Positive irritations, creative approaches and spaces for discussion – a student project on post- and decolonial theories

Background and Motivation

In the summer semester of 2020 we, Vanessa and Semina (BA students at the University of Bayreuth), attended the seminar “Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies”, offered at the Chair of Social and Cultural Anthropology by Thiago Pinto Barbosa. In the last session of the seminar, we discussed different possibilities to engage with social and political issues, which encouraged us to choose a more practical way of dealing with postcolonial and decolonial theory. Instead of just writing a theory-based term paper, we had the idea to make a part of our study content accessible to other students and the general public in the form of the digital symposium “Situating Postcolonial Thinking & Intervening Approaches”. We saw a challenge in handling all parts of the organization, since we hadn´t organized an event like this before, but we were also excited about the possibility of doing a creative project. The Symposium encompassed multiple perspectives and approaches of intervening in colonial and other hierarchical social structures. Over a period of eight months, we conceptualized our ideas, gathered feedback, wrote a lot of e-mails, searched for contributors and sponsors, made phone calls, advertised the symposium and much more. After overcoming the organizational challenge, we were happy to host the symposium on May 7 and 8, with a total of five events.

Program Insight

The symposium was opened with the lecture “From Coloniality of Knowledge to Decolonial Thought” by Prof. Dr. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni (Chair Epistemologies of the Global South UBT). The central point of Prof. Dr. Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s lecture was the importance of reconstituting and reanimating thinking, in order to counter the displacement of non-Western knowledge and to deconstruct the hierarchical order of knowledge systems. In the lecture we learnt an understanding of decolonization and decoloniality that asks how imperialism and colonialism continue to impact each individual today and that demands an academic recognition of invisibilized knowledge.  The second event in the program was a panel discussion on the intersection of activism and (de)coloniality, with Imeh Ituen (Black Earth collective), Hamze Bytyçi (RomaTrial), Nora Teuma and Mihir Sharma (University of Bayreuth). They showed us how activism can take different forms, but also that the motivations are often similar in the case of anti-racist and decolonial work: fighting for more just, inclusive and plural futures, for example. It also became clear that every politically active group should start looking into themselves and ask: “Who is heard and seen? Who is (not) there and why?” We take with us that doing nothing is tantamount to reproducing inequalities and that we need to join struggles for reparative justice and radical decolonial rethinking. This contribution was followed by a discussion of the documentary film “Nũhũ yãgmũ yõg hãm: This Land is Our Land” (2020). An award-winning film in which the difficult situation of indigenous groups, in this case the Tikmũ’ũn (Maxakali), in Brazil is addressed. Through the documentary, the centrality of the land question as theme in decolonial theories and practice became clear. In the conversation that followed, we were able to gain insights into the collaboration of indigenous artists Sueli and Isael Maxakali with two anthropologists, Carolina Canguçu and Roberto Romero. On the symposium’s second day, participants exchanged ideas with Froilán Urzagasti about memory, temporality and participatory filmmaking. For him, filmmaking practice guided by the principle of justice is reflected in the surrendering of the camera. What is filmed and how? Where and when are the films viewed? And following on from this is the question of how technology changes the forms of remembering and the passing on of memory. We take with us that it is a privilege to have a medium (e.g. a camera) to document and remember events. This also plays a role in terms of historiography: what did “really happen” and what was documented and declared as truthful from a Western perspective. Lastly, the symposium ended with a poetry performance by Stefanie-Lahya Aukongo (see the picture). This poetic exploration was about collective memory, being there as a revolutionary act, questioning privilege, and Lahya’s degree in “White Studies”. In the conversation following the performance, we established a space where emotions arose and were welcomed, where empowerment and love songs for Black sisterhood came together with aspects of Critical Whiteness, and where all could speak and be heard.

Review

Over the past six months, we have learned a lot and take along that teamwork might involve some collusion, but when responsibility is shared motivational lows can be quickly overcome together. In the organization of our project, we have dealt with questions of financing, conceptualization, moderation, scope, program, application, and bureaucratic necessities. This experience will certainly help us in organizing future events of different kinds. We were accompanied in the planning and organization of the symposium by our lecturer Thiago Pinto Barbosa, who encouraged us to organize a symposium by offering such support. Also, we have encountered surprising generosity in our search for financial support, which we obtained by the Rainer Markgraf Foundation, the Universitätsverein Bayreuth e.V., and the Studentenwerk Oberfranken, and invaluable help by the University staff.

Looking back at the symposium, we see the importance of speaking up, becoming active, informing ourselves and listening. We have come a first step closer to this by organizing the symposium, rather than writing a term paper. Therefore, we would like to invite all students of post- and decolonial theories – as well as other academic fields – to share knowledge through a public event, because for us engagement with decolonial thinking goes necessarily hand in hand with activist and public engagement.

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