Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Blind Spots: Awake Africa, your future is here By Sean O'Toole

DRAW: Sherif Adel, Cairo illustrator of the comic 'Pass by Tomorrow'

In a way Paul Biya, Cameroon's low-key president, was right: Bekolo is now a highly regarded filmmaker and Ndikung owns a successful art gallery with an African focus in Berlin.
But last week in Johannesburg, at a public festival hosted by the Goethe Institute, the two men remarked on the irony of Biya's promise. The six-term president has been repeating his wisdom since taking office in 1982. Bekolo viewed this as symptomatic of a future drift in African politics.

"Two competing versions of the utopian African state exist: Mandela's South Africa and Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe," said Bekolo, whose contribution formed part of a diverse range of speculations at African Futures.
Held concurrently in Lagos and Nairobi, the Johannesburg leg of the festival opened with an impassioned speech by Kenyan humorist Binyavanga Wainaina in which he praised the South African student movement.
So too did visiting Nairobi pop act Just a Band; their mid-song embrace of the #FeesMustFall message met with wild cheers from the Braamfontein audience.

Cameroon-born philosopher Achille Mbembe also spoke about decolonising tertiary institutions in a charismatic riff on the "here and now". For Mbembe, as for many participants, Africa's future is in its immediate present.
Ndikung, who will host a follow-up exhibition to African Futures at his gallery next year, pointed to the blind spots of future-focused thinking about Africa.

"Do we talk about the future to evade the present?" he asked. "Are we trying to escape from something?"
"We are haunted by very present futures," remarked Bekolo shortly before a screening of Les Saignantes (2005), his futuristic film set in 2025.

Bekolo's vaguely feminist film shuns ideals of a techno-utopia in favour of a realist attitude to what might be.
Cairo illustrator and dentist Sherif Adel does the same in his comic book series, Pass by Tomorrow, which appears in the group exhibition They Came from Outer Space. Set in 3014, Adel's future Cairo is a version of today's Egyptian capital: gridlocked.

"Science fiction is not about the future, it is about where we are now," said Lauren Beukes after reading from her futuristic novel Zoo City (2010). This seems true not only of speculative fiction but much hypothetical thinking about the future.
  • 'They Came from Outer Space' is at the Goethe Institute until November 16 and includes work by Bukani Anathi, Mary Evans and Loyiso Mkize.


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