ASAUK - (In)visibility in African Cultures (Oxford, September 16-19 2010)

full name / name of organization: 
African Studies Association, Oxford University

(In)visibility in African Cultures

African Studies Association UK Biennial Conference

16th โ€“ 19th September 2010

University of Oxford

"Looking with the eyes only. Idiots can do that. If you look at things that way they're always separate and you never really see any sense in what you see. It's all right to look at things that way, separate. It's relaxing. But after that I always want to see what brings them together so they make sense. Then I understand. Seeing like that makes me happiest." Ayi Kwei Armah, The Healers

African art forms, including literature, cinema, theatre and dance, have long been concerned with questioning certain perspectives and offering different ways to approach a varied continent and its many cultures. This stream of the African Studies Association UK conference will examine trends, questions and contradictions around how different aspects of culture become visible โ€“ to different viewers, through different lenses โ€“ or remain unseen. As the Armah quotation suggests, what will be crucial to our discussion is how these diverse elements intersect and interact.

The general topic of (in)visibility can be grouped into three further sub-themes:

1) Visibility and the Academy

What role is there for the teaching of African cultures in educational establishments, both in the UK and beyond? Is the progress that has been made with introducing more diverse curricula into secondary schools, reflected in university courses and if not, why not? How does the regional grouping of African cultures vie for space with postcolonial framings within the Academy? More widely, which African cultural products are given the most space on the global stage and why?

2) Visibility and the act of representation

Binyavanga Wainana in a satirical article entitled "How to write about Africa" published in Granta magazine, instructs the would-be author to focus on conflict, starvation, the primordial, rolling grasslands, graphic illnesses, dictatorships and beautiful sunsets. Why is it that certain topics remain hypervisible and others ignored? What continues to be spotlighted in twenty-first century studies of 'Africa' and are global perceptions gradually changing with time? How is the subjectivity of the viewer, in Africa, the diaspora and beyond, reworked and renegotiated through recent performances and texts?

3) Visibility and aesthetics

Lastly, we turn to what role there is for culture in rendering the invisible visible. Researchers studying topics such as emotion, illness, testimony and memory have repeatedly referred to certain qualities or subjects as unrepresentable. How does art negotiate these areas we find difficult to express? What role is there for the arts in articulating the uncomfortable and saying the unspeakable? Finally, how does literature negotiate the enduringly invisible through tropes such as haunting, absence and loss?

We will seek to address these and many more questions through the input of academics alongside teachers, publishers and artists themselves.

Please send abstracts for 20 minute papers to: by January 18th. Informal enquiries and panel suggestions are also welcome.

This conference stream is being convened by: Charlotte Baker (Lancaster), Zoe Norridge (Oxford) and Elleke Boehmer (Oxford).