an exhibition and research project

by SAVVY Contemporary
Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.)

Funded by the TURN Fund of the
German Federal Cultural Foundation
and Ernst Schering Foundation


The project is structured in 4 different moments:

1. A collective art exhibition in Berlin
2. 5 satellite artistic interventions in partner spaces in Lagos, Dakar, Johannesburg, Nairobi and Marrakech
3. Round table series in Nairobi and Berlin
4. A publication

"History (with a capital H) ends
where the histories of those peoples
once reputed to be without history come together.
History is a highly functional fantasy of the West,
originating at precisely that time
when it alone ‘made’ the history of the world."
Édouard Glissant
The Quarrel with History – The Known, the Uncertain

It is common knowledge that history and the privilege to write history is one of the most prestigious chalices, earned or seized by any victor or person in power. In its multi-dimensionality, it is the concoction of the real/truth, the fictitious, and the untold that makes history what it is, especially as it is the case that the silent voices in history are much louder than the voices which have found a way into our ears today.

The art and research project Giving Contours to Shadows focuses on voiceless shadows and on alternative narrations in which all is said without necessarily uttering words. The reference to Édouard Glissant’s opacity in the title is a poetic allusion to giving forms to historical narratives, but also a wink at the sheer elasticity and fluidity of history: artists and contributors to the project Giving Contours to Shadows do not strive to find words for a history that has been omitted; willingly or unwillingly, they recount the past and history’s trace to the present through works that stand as a voice of the unspoken or the unuttered, and they do not seek to represent “historical facts” but dare to portray an alternative historical narrative and question the dominant canon. As an alternative medium to language, art succeeds in occupying the space between the “factual” and the “nonfactual”.

Giving Contours to Shadows will have Africa as its point of departure to reflect on philosophical and historical aspects of global concern. The project is thus interested in casting light on alternative narrations and epistemologies, as well as on another art history. The project will investigate and deliberate on new narratives beyond the colonial/post-colonial discourse.
The artists and their positions are not defensive, but rather offensive about contemporary socio-political issues and deal with seminal issues of the last four decades, e.g. science fiction, computer age, homosexuality-transsexuality-othersexuality, the wave of economic crisis across Africa in the late 80s and early 90s, the political wave of multi-partism in the 90s and the embracing of the post-Apatheid era, the migration movements towards the West, a re-birth of an African consciousness reflected in a renewed interest in pan- and trans-Africanism, the new economic boom across many African countries, the diasporic experience and beyond.

Giving Contours to Shadows brings together the efforts and energies of different institutions from various cities in Africa and in Germany with the will to activate a long-term dialogue and discourse on the possibilities of deliberating on history, pre-writing history and even sequestrate history.