En conversación con

Paul-Aimé William: Afro-Feminism and Curation in Guiana-Abya-Yala

William talks us through his recent programming at La Friche in Marseille, France. Prioritizing female-identified positions and influenced by his Afro-feminist perspective, the curator advocates for a “free aesthetic” rooted in the Black radical tradition to foster intersectional imagination and counter hegemonic figurations.

C& AL In your work, how do you navigate differences as well as commonalities between French Guianese diaspora artists and those who remain(ed) in French Guiana? Does this play a role at all?

PAW: Yes, that plays a big role! Young Guianese artists are forced to leave French Guiana to study contemporary art as a subject. There are no art schools or any state art institution here. This situation is perpetuated by the division of racial labor from which these artists are alienated, because there is already a large number of nkà or crafts in this country: tembe, maluwana, handmade basketry, etc. Each of these artists struggles on their own as much as they can. I also try to navigate out of the colonial territory assigned to Guiana-Abya-Yala by the French state. The multiple trajectories of artists, thinkers and poets allow us to drill through this border to produce a new topothesia that collides with other countries, languages, smoke, ash, serum, bone, animal, gold, rivers, and temporalities.

C& AL: Your recent programming at La Friche in Marseille, Co/mission, grande conspiration, focused predominantly on performance and female-identified positions. Can you elaborate on these choices and in how far they impact your view and interpretation of the current art scene?

PAW: I was recruited by my afro-feminist mentor, Pascal Obolo, many years ago. So I’m a fucking badass afro-feminist, too. Gwladys Gambie, a Martinican artist, created a new fabulation of Black female life with her film Manman Chadwon based on a retelling of the Afro-Caribbean goddess legacy, Manman Dilo. The performance by Congolese artist Alice Dubon, narrates the dispossession of her mother’s labor and what happened in her own experience in France as a young Black woman. Also, I had chosen to start my programming with the presentation of an archive of the performance Incandescence by Jerry René Corail on the beach in Cayenne. Incandescence installs its own movement in the necrocosmopolitic of this welt (Weltanschauung). The venusty (lat. venustas, an alternative term for “beauty”, inspired by the text, Venus in Two Acts by S. Hartman) of these practices implies a disagreement with the extinction of living and exploitation of labor and its sociosexual effects. The common sense of venusty is generated by the special interest in the becoming of the soul of Blackness after the burst of the afterlife of slavery — a thoughtful and endless effort.

C& AL: I am also interested in your take on French Guianese aesthetics when it comes to various media (painting, music, performance, photography). How do you navigate these questions in the midst of an often still dominating European art historical canon and discourse?

PAW: Some answers have already been offered for these questions in the radical Black tradition. James Amos Porter (folklife) and Alain LeRoy Locke (queerness) have overcome important white art historical canons but their legacies are fading. I call for a free aesthetic based on the Black radical tradition to produce common sense and omnifarious figurations between nkà and politics that improve our intersectional imagination. The white-bourgeois-hetero-Euro-American art historical dominance with its hegemonic figurations repeats violence and terror, the free aesthetic struggles against it and extracts, when possible, “degraded matter and dishonored life” from it.

Paul-Aimé William is PhD candidate in art history (EHESS & IMAF — Institut des mondes africains) under the direction of Carlo Celius. He’s also a member of the contemporary art journal AFRIKADAA. His dissertation, Contemporary Art in French Guiana (1969-2020): aesthetics, community, anti-globality, is an exploration of the existence and development of contemporary artistic expression in the territory of French Guiana, with regard to the arts of Guianese communities.

Magnus Elias Rosengarten is a writer and curator currently based in Paris.