The Sojourner Project
A BLACK STUDIES MOBILE ACADEMY
4-10 May, 2020 | JHB/DBN TBC (Event postponed due to COVID – 19 National Lockdown. More Details to follow)
From 4-10 May 2020, members of the international Practicing Refusal Collective will join local artists, writers and thinkers in Johannesburg and Durban to present the Sojourner Project jhb/dbn, a week-long programme of art interventions, performances, screenings, conversations and public master classes.
As a Black Studies Mobile Academy, the programme will encourage transnational dialogue on Black precarity, fungibility, and futurity. These ideas are central to the work of the Practicing Refusal Collective – an international Black feminist forum of academics and creatives. These global concerns will be explored in relation to local debates in South Africa on Black agency, anti-blackness and decolonisation, catalysed by the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements, and in ways that allow for a necessary evaluation of their stakes, accomplishments and potential for future social and political transformation.
Scheduled for 4-10 May 2020, the Sojourner Project jhb/dbn, is envisioned as a dual city cultural intervention – or Black Studies Mobile Academy – and will be collaboratively presented by the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre (VIAD), University of Johannesburg (UJ); Art for Humanity (AFH), Durban University of Technology (DUT); the Market Photo Workshop; and the Practicing Refusal Collective (PR Collective).
The PR Collective is an international forum of leading artists and scholars dedicated to initiating dialogues on blackness, anti-black violence and black futurity in the twenty-first century. In 2018 they launched the Sojourner Project, as a way of facilitating a global dialogue around these concerns. The Sojourner Project jhb/dbn will be the first African iteration of the Sojourner Project initiative, and will take place in multiple venues in Johannesburg and Durban, with each city playing host to a dynamic programme of art activations, performances, screenings, conversations and public master classes. In an effort to establish a meaningful transnational dialogue on black precarity, fungibility, and futurity, PR Collective members are already in conversation with a group of local artists, activists, curators and cultural workers.
- What is anti-blackness globally?
- How is black agency articulated locally?
- What are its national or regional idioms or inflections, and how are they complicated by different historical trajectories and aftermaths of enslavement and colonisation?
- (How) Do these critical terms travel or translate?
- What might it mean to understand these questions/terms in majority black communities?
Leading the programme, these key questions will allow for a transnational conversation that foregrounds local debates in South Africa on black agency, antiblackness and decolonisation, as catalysed by the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements. The envisioned discussions, engagements and creative encounters will provide important opportunities to assess and strategise around the impact of these seminal movements, and their demands for change within (and without) the university, as a direct legacy of the unfinished work of post-apartheid restructuring.
The question of national and regional inflections of anti-blackness (including black-on-black violence and Afrophobia), the resulting formations of black precarity and fungibility, and the possibility for alternative futures will serve as a critical toolkit for exploring the role of Black Studies in creating intellectual frameworks for educating black communities in practices of social transformation.
Toward this end, the Sojourner Project jhb/dbn, will be structured as a mobile academy that intentionally aims to exceed the literal and figurative walls of the university. Organised around a series of site-specific encounters that integrate the cultural, intellectual,political, and social landscapes of Johannesburg and Durban, the structure of the mobile academy is intended to cultivate multi-directional engagements with the histories of struggle and practices of refusal that have emerged in different black communities. Pop-up learning modules led by collaborative teams of artists, scholars and community and culturalworkers will create both research and pedagogical dialogues that enact and illuminate the differences and similarities of these histories and practices.
Alongside these encounters, the mobile academy will stage a parallel set of collaborative “black study groups” which will hold seminars to discuss the different trajectories of Black Studies in the US, Europe and South Africa. Significant to this is the deeply concerning absence of Black Studies platforms in local university contexts, as observed by the PR Collective, VIAD and AFH.
As an equally important component of these conversations, will be the transformative insights and contributions of multimedia artists, included through a series of screenings and performances that will encourage reflection around the impact of embodied practices of black theorising and world-making, as a crucial dynamic of what it means to practice refusal and articulate alternative visions of black futurity. In this regard, the project will connect renowned African American artists, Simone Leigh (2018 Hugo Boss Prize winner) and Okwui Okpokwasili (2018 MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award winner) with a selection of Johannesburg and Durban-based artists and curators.
The Practicing Refusal Collective:
Formed in fall 2015 by Professors Tina Campt (Africana/WGSS Barnard College) and Saidiya Hartman (English/IGS Columbia University), the Practicing Refusal Collective (PR Collective) was created as a forum dedicated to initiating new dialogues on blackness, anti-black violence, and black futurity in the twenty-first century. The Collective comprises sixteen members from multiple disciplines of the humanities, including two Columbia faculty, four Barnard faculty, and ten additional members from nine universities in the US and Canada. The group’s point of departure is a set of overlapping interests and investments in theorizing black agency in the face of contemporary circumstances of imperiled blackness and vulnerable black bodies. The public events and working group sessions hosted by the Collective have created a cutting-edge platform for thinking through refusal as a generative rubric for understanding everyday practices of struggle often obscured by an emphasis on collective acts of resistance.
Convened in response to the proliferating forms of violence facing black populations in the US and in the African diaspora, the mission of the PR Collective is to articulate black feminist strategies for addressing the precarious state of black communities resulting from policies that treat black bodies as disposable and expendable – a state of duress we describe as black fungibility. The ‘practice of refusal’ referenced in the group’s title names its rejection of this current status quo as livable. It is a refusal to accept black precarity as inevitable, and a refusal to embrace the terms ofdiminished subjecthood with which black subjects are presented. We seek instead to develop strategies forconfronting black fungibility and creating alternative possibilities for living otherwise.
To inaugurate the fourth year of this project, the Collective launched an ambitious program of transnational conversations under the title “The Sojourner Project”. The Sojourner Project expands the conversations begun by the PR Collective by creating multi-directional dialogues in a range of sites in Africa and its diasporas with local artists, activists, scholars and thought leaders working to develop their own strategies for addressing black precarity, fungibility, and anti-black violence. The goal of each convening is to explore these questions from the vantage point of the cultural and regional specificities of each site through public dialogues with artists, activists, educators, writers, and creative practitioners interested in developing a transnational approach to tackling these complex issues.
The first international convening of The Sojourner Project was held in Paris in October 2018 and hosted by the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination at the Paris Global Center at Reid Hall. Entitled, “The Sojourner Project Paris: Dialogues on Black Precarity, Fungibility and Futurity” this two-day convening featured two panel discussions, a film screening, poetry reading and two working group sessions encompassing a group of thirty participants. The event was attended by over three hundred people, and was jointly funded by the Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Columbia Center for the Study of Social Difference, The Institute for Gender Studies and The Institute for Ideas and Imagination.
Since its initial meeting in 2015, the group hasmet bi-annually as a working group sponsored bythe Barnard Center for Research on Women. Inadditional day-long working group discussions, the group has hosted a series of public events engaging the work of members of the collective, including a lecture and graduate seminar by Denise Ferreira da Silva, a screening and panel discussion on the films of Arthur Jafa at the International Center for Photography in New York City, and book salons on Christina Sharpe’s, In the Wake (2016), and Tina Campt’s, Listening To Images (2017). Building on the success of the first Sojourner Project event at the Paris Global Center, and following the programmes planned for Johannesburg and Durban, the Sojourner Project hopes to expand further by collaborating with Global Centers in Nairobi and Riode Janeiro.
In addition to its conveners, Saidiya Hartman (Columbia University) and Tina Campt (Brown University), the Practicing Refusal Collective includes:
Rizvana Bradley (Yale University)
Dionne Brand (Academic & Author)
Denise Ferreira da Silva (Uni of British Columbia)
Kaiama Glover (Barnard College)
Arthur Jafa (Artist)
Simone Leigh (Artist)
Tavia Nyong’o (Yale University)
Okwui Okpokwasili (Artist)
Darieck Scott (UC Berkley)
Christina Sharpe (York University)
Maboula Soumahoro (Uni de Tours François-Rabelais)
Deborah Thomas (University of Pennsylvania)
Françoise Vergès (Academic & Author)
Alexander G. Weheliye (Northwestern University)
Gloria Wekker (Utrecht University)
Mabel Wilson (Columbia University)
Hazel Carby (Yale University)