This is perhaps most deliberately articulated in the anti-opera of Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi and Pamela Sunstrum, but is also present in the experiential environments of Kevo Stero and Otieno Gomba, the 'documents' of Delio Jasse, the obsessive shredding of Uche Uzorka, the meditative book project of Simon Rittmeier, the playful animations of Miss Eve, the visceral dance music of DJ Raph and the hypnotic visuals of Nita.
The power of narrative is used to re-imagine these archival objects, to re-inscribe new stories on them, to re-present them. The provenance of these objects, where they came from and what their original function was, is notably absent from these artistic interventions. Seen within the context of Postcolonial discourse, this can be read as an explicit refusal to support an epistemology that the artists do not agree with; the naming and defining of African cultural practices by European institutions. But perhaps this goes further, for these works are not only refusing to translate the archive, nor exclusively declining to act as interlocutors. This is certainly a grand claim, but could the playful yet considered, serious yet considerate stories being told here be seen as the desire to touch something beyond the Postcolonial?
These story-infused artworks profoundly interrogate the legitimacy of archival institution but still succeed in revelling in the qualities of the original archival objects. They are works that seem to displace power through irony and irreverence. So perhaps as well as a technique, a curatorial intention and a set of artistic practices, Mashup is a sensibility. Or the aspiration for a sensibility. A sensibility towards compromised archival objects, a way of treating things which are spoken for by a flawed system, simultaneously acknowledging and ignoring that system. An attempt to navigate not only discursively and conceptually, but sensitively and sensually.
Mashup, a practice often associated with digital culture (music, software, moving image) is generally used to describe the combination of disparate elements from different sources to create a new entity. For example, The Grey Album by Dangermouse is a mashup of The White Album, by The Beatles and The Black Album, by Jay Z. What does this have to do with the Iwalewahaus, and the archive of modern and contemporary African art housed here? Mashup, is an exhibition of the project Mashup the Archive. The starting point for this project was observation that the archive of the Iwalewahaus, art mainly from countries in Africa, was situated in provincial Germany, and largely accessed by European academics. Mashup intervenes in this situation, working with artists based on the African continent, to explore other possibilities of knowledge production.
Mashup can be understood as a curatorial intention concerned with access. To open the possibility of narrating this archive of African art by combining elements which had not previously been connected; artists from Africa with an archive of African art based in Germany. This is a limited and humble gesture; 6 artist residencies over 2 years is a small window of access to the archive. It is also perhaps a compromised gesture; inviting artists to work in an archive involves various chapters of institutional negotiations. But, it is a clear and working intention, expressed in various iterations of the project, from the work-in-progress by Circle Digital rebuild the online database, to the series of artist residencies which are at the heart of this exhibition.
But, as well as a curatorial intention, Mashup also describes a constellation of practices of the artists, who worked directly with the archival material, recombining, remixing and re-narrating these elements into new formulations, positions and stories. Perhaps more Mashup in approach then in technique, there is significant formal diversity in the different works in the exhibition yet a clear shared concern of narrative.