Saturday, January 13, 2018

Fez Gathering - Final Roundtable Discussions

The 3rd International Artists Gathering  hosted its final day of discussions with a highly appreciative audience braving the very cold conditions. The provision of coffee, tea and small snacks, assisted in boosting the energy levels of those a little tired from the previous night's Slide Luck presentation

The first round table discussion on contemporary art in Africa was well attended, but got off to a late start on a particularly cold morning of around 7 degrees Celsius.

Moderator Neil van der Linden

The individual contributions were well received. Aurelie Lierman, a composer based in The Hague, pointed out the domination of the contemporary art scene over the years by 'middle-aged male Europeans". Originally from Rwanda, Aurelie, an engaging speaker, was one of a strong contingent from the Netherlands that included Neil Van der Linden, and singer,  Shishani Vranckx.

Aurelie Lierman

The two second speakers explained they were doing a joint project, but their contribution were plagued by technical problems and a rather chaotic attempt to rectify the situation turned into an unintended piece of performance art. Eventually, Yassine Balbzioui, from Rabat and Matteo Rubbi, from Italy, informed the audience that the project was a 'paper plane making" competition. Inexplicably, the presentation ended up with a large painting being carried around the streets and an attempt to destroy it by kicking a football through it.

This was followed by a video presentation filmed in Dakar, entitled "You are the shade of my Heart" by Mohammed Arejdal from Rabat. In the video, the audience follows a man dressed in Moroccan clothes, carrying a large red umbrella through the streets. The reaction of local people makes for an interesting cross-cultural discussion. The carrying of an umbrella was the job of a slave - and Mohammed explained his motivation as being political.

The session however, suffered from having too many speakers, technical problems and an overlong introduction from the moderator who, to the bemusement of many in the audience, appeared to cast himself as a contributor rather than facilitator.

Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

The final session was preceded by an unannounced but interesting input from Syrian American author, Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, whose first novel, The Map of Salt and Stars, is to be published in a couple of months. Jennifer explained that her novel had two main threads - the story of modern-day refugees and that of a famous make-maker some eight hundred years earlier. The introduction of the art of the written word made for a seamless transition to the topic that followed

The final round table discussion switched direction from art, performance and photography to the realm of language. Titled  looking at the history and tensions between Anglophone and Francophone communities.

Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar's first novel

In Africa, English is spoken by around 130 million people, while French speakers number 115 million.

As one of the panelists commented, "Africa needs an African language". However, while Swahili might be an obvious candidate, the chances of a consensus is highly improbable.

Linguistic dominance comes at a price and is an issue that should be considered seriously. With the increase in so-called world languages comes the erosion of local languages and dialects. Language is the mother of culture - it is part of the cultural DNA and needs to be respected and protected..

The total number of languages natively spoken in Africa is variously estimated (depending on the delineation of language vs. dialect) at between 1,250 to 2,100. Nigeria alone has over 500 languages - one of the greatest concentrations of linguistic diversity in the world.

Several speakers suggested that the future will include Cantonese and Mandarin. The growing importance of China in trade, development, investment and tourism will provide employment possibilities for those who can speak Chinese.

Omar Chennafi, Meryem Lahrichi and the team deserve congratulations for their vision of the 3rd Fez Gathering and having turned that vision into a stimulating few days in Fez.


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