A Concept Reloaded (2017)
Text Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung
Eight years after the inception of SAVVY Contemporary: The Laboratory of Form-Ideas, it is worth rearviewing at the agencies and ambitions, agitations and turbulences, missions and visions that led to its founding, it is worth deliberating on the beaten and unbeaten tracks we strode and stumbled upon, as well as stating the challenges of the past and the status quo, and redefining the causes and courses.
As an art space, discursive platform, eating and drinking spot, njangi house, space for conviviality SAVVY Contemporary situates itself at the threshold of notions and constructs of the West and non-West, primarily to understand and negotiate between, and obviously to deconstruct the ideologies and connotations eminent to such constructs. For this, it seems appropriate to invoke, convoke or deploy the “cosmogenic powers” of artists and artistic practice to guide us. On this journey SAVVY Contemporary engages in what Paget Henry would call the “poetic power of artistic practice” to “un-name and re-name, to de-institute old selves and establish new ones, and to silence imposed voices and reclaim lost ones” in an effort to resolve the “crisis of entrapment.”
SAVVY Contemporary has defined as one of its focal points the urge to deliberate, experiment and experienciate on issues of conviviality and hospitality. Taking into consideration the rise of xenophobic and racial violence, widening gaps in class and economic realities, revamped hegemonial structures over the last years and decades, the necessity to reflect about hospitality seems to be more important than ever. We actively and performatively try out strategies of ignoring, abrogating, neutralizing those distances and impediments between the self and the ego, the self and the other, or basically negating the existence of self and other, as categories of differentiation. A possible method of realizing the aforementioned is a practice of radical conviviality and sharing.
SAVVY Contemporary is a space for epistemological diversity. A space that embodies and screams out Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ postulation that “Another Knowledge is Possible.” By moving away from the “god-trick”, i.e. the all-seeing eye of Western science that considers itself the omniscient observer, Donna Haraway offers the image of the embodied, complicated, actively seeing eye, which is a split and contradictory observer. Her argumentations for politics and epistemologies of location, positioning, and situating, where partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard to make rational knowledge claims resonate in our practice. At SAVVY Contemporary we appropriate proposals on viewing from a body – always a complex, contradictory, structuring, and structured body, against the view from above, from nowhere, or from simplicity – and we push this further to what we will call “Associated Situated Knowledges” or just “Associated Knowledges.” While viewing from these bodies, one also puts them in relation, association and companion with each other and their sociopolitical ecology. In so doing, one not only puts the bodies, but also their embodied knowledges, histories, memories in association. In this respect, art and exhibition-making act as catalysts.
We celebrate this plurality of epistemologies as we articulate knowledges as a means of decolonising the singularity of “knowledge.” Our efforts are thus to produce antidotes to the epistemicidal activities that have been practiced all over the globe, by accommodating and celebrating knowledges and epistemic systems from Africa and the African diaspora, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, but also Europe and North America. In so doing, we have chosen to explore other mediums that embody and disseminate knowledges. The body, music, storytelling, food/eating and performativity of different kinds, as for instance dance, theatre, performing and performance art, etc. These are our chosen means to swim against the Enlightenment conception of reason.
SAVVY Contemporary sees itself as a performative space, on the one hand because it is a space in a constant state of becoming, but on the other hand a space that explores philosophical concepts of the embodied mind, as understood in many non-Western philosophies; thus practicing the fact that human cognition is not only shaped by the brain, but encompassed in the body that performs cognitive tasks like conceptualisation, reasoning and judgement, but also through interactions with the environment or the world at large. As much as we reference scholarship circles, we also cultivate the “academia of the fireside,” i.e. all those stories, folktales, recitations narrated around the fireside as our own legitimate sources. The idea hereby is not to create another/ parallel canon, but to decanonise the notion of the canon as a whole.
An important part of our culture is working extradisciplinarily. With team members from twelve countries and five continents trained as biotechnologists, art historians, cultural theorists, anthropologists, designers and artists, we think interdisciplinary work is not enough, one must be able to liberate one’s self from the tight corset of one’s own discipline. When Glissant talks about not leaving history in the hands of historians alone, he indeed calls for extradisciplinarity. By thinking extradisciplinary, we acknowledge the limits and faults of our discipline and advocate for processes of unlearning to be able to learn something new.
In summary, SAVVY Contemporary gives space to reflect on colonialities of power (Anibal Quijano) and how these affect histories, geographies, gender and race. It is a space wherein epistemological disobedience and delinking (Walter Mignolo) are practiced, and it is a space for decolonial practices and aesthetics. We propose to move with Sylvia Wynter “towards the Human, after Man.”