THE IMAGINED NEW (or, what happens when History is a catastrophe?)


10 - 12 May, 2019 | UJ Arts & Culture Centre


From 10-12 May 2019, VIAD and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ, Brown University) collaboratively hosted a series of curated conversations and interdisciplinary engagements, entitled: The Imagined New (Or, what happens when History is a catastrophe?) – Working Through Alternative Archives: Art, History and the African Diaspora.

This gathering of thinkers, curators and artists was the first of three such colloquia planned, with the following two scheduled to take place in Providence and Addis Ababa, in 2020 and 2021 respectively.


A rich tradition of critical work around African and African Diasporic art and culture was opened up over the second half of the 20th century by the 1956 Paris conference of Black Writers and Artists, and the 1969 Pan African Festival of Algiers - not to mention the work of, amongst others, the Art Society in Nigeria, the Black Arts Movement in the USA, and the Caribbean Artists Movement of the 1960s. On the Continent, dialogues initiated in these radical departures have been further developed through debates that both attended and followed important biennales in Dakar, Bamako and Johannesburg, and more recently Lagos, Kampala and Lubumbashi. Working within this discursive tradition – as one enriched but also complicated by the growing attention given to modern and contemporary African and African Diasporic art practices (through a range of exhibitions and publications: from contested mega-shows like MOMA’s 1984/5 "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern to the more critical responses of Enwezor, Okeke-Agulu, Mercer and others) – The Imagined New seeks to shift the conversation forward through a distinguishing set of focal concerns. We want to reflect on and think through ways in which Living Histories work in Black Memory as archives which offer a plurality of imagined futures. We do not claim to be operating on the scale of the above-mentioned conferences and biennales; rather we engage with this tradition asking ourselves questions about refusal, freedom, art practices, history, memory archives and Black subjectivities, as historically enacted and embodied in the present.   

Rather than following a conventional conference format, this gathering brought together a community of local, Continental and Afrodiasporic scholars, curators and artists recognised for their work and preoccupations with creative and curatorial practices related to legacies of slavery, colonialism and apartheid – as well as alternative approaches to history-making, the ‘archive’, and the political work of the radical Black imagination.

The programme comprised a series of open conversations around a series of key themes. Each of these sessions was facilitated by an invited participant (details opposite):

  • THE IMAGINED NEW. Workshop rationale & objectives | Facilitated by Anthony Bogues

  • LIVING HISTORIES. Black memory as performing archives of the Imagined New | Facilitated by Surafel Wondimu Abebe

  • REFUSAL. Black precarity, and creative strategies for Living Otherwise | Facilitated by Tina Campt

  • THE EVERYDAY AND ITS OTHER FUTURES. Rethinking African/Diasporic sacral art practices | Facilitated by Geri Augusto (download audio)

  • CLOSING REFLECTIONS | Facilitated by Saidiya Hartman & Anthony Bogues

The programme also included:

  • The South African launch of VIAD RA Prof Cheryl Finley’s recent publication, Committed to Memory – The Art of the Slave Ship Icon (2018, Princeton University Press)

  • sorry not sorry | A screening & performance by Alberta Whittle



Click here to download


Click here to listen