Between 29 June and 1 July 2017, Basel will host the 7th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS), one of the largest gatherings of Africanist scholars in the world and the largest of its kind in Europe. The theme for this year’s convention is “Urban Africa – Urban Africans: New Encounters Between the Rural and the Urban”. Urban issues are predominantly visible and negotiated in public space, particularly in the streets. In the current global environment, streets often become contested territory, as town planners, investors and urban residents compete for access, ownership and mobility. The streets are places where gentrification, displacement and environmental degradation are experienced and sometimes challenged. One the one hand, streets are generally regarded as the playing field of socially and economically lower class community members and their activities (e.g. informal street vendors versus supermarket chains, street art versus gallery spaces, football played on street corners versus sports clubs). On the other hand, and because of this, streets also provide the vibrant ground for exchange, movement, experimentation and innovation. This dynamic terrain is where the A* Piece of Street Festival positions itself.
As its name suggests, the A* Piece of Street Festival wants to take these discourses out of the buildings of the university, library, concert halls and museums into the streets of Basel, and add perspectives generated in public space to the discussions taking place within the walls of the established academic and arts institutions. By doing so, the A* Piece of Street Festival tests and actively works towards transcending the material and symbolic boundaries that often separate the processes of knowledge production in informal spaces like the streets from the ones in the high-culture establishments.
The A* Piece of Streets Festival brings together international and local artists, academics and the broader Basler public, from aficionadas to random passers by. Two strategically chosen locations are temporarily occupied and freely accessible to the public: Petersplatz in Grossbasel and Matthäusplatz in Kleinbasel. Petersplatz is situated adjacent to the university in the historically more affluent part of the city. Matthäusplatz is located in a traditionally more working class and culturally diverse environment. The festival refuses to look at what the urban theorist AbdouMaliq Simone calls African “cityness” as an isolated, off-shore phenomenon but implicates and relates local urban conditions, developments and politics in this discourse. It acknowledges and explores the interconnectedness between the African and European continents – historically, socio-politically and economically.
The A* in A* Piece of Street Festival stands for Art, Africa and Analysis. Art is purposefully listed first in the festival’s title to emphasise the chief role that artists play in knowledge production through their practice, not as entertainers but as active contributors. The invited artists all have in common their transnational identities. Some live in African cities, others are based in Europe. Their works provide unique insights, alternative and multiple perspectives on diverse urban dynamics, ranging from colonial histories and postcolonial conditions to identity and race. They translate these into the diversified languages of poetry, music, installation, theatre, and performance. African artists have for long produced work that engages the rapid urbanisation on the continent. The A* Piece of Street Festival wants to highlight that artists’ engagement with urbanisation contains analysis and theorisation that need to be taken seriously by Africanist scholars and everybody else concerned with urban Africa.
Rather than stating and staging what is already known, A* Piece of Street Festival opens up spaces for new questions: When art and analysis concerned with urban Africa come together in public space in a city like Basel, what can we learn about how to live in cities on the African continent, in Swiss cities, in a world in which people are separated and connected by history in complex ways?
Curator: Kadiatou Diallo
Assistant curator: Melanie Boehi