Last week we remarked on how un-international this year’s ILB at first seemed. But by this weekend, special panel “Decolonizing Wor:l:ds” with a mix of guests from Africa, the US and Europe gave us plenty to counter that. Curated by Raphaelle Efoui Delplanque, the series tried to imagine a world of self-determination and freedom for Africans and other diasporas. Based on Kenyan author’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o seminal monography Decolonising the Mind, from Thursday through Sunday writers, researchers, video artists and rappers debated questions like: “How to dismantle the master’s house when all you have is the master’s tools?” in the words of Greg Tate.
Things were kicked off on Thursday at Wedding’s black and African-diaspora library Each One Teach One, in a vibrant block party complete with free snacks, booze and rap performances. But the heavy stuff really began on Friday at Kreuzberg’s Aquarium, where Kenyan-American author Mukoma wa Ngugi and the poly-linguist Rémi Tchokothe shared enlightening insights about the importance of African languages as signifiers of identity and struggle.
On Saturday, Aquarium brought us an almost exclusively pan-female panel speaking about the decolonization of gender and sexuality. Highlight: South African sociologist’s Zethu Matebeni’s poignant reading of the word queer as a placeholder (or as poet Musa Okwonga puts it: “a visa for no countries”). The second big term of the weekend was intersectionality. According to Islamic feminist scholar Lana Sirri, it is still misunderstood by some Germans. Her proof? A recent rally she was at where she heard Germans chant: “What do we want? Intersectionality! When do we want it? Now!” – as if intersectionality was something one gained like freedom or political power.
As the overstuffed room emptied out and the next panel went on to discuss beauty standards, a marching band provided some unexpected dramatic score. A welcome visual relief to the uninspiring talk that followed were US/South Korean artist kate hers RHEE’s videos, toying with an alternate reality where she transforms into a hyper-feminine Gangnam version of herself.
Not all was words and politics, though. Our pleasantly exhausted brains found some comic relief. The first was in the form of Will Self. The antidote to academic staleness, Self’s reading from Phone led to spontaneous eruptions of laughter, even as he criticized the audience for not reading enough. The second was a tastier treat: Bee Wilson reading from First Bite: How We Learn to Eat on Sunday evening. We learned: food is identity. We ourselves are anchored in it and can’t change our habits overnight, unless we have a positive example – or are lied to a little (as Wilson explained with an old Hungarian children’s fib: “Eat carrots and you’ll be able to whistle!”)
Of course, you can’t decolonize 300 years of history in a single weekend. But these past few days have given us a lot to chew on, made us want to learn Swahili and proved that the coming wave won’t crash over us if we learn to ride it. Bring on week two!