The Chimurenga Library maps the imagination

Straight No Chaser (named after a Thelonious Monk album) was one of the publications archived by the Chimurenga Library, a virtual and actual library project currently in installation at the The Showroom.

Straight No Chaser (named after a Thelonious Monk album) was one of the publications archived by the Chimurenga Library, a virtual and actual library project currently in installation at the The Showroom.

The Chimurenga Library, a virtual and actual reimagining of the library conceived by the quarterly journal will, among other things, stage live broadcasts of the Pan African Space Station (PASS), which will feature music, interviews and collaborative events with writers, curators and  filmmakers. The live broadcast studio will function amid a cartographic installation, mapping a series of “routes” running throughout the building between two floors of The Showroom.

Other events will take place outside of the north-west London based gallery, further expanding on the practice of cartography and the idea of routes.  The Mail and Guardian spoke to Chimurenga’s Lindokuhle Nkosi about the origins and the evolution of the Chimurenga Library.

How and why was the Chimurenga Library conceived?
That was basically when we took over the space at the Cape Town Library. The library already existed and there was a way that people functioned in that space.
There were people coming to study, people coming to nap, people coming in for different reasons (maybe leaving their children there). So it was looking at a library as a space that contributes to a way of living as opposed to a space where you just get books. So the idea was to remap the library… in a way that people use it.

What are some examples of how this was done?
So, for example, if you take a book from the African Writers Series. If the cover was done by [photographer] George Hallet; there might be something about life in exile, or something about the Blue Notes and how they contributed to the changing of the jazz scene. That was the working model.

So what physical characteristics did the project take?
So there’s the Chimurenga Library, where we go in and do installations and exhibitions, but there is also the Chimurenga Library online, which is the actual archive that looked at all these different publications, (like Staffrider or Straight No Chaser for instance) that had a monumental impact at the time that they existed but everybody forgot about them. In order to get a book into or from a library space, people need to have read about them or something needed to have been written about it.
So because many of these publications didn’t have that, we created literary appraisals, writing bios and description of all of them in order to get them into the traditional publication, reading and distribution system. So we had to reintroduce them into the archive using the traditional means that people understand.

One of the focuses of the The Showroom presentation is Festac 77 (the second world black and African Festival of Arts and Culture  which was held in Lagos in September 1977). When the 1972 Wattstax festival was revisited earlier this year, albeit on a smaller scale, it was to commemorate the Watts riots in Los Angeles which happened 50 years ago. What is the significance of looking at Festac 77 at The Showroom in this moment in history?
We are looking at Festac 77 because of the sheer scale and size of it. But the Panaf festival [the first Panafrican Cultural Festival, organised in 1969 by the Algerian government] had happened before that. We were looking at them as festivals that were tackling the meaning of Pan Africanism on a cultural and intellectual level. This was happening at a time when most countries in Africa were achieving independence. So the level of conversation about reshaping Africa was not happening at a rhetorical level. It was: What currency will we use? Will we keep the current economic system? Are we keeping the way in which the countries have been carved out? These are the questions we are dealing with as Chimurenga, but also as a continent, about our identity with regards to who we are as a post-colonial continent. So we are looking at them as these spaces of completely radical imagination. People were imagining free and wild because they didn’t imagine that there were restrictions.

Keeping the practice of cartography and the idea of routes in mind, what other conceptual connections does the presentation make between the sum of its parts – for example the distinctions between sub-Saharan Africa and Arab Africa; and the work of people like Sorryyoufeeluncomfortable and even Dego?
The use of cartography in Chimurenga goes back to many issues. If you look at the Chimurenga journals of the early 2000s, the first Chronic issue, they all included maps. The one issue actually mapped the journey of the Blue Notes, their travels into London and the reach of their music. When we work on something it’s never just for the project and then a final thing.
We continue to work on it until it’s a final thing. So basically everything that we do is mapping. Even the exhibition at The Showroom is mapping. It’s mapping ideas and how far they travel. That’s all we are doing, mapping the imagination.

The Chimurenga Library at The Showroom will run from October 8 to November 21.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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