Work Package 5:
Artists and Citizens
Who are we?
We are a team of interdisciplinary researchers trained in archeology, art history and literature, comprised of Elvan Zabunyan, professor (Rennes 2 University) and work package leader, Daniela Franca Joffe, postdoctoral fellow (Hull University), Marine Schütz, postdoctoral fellow (Rennes 2 University), Nick Shepherd, professor (Aarhus University).
Artists and Citizens is a city-focused, case study–based work package that sets out to:
• Analyse the emergence of new forms of colonial heritage practice occurring at sites in Bristol, Cape Town and Marseille—specifically those involving marginalized subjects, fostering new ties between the communities involved, and located at a distance from former power relations.
• Study and map the various forms of artistic and social production that exist at these nodal points, which offer a privileged window into the way different parts of the former colonial system are both de-linked and re-linked by artists and citizens, making room for new decolonial entanglements.
• To provide an in-depth analysis of groups working outside major heritage organizations in two different geopolitical zones—Europe (Bristol and Marseille) and Africa (Cape Town)—and to generate new empirical knowledge on heritage practices in these cities and among different stakeholder groups.
• To map the activities of these groups and evaluate their work.
• To investigate the transfers and the entangled relations they perform between Europe and ex-colonies.
• To get involved in developing the methodological toolkit for studying the modalities of heritage practice organized by Work Package 1.
Work Package 5 researchers have gathered the first results of their analysis of groups of artists and citizens working outside major heritage organizations in Bristol and Marseille. They have produced in-depth archival research, interviews, and data collection from the projects they have been shadowing, leading to an initial understanding of how contemporary artistic expressions are responding to colonial heritage.
On a methodological level, these different projects reveal the following:
• They enact a shift from a critique of images, readable through postcolonial theory, using tools such as deconstruction, to a critique of knowledge.
• The discourses surrounding them involve a strong contestation of dominant heritage discourses such as repression.
• It is therefore necessary, on a methodological level, to discuss these projects within a decolonial framework, as their aesthetic inventiveness is set in motion by a critique of colonial representations that also questions representation and heritage as they have been conceptualized by the modern ego.
To sum up, Work Package 5’s initial sub-reports, as well as its contributions to the keywords anthology driven by Work Package 1, express a renewed urgency for our understanding of art and society in an era of globalization and migration, where West-centered interpretations of modernism and modernity have been thrown into crisis.
The Issues we are Dealing With: Spotlight on Marseille
Among the projects that function as mechanisms of transnational agency and aesthetic collaboration between artists from Marseille and ex-colonies, we can identify:
• Projects that highlight the role of Marseille as an artistic nodal point.
One example is the Mari-Mira project by Marseille-based artist Guy-André Lagesse, whose artistic and social project has become a device to chart cultural mobility. This collective installation, which ran between 1995 and 2005, moved across different cities (Port Louis, Mauritius, Marseille, Paris, Suva in the Fiji Islands, and Durban) and was created in collaboration with local inhabitants, who enriched the moving shacks with objects that were locally collected.
This movable, travelling work performed entangled colonial relations and connected/linked several critical points on the globe in a new, decolonial configuration. In so doing, it generated a sense of identity based on a tension between ‘here’ and ‘elsewhere’—one that dismantles the colonial geographic orientation and the center/periphery dichotomy.
• Works that challenge the relation with the past as it has been conceptualized by the modern ego: that is, via a repression of colonial heritage, history and subjectivity.
This dynamic is especially visible in the collaborative work of Dalila Mahdjoub, who assembles alternate archives related to colonial workers in Marseille, and Martine Derain, who advocates for the inscription of colonial traces in aesthetics. Mahdjoub and Derain’s work is aligned with the French association Ancrages, which in 2000 launched a campaign aimed at inscribing the history of migration into national heritage.
• Works that question colonial heritage through sites, including site-specific interventions at locations where people of Algerian descent first arrived in Marseille or now live.
Precisely this interaction is at stake in La Compagnie’s project, which is an artist-run space in the Algerian district of Belsunce. The same dynamic is present in Bristol, where sites such as Pero’s Bridge are framed as spaces for performance (in the work of Libita Clayton, for example).
Shawn Sobers, artist and scholar based in Bristol, started to develop his African Kinship Series several years ago. It explores the relationship between people of the African Caribbean diaspora and born Africans from the continent. African Kinship systems is an anthropological term that looks at how networks of people operate within communities.
These artists’ aim is to rewrite the city as an archive of slavery or colonial history—a history that still needs to be fully reckoned with, discussed and denounced, despite ongoing British and French memory policies attempting to recognize slavery and colonialism. Artists, as citizens, are engaged in an entangled process where cultural production meets poetics and politics.