“While doing a residency in lugar a dudas in Cali, Colombia, in September 2015, I was from the first day intrigued by the ‘Senegalese looking people’ I met at La Catorce, a mall in which most of the waitresses at the food court looked just like me. I was aware of the history of slavery and how it contributed to the construction of the transnational African diaspora in places like Colombia, Brazil, the United States and the Caribbean, but experiencing this feeling of belonging after traveling for almost 24 hours to the other side of the Atlantic made it weird and interesting at the same time. My residency gradually focused on exploring shared realities between Africa and the Afro Colombian community, the relationship between migration and migration of cultures, as well as a strong interest in spirituality and traditional practices. A new question started to rise in my mind: How do we relate to a place taking into account the ambiguous notion of identity?” Marie Hélène Pereira, curator at RAW Material Company.
Scattered Seeds was born from this experience and the need to reconnect cultures through a long-term project that would work as a platform of exchange between four institutions from Senegal, Colombia and South Africa, all members of Arts Collaboratory Network. The project seeks to explore issues from different perspectives determined by local context and proximity to Afro-Colombian concerns: history, the Transatlantic imaginary, radical sharing and contemporary psycho-historical contexts for the black subject in the post colony. These topics are explored in different ways, starting from an artist in residency exchange program, a series of talks and discussions, as well as film screenings held at our respective institutions.
The project has a range of goals. The key interest of RAW Material Company (Senegal) stems from a direct historical connection between Senegal and Colombia, and its shared cultures. On the other hand, VANSA’s (South Africa) primary interests stem from perceived familiarities of (post)conflict spaces, nationalisms and the role of race in understanding these, in both South Africa and Colombia. For lugar a dudas, Museo la Tertulia and Más Arte Más Acción (Colombia) the project serves as an entry point to urgent and necessary institutional conversations about issues identified by these organizations. By collectively engaging the everyday experiences and context of Afro and Afro-Colombian thinkers and discourses, Scattered Seeds might serve as a broad research framing device, within which the various organizations may explore concerns of their immediate context.
The first part of this framing device has been a meeting in which the organizations became acquainted with each other. It took place in Cali during the Festival Petronio Álvarez, the most important Afro-Colombian music festival. There, we had the opportunity of interacting with local artists through activities ranging from public presentations of our respective institutions at Bellas Artes and Semillero Litoralidades, round-table discussions with artists and art students at the Universidad Javeriana and lugar a dudas, to local studio and site visits.
The second part of this framing device has been the creation of a residency program. The residencies are envisaged to enable a generative and collaborative engagement with the mentioned questions. Music and sound play a very important role in post-slavery migration; it also became the best way of reconnecting with African roots in the Afro-Colombian community. It was then important for us to invite an artist that works primarily with sound.
Satch Hoyt, born in London of British and African-Jamaican ancestry, is a self taught interdisciplinary artist whose work includes installations and sculptures accompanied by sound, music, performance and painting. He was invited for a one-month residency in lugar a dudas, Cali. Hoyt’s current, large scale, global mapping project, Afro-Sonic Mapping, seeks to trace and understand the transfer of the Afro-Sonic signifier through the black Atlantic passage. Hoyt also worked closely with Afro-Colombian women through a live performance at Museo la Tertulia in August 2017, entitled Hair Combing Cycle 1530, in which hair combing is depicted as a symbol of the disentanglement of colonial history.
“For quite a time now I have been a defendant of ‘natural hair’ and its implications for the politics of beauty and activism. However, I have also been concerned with the ‘definition’ of my curls and have used multiple products to maintain my black nature under control. As the performance require to comb those curls in front of an audience, issues of colorism and the ‘real’ meaning of ‘natural’ came to me. The performance led me to confront myself as perpetuating strategies of controlling black women’s bodies. My unexpected embarrassment in showing my not-so-defined hair made me question my political activism in ways I am still struggling with.” Angélica María Sánchez Barona, participant of Satch Hoyt’s performance.
Hair is a cultural signifier, the politics of black women’s hair have long been of major interest in the discussion around the notion of blackness. The performance Hair Combing Cycle 1530 re-enacted the daily grooming ritual performed in homes by African and African Diaspora mothers on their young children and on each other. This symbolic, poetic intervention of cross generational women unified in a cyclic formation in order to create a real-time musical composition is a defiant rebuke on the centuries of white supremacist, colonial and neocolonial conditioning notions of beauty imposed on black subjects.
The performance was a multi-layered action, a cross-semination of grooming and a form of distribution of oral knowledge, the passing down of codes from mother to child. The sonic antiphony of the comb through the curls is the disentanglement of entangled chapters in traumatized colonial slave histories from the African continent to the transnational African diaspora. The Hair Combing Cycle examines the act of violence inflicted on the oppressed, and the often violent retaliation returned to the oppressor.
Scattered seeds is a continuous process of research and exploration. In 2018, through film screenings in Colombia, Senegal and South Africa, and a series of residency exchanges across the Atlantic, we will continue to explore our shared histories and present realities.
Molemo Moiloa is the Director of the Visual Arts Network of South Africa (VANSA) in Johannesburg. Marie Hélène Pereira is a curator at RAW Material Company, centre for art, knowledge and society, in Dakar, Senegal.