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A conversation with Tom Menger about colonial warfare: ‘There were great similarities between the empires’

This interview originally appeared in Einsichten, a journal about research being conducted at the LMU. We are grateful for their permission to repost it.
Germans often have a romanticised picture of the country’s colonial past. Many are unaware how brutal German colonial rule was, and many do not know that there were close ties between the colonial powers when it came to violence. Knowing this side of colonial history is important for how we shape the present, says historian Tom Menger. There are tour operators that advertise trips to Namibia – former German South West Africa – with slogans such as ‘Like vacationing at home, only more beautiful’ or ‘Nostalgic cities with a strong German flavour’. Was there something romantic about German colonialism? Menger: Not at all, I would say. Although this image does exist, it has little to do with reality. It was after the First World War in particular that the romanticisation of German colonialism took off. Maybe Germany losing its colonies in the First World War was part of the reason why Germans began to cultivate a romantic, nostalgic image of it. But the fact is that colonialism was always very strongly characterised by violence, sometimes by massive violence. What kind of violence? Menger: There were very many forms of violence. There was everyday violence, so to speak, such as the whippings to which workers on plantations were subjected. There was forced labour and so-called ‘punitive expeditions’. There were military campaigns, such as the German suppression of African resistance during the Maji Maji Rebellion in German East Africa, modern-day Tanzania. In this regard, I would highlight a form of violence that most people tend not to think of when it comes to colonialism: hunger wars  and devastation – the massive and systematic destruction of villages and fields, of harvests and food supplies. These were attempts to strip resisting populations of their means of subsistence as a way of eliminating their ability to resist. Were the methods employed in such colonial wars different than those practiced in conflicts in Europe? Menger: Definitely. In addition to the hunger wars  and devastation, there were massacres that were typical of many colonial wars. People were kidnapped, including women and children – it was common for whole villages to be taken away and interned. Sexual violence was often an everyday feature of war. And there was extreme violence as a sort of spectacle: mutilation, beheadings, displaying the bodies of the killed. This was designed to send a message to others.
Seeking to learn from other empires: the German colonial officer Glauning translated into German this British manual for military expeditions in Africa.

How to burn down a village

What was this message that the violence was meant to communicate? Menger: It was about demonstrating one’s superiority to the enemy, and it was conceptualised in baldly racist terms. In English it was called the ‘moral effect’, and it was one of the points discussed in the handbooks of colonial warfare. Concepts such as the ‘laws of war’ have been around for a long time. Did the colonial powers knowingly violate this law? Menger: We’re talking about a time when Europeans did in fact attempt to lay down rules of war. Work on the Geneva Convention began in 1864, while the Hague Conventions go back to 1899. The guiding principle behind these regulations was that the civilian population should be protected, and armies should attack only the opposing army. So there was already a relatively clear sense of what was legitimate and honourable in war and what was not. This does not mean that European wars in this period weren’t destructive. But some things that were frowned upon in Europe were common practice in colonial wars. There was the notion that you fight a different kind of war against people seen as ‘savages’, for whom the rules of war need not apply. Were there really manuals on how to conduct war in the colonies? Menger: Yes, such handbooks were usually penned by the practitioners of colonial war; that is to say, veterans with long experience of this kind of war. They wrote about all sorts of things connected with war: from logistics to actual combat, about tactics and strategy. The manuals also contained practical guides to things like the best way to burn down a village. Really? Menger: Yes. Some manuals  described which parts of a village tended to burn better than others. They recommended setting fire to the roof first when burning a hut. And that you should check which way the wind is blowing. And how to make sure you don’t end up standing in the middle of a burning village with no way out. All these things were candidly described in these manuals. These manuals have been around for over 100 years. Haven’t they been exhaustively studied already? Menger: Interestingly, no. Scholars have analysed some of them, but in their full breadth they have long remained unexplored. They are actually a very rich source for research into colonial violence.

Wissmann‘s famous colonial handbook, published 1895. Already on its first page, it recommended its readers to study the British colonial wars.
The era of colonialism was also an era of nationalism, where the countries of Europe sought to differentiate themselves from each other and highlight their distinctiveness. Were Germany, Britain, or France any different from other colonial nations in their conduct of war? Menger: Precisely this question is at the heart of my investigation. The answer is that there are great similarities in terms of warfare. The main differences come at the level of rhetoric, as the colonial powers strove to create a flattering self-image. Did the colonial powers share the same ideologies? Menger: They certainly shared the same racist attitudes. And springing from this, they had the same conception of how to treat their colonial subjects. Moreover, the exchange of information between colonial nations on subjects like warfare was important. In the early days of German colonial rule in the 1880s, for example, there were people like Hermann von Wissmann, who founded and moulded the colonial army in German East Africa, the largest of the German colonies. Wissmann had previously acquired experience in the service of King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo. Incidentally, the Belgian Congo, as the colony later came to be called, is something of a misnomer, as British, French, and Dutch and other actors also played roles there. Colonial rule was always a very transnational enterprise. The historians Jonas Kreienbaum from the University of Rostock and Christoph Kamissek use the term ‘imperial cloud’ in this context. It describes the phenomenon very nicely, I think. ‘Cloud’ as in the internet cloud? But 130 years ago? Menger: It’s about the metaphorical idea that there is a knowledge base that can be accessed in a certain way from various empires. It is not limited to national borders. Although it’s often unclear where, by whom, and when this knowledge is accessed, it’s there and it spreads, like in the online cloud. Many people know precious little about the violence Germany exercised as a colonial power. Is that a problem? Why should people engage with the subject? Menger: It’s a phenomenon that helped shape the present. Our world of nation states and our global dependency dynamics. Understanding this legacy is a positive thing. If we accept that a culture of remembrance is valuable because we want to live in a democratic civil society, then it’s important to engage with our own history – including injustices that were committed in the past. This is something Germany has done quite successfully with the history of the Third Reich. And I think it’s worthwhile to come to terms with colonial injustices as well. Furthermore, there are growing numbers of people living in Germany for whom the violence of the colonial past is not something they can just ignore. For many immigrants – from Africa, for example – it is part of their own history, or at least the history of their ancestors. In this context, too, it’s important to have a shared culture of remembrance. There are some people who think that German historians and politicians have focused quite enough on violence during the Nazi dictatorship. Won’t people switch off if we start focusing on violence in the German colonial period as well? Menger: I’ve no doubt that there will be resistance. But it's not a valid argument, I think, to say that we’ve faced up to the Nazi period, so now we’re done. After all, when a society has successfully come to grips with one era of history, why should it not do the same for other periods?
citation information:
Menger, Tom. ‘A Conversation with Tom Menger about Colonial Warfare: “There Were Great Similarities between the Empires”’. Global Dis:Connect Blog (blog), 3 July 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/03/07/a-conversation-with-tom-menger-about-colonial-warfare-there-were-great-similarities-between-the-empires/.
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Seemingly built, suddenly ruined: decolonisation and dis:connectivity in post-colonial Guinea-Bissau 1973-1983

lucas rehnman[1]
 
Here everything seems that was still under construction and it is suddenly ruin.
-Caetano Veloso Che Guevara once stated that Africa was ‘imperialism’s weak link’[2] with enormous revolutionary potential. Indeed, liberation wars and decolonisation processes on the continent enabled the Western and Eastern blocs to perceive some regions and geopolitical conditions as opportunities to expand their influence. The most famous conflicts in Africa during the Cold War, direct results of the logics of proxy war, exemplify this: the Congo Crisis, the Angolan Civil War and the South African Border War. Amidst this allegedly cold clash between the two blocs, an often-forgotten third force emerged, the Non-Aligned Movement, created by the pioneering efforts of Tito (former Yugoslavia), Nkrumah (Ghana), Sukarno (Indonesia), Nasser (Egypt) and Nehru (India). This paper departs from the ‘forgotten’ legacies of the Third World[3] and its practices of solidarity, delving into the phenomenon of Yugoslavian technical cooperation as a vehicle for its soft diplomacy towards Africa. I consider the Yugoslav-African entanglement by focusing on expertise, transnational networks, Cold War geopolitics and Non-Aligned cooperation, which allows me to draw on ‘the connections and exchanges, on the back and forth of people, ideas, and things across boundaries’[4], from ‘macro’ to ‘micro’ and back again. A key macro-concept here is peripheral modernity,[5] which refers to all Global South, Second and Third World nations during the Cold War. I focus on Guinea-Bissau from 1973-1983, analysing its modern architecture and public sculpture in terms of the conditions of its emergence, its aesthetic-symbolic meanings and its deterioration. In post-independence Africa, following the modernist credo, construction and infrastructure became key means through which these young nations addressed social problems and expressed their national identities.[6] Guinea-Bissau was no different. Given that history is ‘inscribed’ in architecture and public art, they are suitable entrances to study and access the complexities, difficulties, contradictions and dilemmas this country experienced from 1963 (the year of the beginning of the armed struggle for independence) to 1983 (the approximate date of the complete dissolution of the socialist project and the subsequent economic liberalisation). I aim to challenge the narrative insisting that former colonies in Africa, once postcolonial, became merely the passive recipients of technical, architectural and cultural knowledge. Despite being an extremely young, sovereign country that has also suffered coups and civil war, Guinea-Bissau developed its own modernity. However, its post-colonial modernist architecture has received little attention.[7] Is this because modern buildings there ‘are often the result of isolated acts and do not correspond to the development of any architectural culture with local roots’,[8] as Ana Vaz Milheiro has sustained, implying that they are nothing more than isolated cases? Manoel Herz implies the same: ‘We consciously decided not to document the former Portuguese colonies as their independence took place in the mid-1970s and was mostly characterized by bitter conflict and long wars that overshadowed any kind of national development’.[9] He continues, stating that ‘while examples of Late Modernist architecture certainly exist in Lusophone Africa […] they were built entirely during the colonial era without preempting the intention of decolonization’.[10] In the next section, I reveal the falsity of these last three claims with reference to a Yugoslavian-influenced modernist architectural legacy in Guinea-Bissau that flourished – and deteriorated – very rapidly. Beyond the undisputable but overlooked Yugoslavian influence and the simplistic corollaries of ‘architectural export’ and ‘knowledge transfer’, could Bissau-Guineans have played an active and decisive role in establishing a modern architectural legacy in their country between 1973 to 1983?

Decolonisation and dis:connectivity

After its independence from Portugal, between 1974 and 1980, Guinea-Bissau experienced a short-lived socialist period led by Luís Cabral, the brother of anti-colonial revolutionary leader Amílcar Cabral. The construction of a national identity with a pan-African and universal conscience as well as the concept of a ‘New Man’, one of Amilcar Cabral's key concerns, had to be implemented in diverse areas of cultural, social and political life. Education,[11] cinema[12] and music[13] were able to thrive alongside monument-making and architecture. In hindsight, though, the period is symptomatic of the postcolonial condition. The Portuguese hardly developed any industry in the territory during colonial times, having focused instead on extraction.[14] Besides, the country had only four professionals formally trained in architecture and construction[15]. The conditions for national development, thus, were unfavourable and could be (partially) counteracted only through international aid and technical cooperation brought forth by Third World solidarity. Yugoslavia, Cuba and especially the Soviet Union played key roles. A number of Bissau-Guineans also were granted scholarships to study abroad, which were mainly offered by socialist European countries (image 1).[16]
Image 1: Total of students from the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) who concluded their studies abroad between 1963-1975. Data gathered by Sonja Borges, Militant Education, Liberation Struggle, Consciousness.The PAIGC Education in Guinea Bissau 1963-1978 (Bern: Peter Lang, 2019),99.
Image 2: African scholarship holders in Slovenia (trip to Velenje), 1963. From the photo collection of the Museum of Yugoslav History.
Thus, ‘modernism’ pervaded new contexts in the name of ‘knowledge transfer, overseas aid and new forms of cooperation’[17] and through gift-giving, credit and barter.[18] Yet, the idea of mere ‘export’ is misleading. ‘Modernism’ is not exclusive to Western powers. Third World countries have developed their own modernities with a considerable degree of autonomy. The neglect of these modernities and fair assessments of their autonomy highlight the problem of coloniality in the act of making biased history – and even to (induced) oblivion as a convenient political project. Considering Guinea-Bissau, three understudied historical figures are relevant to my argument: Alberto ‘Tino’ Lima Gomes, the first Minister of Public Works[19] and a local who studied architecture and engineering in Yugoslavia on scholarship;[20] his wife, Yugoslavian architect Milanka Lima Gomes, who designed a number of buildings and public monuments as a naturalised Bissau-Guinean; and Nikola Arsenić,[21] a Yugoslavian architect who worked under a long-term technical cooperation agreement and was very prolific while living there. I won’t analyse all their buildings. The point is, rather, to infer a ‘forgotten’ legacy from a selection.
Image 3: Memorial building for the unilateral declaration of independence of Guinea-Bissau on 24th September 1973, Lugadjol, east of Boé.
One of these notable constructions is the memorial building for the unilateral declaration of independence (image 3), planned and coordinated by both Alberto and Milanka Lima Gomes, consisting of a functional rotunda[22]with a vernacular thatched roof made from cibe palm trees (borassus aethiopum), bamboo and straw, it was built to officialise the unilateral declaration of independence. This event was celebrated on top of the hill near Lugadjol on 24 September 1973.[23] The construction occurred during the rainy season, against the odds, and was completed in less than three months. Apart from the practicality that the vernacular roof offered under those challenging conditions, there is another layer to consider, that of an aesthetic statement: hybridism. This is much less evident – or practically absent – in the buildings and sculptures yet to be discussed, but I’ll address that question later.
Image 4: Luís Cabral’s house in Bubaque island. State-funded and designed by Milanka Lima Gomes (1976) and Nikola Arsenić (1978). Still from © The Vanished Dream 2016
Surely more ambitious and formally inventive is the former presidential residence, which is located on Bubaque Island in the Bijagós archipelago and is now falling into ruin (image 4). Despite its deceivingly brutalist appearance, the concrete structure was originally painted white and was covered by bituminous sheets. This body of architectural work here presented can be seen as a creative ingestion and digestion of foreign architecture, meaning that not only a mere borrowing of white modernist forms and solutions took place, but that a local appropriation, interpretation and transformation of the modernist vocabulary also occurred, amounting to an original, hybrid architecture worth documenting and preserving.
Image 5: RTP África building / Namintchit restaurant, Bissau, 1976. Designed by Nikola Arsenić. Photo by © M.M. Jones ( instagram: @Bauzeitgeist ), November 2018
Except for the memorial building (image 3), there is nothing in these structures that makes them unmistakably ‘African’, I admit, but aesthetically, they clearly reflect pan-Africanism and Non-Aligned modernity. This, in itself, in a former Portuguese colony, already makes them original. Contradicting Manoel Herz, they were not built in the colonial era and do preempt and reflect ‘the intention of decolonization’. Compared with Ghana’s architecture of 1961-1970 (a country that, by the way, also received Yugoslav architects under technical cooperation agreement), their affinities and autonomous character become evident: a mix of ‘Eastern European modernism’,[24] ‘tropical architecture’ and vernacular elements, ‘they cannot be reduced to a sum of European ‘modernisms’.[25]
Image 6: Summit buildings ("cimeira"), Bissau, 1979, today partially in ruins. State-funded and designed by Nikola Arsenić; supervision: Armando Napoko; decoration: Maria Aura Troçolo; coordination: Milanka Lima Gomes. Still from © The Vanished Dream 2016.
 

Image 7: Monument for the Martyrs of the Pidjiguiti Massacre, known as Mon di Timba (‘the fist of Timba’), a public sculpture located in the country’s capital, Bissau, state-funded and designed by Nikola Arsenić (1975-1978). Building technique: reinforced concrete covered with slate sheets. Still from © Memória / Calling Cabral, directed by Welket Bungué.
The public sculptures, on the other hand, are, visually speaking, ostensibly ‘Yugoslavian’ and do not reference the rich and diverse local arts of Guinea-Bissau in any way (image 7). Nationalists deployed modern European aesthetics to represent emancipation: a paradox?[26] From an art-theoretical perspective, these sculptures are ‘modernist’ in the worst way; they plainly ignore their surroundings and their socio-cultural implications. In short, they do not take ‘context’ in consideration, a prerequisite of public art since the 1960s. Monuments, even more than the architecture of the period, raise the complex question of independent Africa’s hasty belief in ‘development’ and whether such belief has been beneficial to the new nations (a question that Amílcar Cabral himself, as an ‘assimilated’ local of Cape-Verdean parents, Marxist thinker and agronomist, embodied in unresolved ways).[27] If ,however, one considers the University of Ife, later renamed Obafemi Awolowo University, in Nigeria, in which Israeli architect Arieh Sharon attempted to marry modern architecture with an African visual vocabulary to the verge of stereotype, the abstract, pretentiously transcultural Yugoslavian design is arguably preferable, since it does not fall into the trap of white appropriation of another culture. Bissau-Guinean architecture and public sculpture discussed here are thus more honest. Mojca Smode Cvitanović wrote that Non-Aligned mutual cooperation ‘lost its enthusiasm’ from the early 1970s onwards,[28] though Guinea-Bissau appears to be an exception. In 1979, Fidel Castro became the new chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, and Tito died a year later. The movement’s credibility decreased during the 1980s, coinciding with a successful coup in Guinea-Bissau. With the end of socialism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, the definition of ‘non-alignment’ finally changed entirely. Canonical architectural historiography, however, didn’t fully catch up with either Yugoslav or African architecture – an oversight that reveals an unfortunate prolongation of Cold War logics long after its end.[29]

Conclusion

Image 8: Commemorative stamp with Amílcar Cabral’s mausoleum represented, a monument located in Fortaleza de São José da Amura, Bissau, state-funded and designed by Zoran Jovanović, built in 1977.
Modernist practices from 1973-1983 were decidedly not merely ‘a projection from outside’. On the contrary, the rapid (even if fragile) consolidation of modernism in Guinea-Bissau has been a process where locals have worked actively to make themselves modern, instead of merely being made modern by outside forces. The principal actor coordinating all the construction projects in the country during the period was Bissau-Guinean-born, the Minister of Public Works Alberto ‘Tino’ Lima Gomes. The Yugoslav fundamental participation notwithstanding, local agency was decisive and shouldn’t be overlooked. Now, what unspent fuel remains from the anti-colonial struggle and the early post-independence days to be reignited today? Or, more modestly and realistically: how can scholarly work and intellectual engagement counteract oblivion as a convenient political project? Because pan-African, socialist and Third World dreams, visions and abandoned projects might have a contemporary ‘utility’ or usefulness; they can be unearthed to be remembered, retold, reclaimed, redreamed and thus inform our political imagination. As it was shown, the unfulfilled promises of the 1973-1983 period are aesthetically latent in the ambivalent documents of the era, be they buildings, memorials or propaganda. Simultaneously ‘cultural’ and ‘barbaric’, it falls on posterity not to allow the latter to prevail.     [1] The author would like to thank Ben Kamis , Nikolai Brandes, Anna Sophia Nübling, Welket Bungué, Milanka Lima Gomes, Nikola Arsenić (the son), Radovan Cukić, Matthew Jones, Juan Betancor, Lars Rudebeck, Doreen Mende, Viviane Letayf and Geraldo Pina. [2] Ahmed Ben Bella, ‘Che as I Knew Him’, Le Monde Diplomatique, October 1997, https://mondediplo.com/1997/10/che. [3] According to Duanfang Lu, ‘compared with other alternative phrases such as “developing countries”, “less developed countries”, “non-industrialized countries”, and “the South”, the Third World is more than merely a socio-economic designation. It has come to represent a forceful ideology, a meaningful rallying point, a widely shared mentality, and a unique source of identity. The phrase has proven rhetorically, politically, and theoretically effective. Despite the end of the Cold War, the term “Third World” remains viable in contemporary geopolitical vocabulary, as seen in leading scholarly journals such as Third World Quarterly and Journal of Third World Studies’ Lu Duanfang, Third World Modernism: Architecture, Development and Identity (London: Routledge, 2010), 19, 20. [4] In: Sebastian Conrad, What Is Global History? (Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016), 42. [5] See my ongoing curatorial project: https://ifddr.org/en/cooperations/unvollendetes_museum/ [6] Perhaps the best example is the case of Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah. An important influence on Amílcar Cabral’s thinking even, Nkrumah’s modernity sought to redefine African subjectivity, prioritising African unity over ethnic division. [7] A commendable survey can be found in: Phillip Meuser and Adil Dalbai, ‘Guinea-Bissau’, Architectual Guide. Sub-Saharan Africa. Western Africa. Along the Atlantic Ocean Coast 3 (2021): 12–67, but it’s the only one of its kind and far from exhaustive. [8] Full quote here: ‘Modern buildings in these three African provinces [Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe] are often the result of isolated acts and do not correspond to the development of any architectural culture with local roots’ In: Milheiro Ana, ‘Resisting Modernity: Colonization and Public Works. Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe’, in Ilha de São Jorge, ed. Paula Nascimento and Stefano Pansera (Beyond Entropy Books, 2014), 178. [9] In: Manuel Herz, ed., African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence. Ghana, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Zambia (Zürich: Park Books, 2015). [10] In: Herz. [11] Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, for example, was consulted by Guinea-Bissau’s first independent government on how to optimise the processes of attaining literacy on a national scale, among other complex dilemmas. See: Sérgio Haddad, O Educador: Um Perfil de Paulo Freire (São Paulo: Todavia, 2019); See also: Paulo Freire, Pedagogy in Process: The Letters to Guinea-Bissau (London: Bloomsbury, 2016) See also Augusta Henriques, an important educator and follower of Paulo Freire’s methods: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augusta_Henriques. [12] Already in 1967, Amílcar Cabral sent four young Bissau-Guineans to Cuba to study cinema at the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), namely José Cobumba Bolama, Josefina Crato, Sana Na N’Hada and Flora Gomes, who studied under Santiago Álvarez, a fact that reveals Cabral’s vision for national cinema. Sana Na N’Hada completed his important film O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral in 1976. More on Guinea-Bissau’s audiovisual production since independence, see: Cunha Paulo and Catarina Laranjeiro, ‘Guiné-Bissau: Do Cinema de Estado Ao Cinema Fora Do Estado’, Rebeca - Revista Brasileira De Estudos De Cinema e Audiovisual 5, no. 2 (2017). [13] Good examples include José Carlos Schwarz and the band Super Mama Djombo. Bissau-born poet and musician José Carlos Schwarz (1949-1977) was politically active and even joined the resistance. He was imprisoned for his participation in the struggle for independence. Following independence in 1974, Schwarz became the director of the Department for Art and Culture and became responsible for Guinea-Bissau’s youth policy. Super Mama Djombo was a band from Guinea Bissau, formed in the mid-1960s. They would often play at President Luís Cabral’s public speeches, and their concerts were broadcast on live radio. In 1980, Luís Cabral was ousted, and the new regime under Nino Vieira no longer supported the band. They had fewer opportunities to perform and broke up in 1986. [14] ‘Industry in [Portuguese Guinea] was particularly underdeveloped: some factories for rice peeling, some for the extraction of fish oil and peanut oil, a few ice factories and small workshops for automobile repair, locksmiths and wood cutting, as well as distilleries for alcoholic beverages. There were no industrial companies owned by the colonizers for the exploitation of land or natural wealth: the colony’s large economic share was based on native agriculture, the acquisition of its surpluses and the organisation of internal and external trade. The level of industrialisation was close to zero, as was its economic value’. (my translation) In: Cátia Teixeira and Maria Augusta Tavares, ‘Guiné-Bissau: O Presente Lança Luz Sobre o Passado’, Diálogos Magazine, no. 3 (2013): 869–908. [15] Original quote here: ‘O primeiro período [1974-1983] é característico, porque o país, praticamente durante 10 anos, teve apenas quatro quadros formados em arquitectura e construção civil.’ In: Milanka L. Gomes, ‘Reconstrução Nacional e Balanço Das Principais Ações Realizadas Entre 1974 e 1996 Na Guiné-Bissau Bissau’ (CIALP conference intervention, 1996), Private Document. [16] In: Sonja Borges, Militant Education, Liberation Struggle, Consciousness.The PAIGC Education in Guinea Bissau 1963-1978 (Bern: Peter Lang, 2019), 98, 99. [17] In: Duanfang, Third World Modernism: Architecture, Development and Identity, 26. [18] In: Łukasz Stanek, ‘Gift, Credit, Barter: Architectural Mobilities in Global Socialism’, Archive and Editorial Project, E-Flux Architecture (blog), 2020, https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/housing/337850/gift-credit-barter-architectural-mobilities-in-global-socialism/. [19] In: ‘Boletim Oficial Da República Da Guiné-Bissau, Numero 40’, 11 October 1978, Fundação Mário Soares, Arquivo Mário Pinto de Andrade, http://www.casacomum.org/cc/visualizador?pasta=10249.003. [20] He went to Yugoslavia to study through a scholarship support and returned with heavy luggage and an engineer/architect diploma after independence.’ (my translation). In: Graça Tabanca Graca Luís, ‘Caderno de Notas de Um Mais Velho’, Blog, Luís Graça & Camaradas Da Guiné (blog), 9 November 2016, https://blogueforanadaevaotres.blogspot.com/2016/11/guine-6374-p16700-caderno-de-notas-de.html. [21] See Nikola Arsenić’s short bio in: The Vanished Dream (Siddhartha Films, 2016), http://thevanisheddream.com/category/cast/. [22] Interestingly, according to Geraldo Pina, “in Guinea-Bissau, circular houses have often been regarded as representative habitat of the native population.” In: Meuser and Dalbai, ‘Guinea-Bissau’, 26. [23] Recognition became universal following the 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal. For a brief description of the unilateral declaration’s ceremony, see my own text: Lucas Rehnman, ‘Amílcar Cabral d’après l’art Conceptuel or The Liberation Struggle as Conceptual Art’, The Whole Life, 24 March 2022, https://wholelife.hkw.de/amilcar-cabral-dapres-lart-conceptuel-or-the-liberation-struggle-as-conceptual-art/#footnote13. [24] It would be false to speak of ‘“socialist modernism’”, because ‘“alleging a certain formal or visual essence of “socialist modernism” makes just as much sense as trying to identify inherent aesthetic features of a “capitalist modernism”, a label that no one but the most hardened socialist realist critic would take seriously, because it too broadly equates cultural and political categories’.” Vladimir Kulić, Wolfgang Thaler, and Maroje Mrduljas, eds., Modernism In-Between: The Mediatory Architectures of Socialist Yugoslavia (Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2012), 17. [25] In: Łukasz Stanek, ‘Architects from Socialist Countries in Ghana (1957–67): Modern Architecture and Mondialisation’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 74, no. 4 (December 2015): 416–42. [26] Full quote here: ‘Only in postcolonial history writing is agency sometimes attributed to Africans, but, even then, typically only to nationalists who, paradoxically, deployed a modern European architecture to represent emancipation.’ In: Ikem Okoye, ‘Where Was Not Modernism?’, CCA Articles, n.d., https://www.cca.qc.ca/en/articles/77238/where-was-not-modernism. [27] Regimes in the new African nations adopted the Enlightenment’s scientific heritage without any discussions of its cultural implications. This was problematic […] as the ‘machine was not neutral’. It could also be added that this was not only the case with the scientific heritage, but applied equally to the artistic heritage as well.’ In: Bojana Piškur, Southern Constellations: The Poetics of the Non-Aligned (Ljubljana: Moderna galerija, 2019), 16 and Piškur specifies the meaning of ‘machine’ as follows: ‘Machine as one of the instruments of cultural transformation that was brought to a space whose own cultural history had not prepared them for this new device’ a. And: ‘Colonialism brought the machine into spaces whose own cultural history had not prepared them for this new device, and besides, the machine and mechanization had been one of the instruments of cultural transformation. A machine is imbued with cultural forms; the tractor, for example, changes the relationship of farmers to their fields, each other, and the place of the plough in their cosmological world. The tractor would not leave […] social relations unchanged. […] The bulk of the social order inhabited the machine and grew around it’; In: Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (New York: The New Press, 2007). [28] Full quote here: ‘The need for foreign personnel in developing countries was most stressing right after their independence, which was regularly and effectively accommodated by Yugoslavia, in line with its own political interests. The change in trends of technical cooperation, however, occurred in the early 1970s as a result of the events on both sides. In Yugoslavia, the living standard improved. The developing world, on the other hand, suffered a number of political and economic crises causing social instability. The generational shift and decentralization of Yugoslavia further weakened the integrity of the non-alignment policy, which lost its enthusiasm, proved to be less pragmatic than expected. This redirected technical cooperation towards partners who were able to secure economically and socially stable conditions for assignments.’ In: Smode Cvitanović, ‘Tracing the Non-Aligned Architecture: Environments of Technical Cooperation and the Work of Croatian Architects in Kumasi, Ghana (1961-1970)’, Histories of Postwar Architecture 3, no. 6 (2020): 34–67. [29] Full quote here: ‘Eastern European architecture as a whole has largely been left out of the discipline’s modern canonical history, an oversight that not only underscores an ongoing Eurocentric (Western) bias, but also reflects the prolongation of the cultural logic of the Cold War long after its end’. In: M. Stierli and Vladimir Kulić, Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2018).    
Bibliography
Ana, Milheiro. ‘Resisting Modernity: Colonization and Public Works. Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe’. In Ilha de São Jorge, edited by Paula Nascimento and Stefano Pansera, 165–86. Beyond Entropy Books, 2014. Ben Bella, Ahmed. ‘Che as I Knew Him’. Le Monde Diplomatique, October 1997. https://mondediplo.com/1997/10/che. ‘Boletim Oficial Da República Da Guiné-Bissau, Numero 40’, 11 October 1978. Fundação Mário Soares, Arquivo Mário Pinto de Andrade. http://www.casacomum.org/cc/visualizador?pasta=10249.003. Borges, Sonja. Militant Education, Liberation Struggle, Consciousness.The PAIGC Education in Guinea Bissau 1963-1978. Bern: Peter Lang, 2019. Conrad, Sebastian. What Is Global History? Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016. Cvitanović, Smode. ‘Tracing the Non-Aligned Architecture: Environments of Technical Cooperation and the Work of Croatian Architects in Kumasi, Ghana (1961-1970)’. Histories of Postwar Architecture 3, no. 6 (2020): 34–67. Duanfang, Lu. Third World Modernism: Architecture, Development and Identity. London: Routledge, 2010. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy in Process: The Letters to Guinea-Bissau. London: Bloomsbury, 2016. Gomes, Milanka L. ‘Reconstrução Nacional e Balanço Das Principais Ações Realizadas Entre 1974 e 1996 Na Guiné-Bissau Bissau’. CIALP conference intervention, 1996. Private Document. Haddad, Sérgio. O Educador: Um Perfil de Paulo Freire. São Paulo: Todavia, 2019. Herz, Manuel, ed. African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence. Ghana, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Zambia. Zürich: Park Books, 2015. Kulić, Vladimir, Wolfgang Thaler, and Maroje Mrduljas, eds. Modernism In-Between: The Mediatory Architectures of Socialist Yugoslavia. Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2012. Meuser, Phillip, and Adil Dalbai. ‘Guinea-Bissau’. Architectual Guide. Sub-Saharan Africa. Western Africa. Along the Atlantic Ocean Coast 3 (2021): 12–67. Okoye, Ikem. ‘Where Was Not Modernism?’ CCA Articles, n.d. https://www.cca.qc.ca/en/articles/77238/where-was-not-modernism. Paulo, Cunha, and Catarina Laranjeiro. ‘Guiné-Bissau: Do Cinema de Estado Ao Cinema Fora Do Estado’. Rebeca - Revista Brasileira De Estudos De Cinema e Audiovisual 5, no. 2 (2017). Piškur, Bojana. Southern Constellations: The Poetics of the Non-Aligned. Ljubljana: Moderna galerija, 2019. Prashad, Vijay. The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. New York: The New Press, 2007. Rehnman, Lucas. ‘Amílcar Cabral d’après l’art Conceptuel or The Liberation Struggle as Conceptual Art’. The Whole Life, 24 March 2022. https://wholelife.hkw.de/amilcar-cabral-dapres-lart-conceptuel-or-the-liberation-struggle-as-conceptual-art/#footnote13. Stanek, Łukasz. ‘Architects from Socialist Countries in Ghana (1957–67): Modern Architecture and Mondialisation’. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 74, no. 4 (December 2015): 416–42. ———. ‘Gift, Credit, Barter: Architectural Mobilities in Global Socialism’. Archive and Editorial Project. E-Flux Architecture (blog), 2020. https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/housing/337850/gift-credit-barter-architectural-mobilities-in-global-socialism/. Stierli, M., and Vladimir Kulić. Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2018. Tabanca Graca Luís, Graça. ‘Caderno de Notas de Um Mais Velho’. Blog. Luís Graça & Camaradas Da Guiné (blog), 9 November 2016. https://blogueforanadaevaotres.blogspot.com/2016/11/guine-6374-p16700-caderno-de-notas-de.html. Teixeira, Cátia, and Maria Augusta Tavares. ‘Guiné-Bissau: O Presente Lança Luz Sobre o Passado’. Diálogos Magazine, no. 3 (2013): 869–908. The Vanished Dream. Siddhartha Films, 2016. http://thevanisheddream.com/category/cast/.
citation information:
Rehnman, Lucas. ‘Seemingly Built, Suddenly Ruined: Decolonisation and Dis:Connectivity in Post-Colonial Guinea-Bissau 1973-1983’. Global Dis:Connect Blog (blog), 21 February 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/02/21/seemingly-built-suddenly-ruined-decolonisation-and-disconnectivity-in-post-colonial-guinea-bissau-1973-1983/.
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covid and the theatre: a constant state of disruption?

christopher balme
  Looking back upon the last couple of years, I am reminded of the famous advertisement for the film Jaws (1975): Just when you though it was safe to go back in the water… (For an impressionable teenager growing up in New Zealand next to a beach frequented by sharks, including Great Whites, this was not just rhetoric but calculated risk assessment). However, for the world of theatre, music and the live performing arts, this summer seemed to be safe to go back into the auditorium. Restrictions were loosened, masks discarded, and there was nothing preventing the theatres from a experiencing a boom: an explosion of pent-up energy which would send audiences streaming back into their subscription-season seats. Except – it didn’t happen or at least not in the expected numbers.  Across the world theatres and opera houses have registered a certain reluctance on the part of audiences to get back in their seats. Britain’s leading theatre trade magazine The Stage headlined on 22 August 2022 during the Edinburgh Festival: ‘Covid is having “enormous but silent” impact on EdFringe’.[1] The final weeks of the theatre season in Germany were dominated by the term Publikumsschwund, i.e. dwindling audiences, and in far-off New Zealand theatres struggled with intermittent openings and closures, as Covid infections rose and fell. Each of these cases is slightly different but they all share a number of characteristics. The combination of cast and staff illness, spectatorial hesitancy and governmental restrictions creates suboptimal conditions for live theatre. Although discrete factors, they are often interrelated: for instance, recurrent infections in the cast lead to regular cancellations of performances, which in turn disillusion audiences, and even seasoned subscription-ticket veterans lose interest after the third cancellation. This article draws on a comparative study of theatre in the UK and Germany.[2] While still ongoing, we can provide some provisional insights and propose observations on the current iteration of theatre in crisis mode. Theatre under global pandemic conditions has proven to be a fruitful field to investigate dis:connectivity. The closure of theatres in March 2020 was a genuinely global measure and experience. Most theatres and indeed cultural venues of any kind shut down and remained that way well into 2021. Although the immediate impact is clearly economic, as the whole workforce employed in the performing arts sector was effectively laid off or placed on various furlough schemes, the long-term effects may be much wider. The closures produced absence in the form of a complete dearth of live performance. The flow of productions and personnel which is both local, national and international (especially opera) was interrupted for months, even years as carefully calibrated timetables evaporated; and hastily improvised workarounds (detours) in the form of streaming became all the rage. As the pandemic progressed, the topics changed from sheer economic survival to the pros and cons of digitalisation, to the mechanics of social distancing in a theatre auditorium. Currently, we are beginning to see the outlines of theatre under post-pandemic conditions: a loss of audience confidence, recurrent illness, and uncertainty in programming.

Where have all the spectators gone?

Fig.1 Berliner Ensemble. Seating according to the rules of social distancing. https://twitter.com/blnensemble/status/1278239898525466625/photo/1
In July 2022, the word of the month in the German theatre scene was Publikumsschwund. Numerous newspapers and magazines carried headlines featuring the term and all agreed that theatres had had a bad season even though there were few to no restrictions. The Süddeutsche Zeitung published a long article titled Der Einbruch: Dem Theater fehlen die Zuschauer (The collapse: The theatre lacks spectators),[3] in which the authors, theatre critics Peter Laudenbach (Berlin) and Egbert Tholl (Munich), presented results of a journalistic survey they had undertaken. Artistic directors (Intendanten) reported that theatres had lost half of their subscribers in the past two years — a brutal slump, also caused by the fact that many houses had to suspend their subscriptions in winter because of the pandemic restrictions. Prominent stages such as the Berlin Volksbühne were happy if they managed to sell 25% of seats. At Dortmund’s city theatre, artistic director Julia Wissert had an average of 44 paying spectators per performance over the past season — in a house with 500 seats. The harshest polemic is reserved for the Munich Kammerspiele:
The biggest failure of the Münchner Kammerspiele in the current season was a play about living and dying with Covid in intensive care. And apparently fewer and fewer audience members feel like being lectured from the stage with banalities critical of capitalism and the latest twists and turns of identity politics. Here the pandemic acts like an accelerant. It intensifies an audience crisis that badly managed theatres have brought on themselves. Their self-referentiality and arrogance are not likely to be a wise survival strategy in the face of failing audiences.[4]  
The polemic against certain forms of ‘progressive’ theatre is further sharpened by showing that theatres following mainstream programming, such as the Berlin Ensemble (84% capacity) or Munich’s own Volkstheater, could demonstrate robust attendance figures. The authors conclude that spectators are looking for either familiar titles, great acting or ‘genuine stories’. While the author-critics clearly have a critical axe to grind in respect to post-dramatic, experimental theatre (which programmatically eschews all three criteria), a recent empirical survey confirms the overall drop in attendance. In July 2022 the Deutsche Bühnenverein (the German-speaking theatre-managers association) presented the official theatre statistics for the previous season. Compared to 2018/2019, the last pre-Covid season, the 2020/21 season demonstrates a colossal 86% drop in attendance figures.[5] These figures represent the highpoint of the corona pandemic as well as periods of intermittent reopening and do not take account of the ‘recovery’ in spring and summer 2022. The figures are by any account dramatic and represent a major interruption of an established cultural practice: attending theatre.

Digital futures

During the deepest and darkest lockdowns in 2020, the brightest light shone digitally. Whether theatres streamed old recordings of past productions or began to produce bespoke productions for the internet (with various degrees of hybridity in between), digital theatre appeared to hold the key to new possibilities for theatre. Fans of German theatre based in New York suddenly gained gratis access to the digital vaults of the Schaubühne in Berlin going back to the 1970s, whereas disciples of Milo Rau’s NTGent, arguably the most talked-about theatre in Europe, could watch new productions online in high-quality, digital streams for a modest price (fig.2).
Fig 2. Luc Perceval’s production of Yellow – The Sorrows of Belgium II: Rex at NTGent, an exploration of Belgian collaboration with the Nazis, was made available as a livestream in March 2021. New performances in November 2022 are no longer streamed. Image: https://www.ntgent.be/en/productions/yellow-ntgent
The hype was, however, more discursive than actual. Characteristic for discursive hype is a collection of essays published quickly in autumn 2020: Lernen aus dem Lockdown? Nachdenken über Freies Theater (Learning from the lockdown? Reflections on independent theatre).[6] As the title indicates, the main focus is on the independent sector, which was especially hard hit by the total shutdown of all live performance. The embrace of digital technology, for example, is one of the more emphatic stances we find in the independent scene which implies a critique of entrenched positions. For example, in the article by Michael Annoff und Nuray Demir, Showcase im Splitscreen: Videobotschaften an die Dominanzkultur (Show case in a split screen: video messages to the dominant culture):
In the silence of the home office, old audience-development dreams are awakened, in which new groups of visitors are won over without having to change themselves…. But theatre will only emerge stronger from the crisis if it starts from scratch: with its programming and its dramaturgies. In 2018, The Carters shot their ‘APES**T’ video at the Louvre and quickly had more clicks than the museum had visitors all year.[7]  
To date 233 million views on YouTube suggest indeed that a rap video filmed in a high-culture temple finds more interest than a production from the independent performance scene.
Fig.3 The Carters APES**T. YouTube screenshot.
  Their point is that the video is a beautifully filmed and iconographically resonant work referencing numerous memes and tropes of Black culture, which demand exegesis using the tools of performance analysis. As the authors put it: ‘Mona Lisa had to settle for the role of an extra, like an aging silent film star’.[8] There is also a definite pessimistic undertone in their argument: ‘In the 2020 crisis, TikTok dances go through the roof. The audience figures for the lockdown programmes of German-language cultural institutions, however, are languishing in double digits’.[9] Can this discrepancy be bridged? The tension between the past and the future is framed in the Carters’ video as a form of Afrofuturism, and as a more universal digital future, a theme that runs through the collected essays like a red thread. It is a tension that remains unresolved, intentionally so, as the exponents of the metaphysics of presence defend positions against or in contrast to the advocates of the digital future. In the cold light of empirical research, the digital future appears less than incandescent. The survey cited above counted a total of 245 464 tickets sold for digital theatre, a small fraction of total sales (under pre-pandemic conditions the German-speaking theatres sell about 20 million tickets per annum). At least an increase in productions has been noted. In the last pre-Covid season of 2018/19, a total of zero digital productions was recorded versus 18% in the 2020/21 season, although the ticket sales suggest the attendance was quite modest.[10] Some theatres have introduced digital production units alongside the traditional divisions of drama, opera and dance. It remains to be seen whether they are here to stay. Theatre institutions around the world pin their claims for legitimacy and hence public funding on providing (performing) art as a ‘live’, not a digital experience.

Health and wellbeing

Liveness has proven to be the Achilles heel of theatre during the pandemic. While health concerns may keep some spectators away, they are potentially replaceable by other, less risk-averse, visitors. Infections among casts have been much more problematic. A single Covid case on the part of an important performer can lead to the performance being cancelled. Quarantine regulations in most countries generally enforce a period of isolation until a negative test can be produced (a minimum of five days). Theatre in New Zealand (and not just theatre) has been bedevilled by the household rule, which means all members of a household must quarantine when one member is infected. On the level of systemic comparison, we can observe the same problem leading to different but equally debilitating outcomes. In Germany, the repertoire and ensemble system – of which the country is so proud that it has applied to the UNESCO for ICH status (Intangible Cultural Heritage) – has proven to be particularly susceptible. Because a theatre keeps so many productions in repertoire, and many actors are often chronically overworked, parts are not understudied. When an actor playing Macbeth, or any other larger role, contracts Covid the performance is usually cancelled. Opera can handle the situation better on account of its classical repertoire. An ailing Madame Butterfly can be replaced at short notice by dozens of willing substitutes, who need only learn the moves of the mise en scène. The English theatre system, with its long runs and culture of understudies, has also fared better. Nevertheless, the independent theatre scene everywhere has suffered as the recent Edinburgh Fringe painfully demonstrated. The ‘enormous but silent impact’ quoted at the beginning of this essay refers to the absences and gaps created by cancelled performances caused in turn by sickness among cast members and venue staff. Linda Crooks, executive producer of the Traverse theatre in Edinburgh is cited as saying: ‘There’s several things we are trying to reconcile. We’re still managing what can be – on occasions – a highly debilitating virus that can knock out shows. We are trying to build back audience confidence and any mention of the first issue can impact on the second, which in turn hits the very fragile bottom line hard – against a backdrop of exorbitant costs.’[11] The Edfringe, as it is now known, is unique as a festival because it functions without curatorial control.[12] Groups and artists self-fund to attend and hope for the big break. While this state of precarity is not comparable to the long-term contracts enjoyed by German actors at publicly funded theatres, the dynamics are similar, except for the direct financial risk incurred.  

Outlook

Even in highly divergent theatre systems such as the German and the British, the effects of the pandemic have, and continue to be, highly isomorphic. Just as the pandemic generated remarkably similar responses around the globe, so too have theatres followed a roughly similar playbook. Consigned to lockdowns in the first phase, cautious openings and then renewed closures in the second and third phases, followed by more or less complete reopening since early 2022, theatres have done all in their power to return to the status quo ante. The utopian energy of the initial lockdowns, where dreams of a new theatre were articulated, has dissipated and been replaced by a high degree of uncertainty and pragmatic responses. The interruptions, gaps and workarounds created by the pandemic have, however, opened up new spaces that make a return to path-dependent patterns of production and reception ever more problematic. And the heating costs for the coming winter have not yet been factored in….   [1] Giverny Masso, ‘Covid Is Having “Enormous but Silent” Impact on EdFringe, Say Artists’, The Stage, 22 August 2022. [2] ‘Theatre After Covid’, Institute Website, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. University of London, 2022, https://www.cssd.ac.uk/Research/Research-Outputs-and-Projects/Current-Research-Projects/theatre-after-covid. [3] Egbert Tholl and Peter Laudenbach, ‘Der Einbruch. Dem Theater Fehlen Die Zuschauer.’, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 11 June 2022, https://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/theater-publikum-corona-krise-berliner-ensemble-1.5619166?reduced=true. [4] Tholl and Laudenbach (Author’s translation). [5] Detlev Baur, ‘Betriebsunfall Oder Zeitenwende?’, Die Deutsche Bühne, July 2022, 39. [6] Haiko Pfost, Falk Schreiber, and Wilma Renfordt, eds., Lernen Aus Dem Lockdown? Nachdenken Über Freies Theater (Berlin: Kindle Edition, 2020). [7] Michael Annoff and Demir Nuray, ‘Showcase Im Splitscreen: Videobotschaften an Die Dominanzkultur’, in Lernen Aus Dem Lockdown? Nachdenken Über Freies Theater, ed. Haiko Pfost (Berlin: Kindle Edition, 2020), 17 (Author’s translation). [8] Annoff and Nuray, 17 (Author’s translation). [9] Annoff and Nuray, 17 (Author’s translation). [10] Baur, ‘Betriebsunfall Oder Zeitenwende?’, 40. [11] Cited in: Masso, ‘Covid Is Having “Enormous but Silent” Impact on EdFringe, Say Artists’. [12] Audience attendance at the Fringe dropped by 25% compared to 2019. See: Giverny Masso, ‘Edinburgh Fringe Ticket Sales down 25% across Key Venues’, The Stage, 28 August 2022 This was attributed to a combination of high accommodation costs, disruption to public transport and high fuel costs.
Bibliography
Annoff, Michael, and Demir Nuray. ‘Showcase Im Splitscreen: Videobotschaften an Die Dominanzkultur’. In Lernen Aus Dem Lockdown? Nachdenken Über Freies Theater, edited by Haiko Pfost, 16–22. Berlin: Kindle Edition, 2020. Baur, Detlev. ‘Betriebsunfall Oder Zeitenwende?’ Die Deutsche Bühne, July 2022, 38–40. Masso, Giverny. ‘Covid Is Having “Enormous but Silent” Impact on EdFringe, Say Artists’. The Stage, 22 August 2022. ———. ‘Edinburgh Fringe Ticket Sales down 25% across Key Venues’. The Stage, 28 August 2022. Pfost, Haiko, Falk Schreiber, and Wilma Renfordt, eds. Lernen Aus Dem Lockdown? Nachdenken Über Freies Theater. Berlin: Kindle Edition, 2020. The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. University of London. ‘Theatre After Covid’. Institute Website, 2022. https://www.cssd.ac.uk/Research/Research-Outputs-and-Projects/Current-Research-Projects/theatre-after-covid. Tholl, Egbert, and Peter Laudenbach. ‘Der Einbruch. Dem Theater Fehlen Die Zuschauer.’ Süddeutsche Zeitung. 11 June 2022. https://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/theater-publikum-corona-krise-berliner-ensemble-1.5619166?reduced=true.
citation information:
Balme, Christopher. ‘Covid and the Theatre: A Constant State of Disruption?’ Global Dis:Connect Blog (blog), 2 July 2023. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/02/07/covid-and-the-theatre-a-constant-state-of-disruption/.
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Arnab Dey joins global dis:connect

A warm welcome to our new guest Arnab Dey who joins global dis:connect in early February. Currently an associate professor of history at the State University of New York at Binghamton, Arnab is a historian of modern India and the British Empire, with research interests centred around questions of law, labour and the environment. Arnab’s first monograph, Tea Environments and Plantation Culture looked at the monoculture tea enterprise of British east India. This study brought the plant and the plantation together in analysing the praxis and politics of commodity capitalism. His associated research agendas and publications have similarly involved tracing imperial capital, legal regimes and environmental transformations in the British colonial world and the Indian subcontinent. Continue Reading

Katharina Wilkens joins global dis:connect

A warm welcome to our new guest Katharina Wilkens who joins global dis:connect in early February.

Katharina Wilkens is a scholar of religion with a wide range of interests, particularly in the fields of African religions and aesthetics of religion. After graduating in the study of religion, anthropology and Islamic studies at the University of Bayreuth, she taught at the universities of Heidelberg, Munich, Bayreuth, Zurich, Salzburg and Leipzig. Her PhD project was a case study of Catholic exorcism and healing in Tanzania. She has published on religious healing, spirit possession, the practice of drinking the Quran, travelogues written by Africans and the aesthetics of material texts.

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Jeanno Gaussi joins global dis:connect

Jeanno Gaussi

A warm welcome to our new guest Jeanno Gaussi who joins global dis:connect in early February.
Born in Kabul, and growing up in Kabul, Delhi and Berlin, Jeanno’s interests transcend national borders and genres. Initially focused on film and video art, her work now transcends genre boundaries. Starting from a narrative concept, she creates installations that include video, photography, objects and texts. Her art explores the places where she’s worked, travelled and had meaningful encounters. It engages with remembrance, identity  and the social and cultural processes associated with them. She develops projects in relation to the place of their creation, examining the unique aspects of her surroundings.
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8 February 2023, Workshop: Istanbul on Display

On 8 February 2023, the Centre will hold a workshop centring on the representation of Istanbul in Germany through several exhibitions since 2000. The global curatorial and artistic narratives about artists from Turkey have resulted in several critiques of European representational strategies that are predominately centred on geographical, cultural and national identities. In consequence, an increasing number of critical artistic and curatorial practices have emerged that attempt to transcend and challenge the art world's reductionist, Eurocentric tendencies, such as casting doubt on conventional stereotypes of East vs. West and the construction of 'Other'. With global connectedness and disconnectedness as framing concepts, this workshop aims to explore the tensions that emerge from this dichotomy and how they relate to representations of Istanbul through several exhibitions in Germany since 2000. By exploring this context as a complex relationship of global interconnectivity, it aims to identify gaps, limitations and tensions in the globalisation processes of contemporary art from Turkey by considering the politics of art and exhibition politics in Europe. This workshop's main objective is to contribute to a decolonial discussion on the globalization of contemporary art from Turkey by focusing on exhibition strategies and artistic forms of resistance. This involves sharing knowledge to understand globalisation and its intricate structures from a variety of perspectives. The workshop is a forum for debate and dialogue, bringing together scholars, artists, and curators to further develop this research and share from their own areas of expertise.   Where and when: Munich, 8 February 2023, 9.00 - 18.30 Language: English Venue: Käte Hamburger Research Centre global dis:connect, Maria-Theresia-Str. 21, 81675 Munich   Click HERE to download the poster. Continue Reading

Infrastructures of musical globalisation, 1850–2000

23 to 25 June 2022, Historisches Kolleg, Munich
friedemann pestel & martin rempe
Infrastructures rarely come to mind when making or listening to music. This holds equally true for discovering or playing with unfamiliar sounds from different world regions. As an ephemeral and affective experience, music of whatever origin is difficult to capture, locate and pin down. And yet, without the emergence, development, transformation and deterioration of infrastructures, many musical experiences would have taken quite a different path – particularly at the transnational and global levels. Studying such infrastructures, broadly framed as material conditions as well as the explicit and implicit prerequisites of making music across borders since the 19th century, was at the heart of our workshop. Actors involved in musical life, both historical and present, have taken infrastructures such as places and institutions of musical performance for granted, be these public, private or anything in between. They only receive greater attention when they do not meet artistic, economic, political or public expectations. Hence, the presence, lack and transformations of infrastructures are inextricably intertwined with the production of musical culture. They present driving forces, counterforces and lateral forces of musical practices broadly speaking. It was the forms and means, the reach and functions and, ultimately, the dis:connectivities of infrastructures that prompted intense and controversial discussions among the workshop participants from Europe and North America.
Image: Martin Rempe
The papers covered an impressive geographical range with contributions on North and Latin America and the Caribbean, on a global Europe and a global Soviet Union, on Central Africa as well as on South and East Asia. Chronologically, we focused on the 19th and 20th centuries as a key period for both global history and the history of infrastructures. Likewise, the papers featured a great variety of musical genres, ranging from opera and classical music to jazz, Congolese rumba and Afrobeat as well as to Soviet pop music and so-called ‘traditional music’ of indigenous peoples. Finally, the spectrum of infrastructures was pushed to the extremes: transnational networks of theatre agents (Charlotte Bentley and Matteo Paoletti) served as infrastructures of musical dis:connectivity as well as international organisations like UNESCO (Anaïs Fléchet) and European and African collecting societies (Véronique Pouillard), music education institutions (Alexandre Bischofberger) and the music industry (Friedemann Pestel), pitch standardisation negotiations (Fanny Gribenski) and genre discourse (Thomas Irvine and Christopher Smith) and, last but not least, cultural ministries (Michel Abeßer) and national embassies (Zbigniew Wojnowski). This broad conceptualisation of infrastructures of musical dis:connectivity turned out to be very fruitful for the discussions since it provoked even more inventive ideas from the invited commentators about what else, in the context of music, could be framed as infrastructure: music itself as an infrastructure for human memory and everyday human life (Dirk van Laak); musical instruments as infrastructures of sound making (Jürgen Osterhammel); and the crucial question of how infrastructures in a narrow sense, such as electricity and the production of shellac played in the making of music (Oliver Janz) were among the most fascinating ones. Also, considerable thought was devoted to the conceptual boundaries of infrastructures and how they differ from structure(s) and networks. Roland Wenzlhuemer, in his keynote, drew our attention to the spatial dimension of infrastructures by highlighting the significance of – otherwise largely disconnected – peripheries for connectivity in communication. Additionally, from an anthropological viewpoint, the important difference between infrastructures as an emic category and an etic category was stressed (Christina Brauner). There was, however, no consensus about how much teleology comes into play when doing research on infrastructures: while some argued that path dependency is key to understanding infrastructures’ effectiveness (Heidi Tworek), others warned of normative assumptions about the latter. These and many more aspects of the relationship between infrastructures and making music across borders underline how useful the dialogue between music history and infrastructure research can be. Also highly inspiring were the discussions about the distinction between the established perspective of musical ‘institutions’ and the perspective of ‘infrastructures’ that might direct our attention to less articulated, less formalised settings of musical production. Several workshop participants emphasised the necessity of pluralising and de-Europeanising the idea of a musical globalisation. As the papers made evident, many musical globalisations have recurred since the mid-19th century with their own underlying infrastructures, mechanisms, geographies and limitations. Even within a single genre, such as European opera, the logics of circulation, appropriation and refusal differed considerably between the mid-19th century American South, which was driven by commercial motivations, and the countries of southern Latin America under the grip of fascist Italian diplomacy during the 1920s. Nonetheless, a retreat from European musical metropoles and a reorientation to emerging American centres, such as New York and Buenos Aires, was common to both Americas in the decades around 1900, as was also the case in the emergence of Cuban music conservatories, which took as much inspiration from there as from Europe. Wojnowski extended de-centring one step further by emphasising the strong Western bias in Eurocentric accounts. There is call to study Eastern European attempts to globalise ‘their’ musics as well, even though they largely failed, as his case study on Soviet musical diplomacy in the emerging Third World demonstrated. Whereas the commonplace of ‘musical connections’ is often taken for granted in music scholarship, the significantly greater challenge is to write about music that does not travel or, more precisely, music that is prevented from travelling. Though the lens of infrastructures cannot solve this problem, it can, at least, hint and highlight moments of musical dis:connectivity. A recent example mentioned at the workshop is the streaming platform ‘Forgotify’, which assembles millions of tracks and songs that are available on Spotify but have never been played. In a historical perspective, infrastructures like ‘Forgotify’ can direct our attention to other ‘hidden’ agents of musical dis:connectivity that have so far been understudied, such as collecting societies and international organisations. Likewise, the workshop revealed how little we know about the actual trajectories, interests, strategies and frictions related to seemingly global musical icons, be it the career of a conductor like Herbert von Karajan or an ostensibly unequivocal musical reference such as the pitch. The dialogue among the papers, commentators and the workshops’ discussants also helped to reveal what was lacking or underrepresented among the variety of phenomena, spaces and actors the workshop covered. For example, wars as particular moments of both musical dis:connectivity, infrastructural mobilisation and destruction did not loom large in the discussions. Likewise, explicit counterforces to musical globalisation remained in the background. Musical unions, which often acted as gatekeepers against foreign musicians and their musics, are an apt example. While the workshop has mapped the field and revealed many productive approaches to it, much more research on infrastructures of musical dis:connectivity is needed to better understand the many histories of musical globalisations.   Continue Reading

Camille Serchuk joins global dis:connect

Camille Serchuk

A warm welcome to our new guest Camille Serchuk who joins global dis:connect in early January. Camille is professor of art history at Southern Connecticut State University. She received her doctorate in art history from Yale in 1997, where she focused on images of medieval Paris. Since then, her research has focused primarily on the relationship between painting and mapmaking in late medieval and early modern Europe, with particular attention to the ways that artistic techniques and practices both enhanced and undermined the authority of cartography. The links between cartography and painting in 16th century France are also the subject of her recently completed book manuscript.   Continue Reading

Andrea Frohne joins global dis:connect

Andrea Frohne

A warm welcome to our new guest Andrea Frohne who joins global dis:connect in early January. Andrea is professor of African art history and Director of the School of Interdisciplinary Arts at Ohio University, with a joint appointment in the School of Art + Design and of African studies. Her first book is The African Burial Ground in New York City: Memory, Spirituality, and Space. Her second book titled Contemporary Arts from the Horn of Africa: Encounters Beyond Borders through Conflict, Colonialism, and Modernity is forthcoming. She earned her PhD from Binghamton University (State University of New York). She has taught at Cornell University, Pennsylvania State and Dickinson College.       Continue Reading