From Chimurenga to Chronic
For the past decade, Cape Town based pan-African art, cultural, literature and political journal Chimurenga Magazine has provided an innovative platform for exchange of free ideas and political reflection by Africans about Africa.
Since its inception in 2002, Chimurenga has continually challenged established definitions and segregations of knowledge and expression, expanding its activities from the regular print journal into numerous projects including live music and discussion sessions, online archiving projects and even an internet radio station.
Chimurenga is the 2011 recipient of the Prince Claus Fund’s principal award.
The Chimurenga Chronicle
Chimurenga‘s new publishing project takes the form of a once-off, one-day-only edition of a fictional newspaper to be released on “Black Wednesday”, October 19th 2011 - a historic day in South Africa that marks the banning of numerous Black Consciousness organisations and independent newspapers by the apartheid regime.
Titled the Chimurenga Chronic, the project is an intervention into the newspaper as a vehicle of knowledge production and dissemination. Editor Ntone Edjabe explains.
“Knowledge produced by Africans is always curtailed towards simplicity because we are trapped in the logic of emergency. At Chimurenga we’re constantly trying to create beyond this shut hole of relevance. There is indeed famine and war but there is also life. There is also innovation, thinking, dreams—all the things that make life. Our project is to articulate this complexity.”
In order to do this, the Chimurenga Chronic takes a step back. Locating itself directly inside the emergency, the newspaper is backdated to the period of May 2008, a time marked by the outbreak of xenophobic violence in South Africa.
“Our sense of history, of what is relevant, is marked by the newspaper medium,” notes Edjabe. By embracing this form, the Chimurenga Chronic seeks to provide an alternative to mainstream representations of history, on the one hand filling the gap in the historical coverage of this event, whilst at the same time reopening it.
“The objective is not to revisit the past to bring about closure,” says Edjabe, “but rather to provoke and challenge our perception, in order to imagine a new foundation from which we can think and act within our current context.”
The result is both a bold art project and a hugely ambitious publishing venture that gives voice to all aspects of life on the continent. The 96-page multi-section broadsheet features news, analysis and longform journalism by award-winning writers and journalists. Its content ranges from in-depth investigations into xenophobia, border politics, the business of migration and ethnic economics, to innovative coverage of sports, arts, health, technology and more.
The stand-alone 56 page Chronic Life Magazine features photography, essays, guides, games, columns and more, and the Chronic Book Review Magazine is a self-contained 96 page magazine packed with interviews, analysis and over 92 pages of book reviews, as well as new fiction and poetry.
Of course, as Edjabe notes, “it isn’t a Chimurenga project if there isn’t music.” With this in mind the Chronic also comes packaged with a free audio CD supplement in the form of a “mixtape” composed, arranged and performed by celebrated musician and composer Neo Muyanga.
A Pan-African Collaboration
In an effort to shift the perspective away from the confines of nation-states, the Chimurenga Chronic is a Pan-African production, created in cooperation with independent publishers Kwani? in Kenya and Nigeria’s Cassava Republic Press. It brings together journalists and editors, writers, theorists, photographers, illustrators and artists from around Africa and the world to create a platform for imagination and dialogue.
Working between numerous spaces and temporalities - world time, local time, real time, historical time and future time - the Chronicle team moved its newsroom online.
An aggregator of ideas, sources and discussion, The Chimurenga Newsroom blog taps into the extraordinary potential of social media to disseminate news. At once a productive working space and a public forum, the blog also acts as an open-source archive, documenting the project’s research process and progress.
Visitors to the space can read writer’s briefing, interact in editorial discussions and access reading lists of relevant research material that expand on the knowledge contained in the paper.
Johannesburg residents have already been introduced to the project via street posters distributed throughout the city since September 2011. Carrying bold questions and provocations, the content of these posters are drawn directly from the Chronicle newspaper.
“They are the questions which we posed to ourselves during their research,” says Edjabe, “the questions posed to writers in commissioning the stories and the questions the writers themselves ask you, their readers in their responses.”
Described as “a public art intervention”, the posters are more than just an innovative advertising campaign. By demanding a response or an answer, they explore the city as newspaper, tapping into how word of mouth and conversations on the street generate news and extending the conversations of the project beyond the page and into public space.
The content of the posters has been generated by the Chimurenga team in collaboration with acclaimed Swedish poet Linn Hansen. They are designed by artist Rangoato Hlasane with Johannesburg (South Africa) based Keleketla! Collective and the Chimurenga design team.
On Black Wednesday, October 19, The Chimurenga Chronicle will be released and distributed on streets in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Europe and America.
The project will also be exhibited at the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, 2011 in Sweden. For the biennale Chimurenga has created a “Reading Room” that invites visitors to engage the newspaper as a historic medium. The space includes a full research library of supplementary reading material, films and music.
Access to the newspaper is provided by both old microfilm readers and digitally via the blog.
An intervention in both time and space, the Reading Room also functions as a “time capsule” that suspends the normal pace and spectacle of the biennial. It engages the biennale’s theme, “pandemonium” by intervening in “the logic of emergencies” and creating a space for reflection, investigation, thinking and dreaming.
The Chimurenga Chonicle Library multimedia installation, daily events and a tribute concert for the Blue Notes (SA’s flagship experimental band in exile) at the Goethe-Institute Gallery, Johannesburg (South Africa) from the 19th October 2011.
The Chimurenga Chronic is realised with the kind support of Glänta, Goethe-Institut Johannesburg, Heinrich Böll Stiftung and lettera27.
Visit the newsroom here
For more from Chimurenga Chronic, see our special report.