Across the Indian Ocean: ‘Imagining a Museum of Intangible Culture’

Professor Françoise Vergès and Dr Shihan de Silva will be speaking at a forthcoming ICS symposium on Wednesday 29th October 2014 (9.30am-6pm) at Senate House (Room 349, 3rd Floor), University of London.

This FREE event – titled, ‘Across the Indian Ocean’ – is being organised by the Race in the Americas (RITA) Group, in partnership with Kavyta K. Raghunandan (University of Leeds, Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies [CERS]) and will focus on an exploration of the “politics of the present” across the Indian Ocean region – re. Mauritius, Seychelles, Réunion Island, Comoros and Madagascar.

In the event programme, the title of Françoise Vergès’ presentation is ‘Imagining a Museum of Intangible Culture in the Indian Ocean’, and Dr Shihan De Silva will address colonial history and its legacies throughout the region in a talk on ‘Difference and Inequalities’.

Continue reading Across the Indian Ocean: ‘Imagining a Museum of Intangible Culture’


Return of the Rudeboy: Ska, Swagger and ‘Sapologie’ at Somerset House


After reading Sean O’Hagan’s thought-provoking preview of the ‘Return of the Rudeboy’ exhibition at Somerset House in London – titled, ‘Rude Boys: Shanty Town to Savile Row’ (The Guardian/Observer, 24th May 2014) – I placed this event quite high on my list of top 10 “must see” summer showcases, and managed to get along to view it several months later at the start of its closing week on 18th August.

O’Hagan’s article led me to assume the exhibition would be a largely superficial photographic and soundtrack-based audio-visual presentation about the cultural aesthetics of ‘Rudeboy’ (or ‘Rudie’) fashion. It gave the impression that Return of the Rudeboy would be rich in contemporary illustrative content about people whose fashion today echoes the types of clothing trends and styling associated with the ska music genre in Britain from the late 1970s through to the 1990s. But at the same time (reading through the lines) it also implied that the exhibition would be quite limited in its documented historical and socio-cultural contextualisation about the Caribbean origins, hybridisation and changing identity politics of ska, ‘Rudie’ and ‘2-Tone’ subcultures spanning those decades.

In reality, however, the exhibition proved to be much more complex, layered and rounded than had been described in the Guardian/Observer piece – for several reasons:

Continue reading Return of the Rudeboy: Ska, Swagger and ‘Sapologie’ at Somerset House

Reflections on the legacies of ‘Statues Also Die’ (Présence Africaine, 1953) re. the museums sector in France today


Earlier this year an article by Tom Devriendt was posted to the online discussion forum Africa is a Country’ to commemorate the life and work of French filmmaker Alain Resnais (1922-2014), who passed away on 1st March  (Devriendt, 2014). The central focus of this piece was to celebrate the achievements of Resnais and his co-director Chris Marker (1921-2012) in creating a ground-breaking film from the early 1950s about  African art and French racism, Statues Also Die [Les statues meurent aussi] (Resnais and Marker, 1953) – commissioned and produced by the Parisian-based publishing house Présence Africaine. What is interesting about the film is the way it features a complex mixture of commentary on French museum practices from the 1950s, the history of French colonialism in Africa, and the public’s changing attitudes in the mid-20th century towards African art – referred to throughout the documentary as ‘black art’.


Continue reading Reflections on the legacies of ‘Statues Also Die’ (Présence Africaine, 1953) re. the museums sector in France today

Yinka Shonibare MBE’s ‘Jardin d’Amour’ [Garden of Love] (Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, 2007)

Yinka Shonibare’s Jardin d’amour [Garden of Love] (2007) was the second – and most high-profile thus far – of the single-artist installations staged during the Quai Branly museum’s early programming history[1]. The artwork consisted of a labyrinthine, reconstructed 18th century Rococo-styled ornamental French garden arranged as three secluded enclosures in which different thematic tableaux were staged.

Jardin d'Amour: The Pursuit, by Yinka Shonibare MBE (2007)
Jardin d’Amour: The Pursuit, by Yinka Shonibare MBE (2007)

Each of the main display areas were separated by shrub-covered trellis, tightly bound reed-screen fences, privets, climbing plants and artificial rose bushes that served as foliage-covered  boundary walls around the entire exhibition. The three interiors comprised groups of Shonibare’s signature life-sized headless mannequins, dressed in Dutch-waxed, patterned cotton textiles, and with beige tinted limbs, perhaps so as to make the ethnic origin of the characters they represented ambiguous and indeterminable: neither African, Asian, European, Australasian nor American in origin, but perhaps instead an intentionally hybrid representation of all humankind. From the titles given to each tableau – « La poursuite » (‘The Pursuit’), « l’amant couronné » (‘The Crowned Lover’) , and « les lettres d’amour » (‘Love Letters’) – the installation echoed and evoked the settings featured in three 18th century oil paintings by the French artist Jean Honoré Fragonard, collectively titled Les Progrès de l’amour [The Progress of Love], and painted between 1771 and 1773 (Müller, 2007b: para. 9).

« La poursuite » (‘The Pursuit’), by Jean Honoré Fragonard
« Les Progres de l’Amour: La poursuite » (The Progress of Love: ‘The Pursuit’), by Jean Honoré Fragonard

Continue reading Yinka Shonibare MBE’s ‘Jardin d’Amour’ [Garden of Love] (Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, 2007)

‘Exhibit B’ : A poignant performance art piece, or just the latest incarnation of a racist ‘human zoo’?

Anyone who saw the Guardian’s recent Edinburgh Festival review of Brett Bailey’s controversial installation ‘Exhibit B’ – featuring African men and women sitting inside cages, with labels stating “The blacks have been fed”, and others chained to chairs and beds in equally dehumanizing poses (seemingly to challenge audiences to reflect on the brutalities of European racism throughout the colonial era, and to specifically critique the violent practices and enduring legacies of the 19th century “human zoos”) – might be interested in the online petition that has been established to oppose and boycott its forthcoming display at the Barbican Centre in London (23rd – 27th September 2014).


The petition’s organiser is Sara (Sar’z) Myers, and full details about why she and hundreds of supporters consider Bailey’s project to be a racist exhibition can be viewed online at

Continue reading ‘Exhibit B’ : A poignant performance art piece, or just the latest incarnation of a racist ‘human zoo’?