots around Candice Hopkins’s nuanced position that while indigenous knowledges and cosmologies might provide strategies to resist environmental disaster, such universalising of identity can further efface the already dispossessed. Following Todd, self-identification is an important potential, but it must be met with community reciprocity.

Stavros Stavrides questions the real outcomes of documenta 14, which at this early stage is functioning like a franchise to gentrify Athens. Stavrides remains sceptical, saying despite all the curatorial declarations and signs of freedom, documenta 14 is currently only providing freedom for the already mobile, liberal, capitalistic elite as opposed to generating a healthy, local polis. He suggests considering, in contrast, Gustavo Esteva’s concept of comunalidad (commonality), which Esteva defines as ‘a collection of practices formed as creative adaptations of old traditions to resist old and new colonialisms, and a mental space, a horizon of intelligibility: how you see and experience the world as a We’.

Rewind back to the 1990s, where we started this foreword, to look at the source of two texts—one co-written by Pablo Lafuente and Michelle Sommer, another by Irmgard Emmelhainz—that historicise a small community museum, the Museo Comunitario del Valle de Xico, located on the outskirts of Mexico City and founded in 1996. Lafuente and Sommer’s writing utilises the literary strategy of a fragmentary text and imaginary architectural ruin, but the piece shifts philosophically, from individual self-actualisation to the solidarity of communitas: the spirit of a community, self-managed and interested in shared experience rather than ‘objects’ and ‘exhibitions’. Emmelhainz also lauds the Museo apropos a thorough institutional profile, and then focusses her address pointedly toward the reader, as a privileged ‘We’ that must support similar initiatives. Is the ‘We’ the same as Esteva’s ‘We’, which Stavrides desires for Athens? Does Stavrides want documenta 14 to do the same thing as the Museo Comunitario de Xico? The two texts provide an uncanny doubling. Can this communitas become a comunalidad?

Part of me wants to end this foreword on a positive note – to refer, like many writers in this issue, to an inspiring line from the indomitable Fred Moten. But let me be clear: within what is an incredible issue, there are potential problems. Despite intentions, if one’s position of privilege is not accounted for, and countered, the work rots – sometimes quickly, sometimes with a slow decay. Maybe before it goes to press, maybe after. Language – and there is an incredible variety in this issue – is impregnated with biases we do not inherently understand, and yet they uphold our whole world. Like a glistening web, we fall into our own traps when we marvel at their own construction. Conversations around community and indigeneity, or critiques of modernity and coloniality, often try to strip away suffocating universals. And yet we spew them out, unknowingly, in the next breath.

In reality, I need to address Hannah Black’s piercing meditation on Lubaina Himid as well as Lee-Ann Martin’s sobering conclusion – both difficult to stomach. Black makes the stark observation that if Himid was to remount the group exhibition ‘The Thin Black Line’ that she curated at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, the show would be just as fresh today. From a ‘Black Ops’ perspective this signifies Himid’s genius, but, for Black, it also confronts ‘the lie of the post-racial’, indicating the British art world has barely changed in thirty years. Martin closes her essay with a different assessment of the past 25 years, one that makes her ‘angry and frustrated. Indigenous arts professionals throughout Canada and the world have developed a formidable intellectual force that challenges the basic premise of Western mandates and practices. But drastic conditions still exis….’ As Martin closes: ‘Much work remains to be done.’

This is not the time for silence.


  • We thank all the participants: Bonnie Devine, Charles Esche, Barbara Fischer, Luis Jacob, Duane Linklater, Anders Kreuger, Lee Maracle, Gerald McMaster, David Morris, Wanda Nanibush, Karyn Recollet, Ryan Rice, Jim Shedden, Stephanie Smith, cheyanne turions, Georgiana Uhlyarik, Helena Vilalta, Rinaldo Walcott and myself. Candice Hopkins teleconferenced in during the week, and graduate students sat in.