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2. Interviews with African artists who performed at the Festival de Marseille (2014-2019)

Kopano Maroga: Archiving creation as creative practice

Interview by Fanny Robles (AMU)

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1Kopano Maroga is a South African performance artist, writer and cultural worker. They have worked as a dancer and performer for Underground Dance Theatre, Nicola Elliott, Kristina Johnstone and Neil Coppen (winning multiple awards for their performance in Coppen’s BuiteLand/NewFoundLand). They have contributed written pieces to the Mail & Guardian, ArtThrob, rekto:verso, Indent, Contemporary&, and 20:35 Africa and Bubblegum Club, and their debut poetry anthology, Jesus Thesis and Other Critical Fabulations, was published in 2020. Kopano Maroga is currently working as a curator and dramaturge at Kunstencentrum Vooruit in Ghent, Belgium, and it is via this cultural institution that they came to the Festival de Marseille in 2019. As part of the Vooruit’s “Stadsatelier” programme, a group of artists came to Marseille for a City Residency in 2018 and 2019. In 2019, the group took part in “Un Lundi Déplacé”, in keeping with the Festival’s attempt at de-centering itself, both geographically and artistically. The event was hosted by the Gare Franche (now part of LE ZEF, Scène Nationale de Marseille), where the artists presented their work and reflections after a week-long residency in the Plan d’Aou, in Marseille’s Northern suburbs (“Quartiers Nord”).

2Kopano Maroga was accompanied by Belgian artists associated with the Vooruit Arts Centre: visual artist and Vooruit curator Marieke De Munck; theatre maker Renée Goethijn; actors Ömer Kurutepe and Alpaslan Mercimek; theatre-maker and actress Malique Fye; rapper and sociologist Fatih Devos; multidisciplinary artist Maarten De Vrieze — whose work on urban landscapes has repeatedly focused on Marseille — and conceptual artist Roland Gunst, a.k.a John K. Cobra, whose work is being featured in the Europa, Oxalá group exhibition at the Mucem (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) as I write this introduction. The artists were housed by the cooperative Hôtel du Nord, among whose guestrooms was that owned by Dominique Poulain, artist, puppeteer and coordinator of the HÖFN writing residency, and Jean Cristofol, philosopher, former lecturer at the Higher School of Art of Aix-en-Provence and co-director of the antiAtlas of Borders research group. It was in this charming house, now unfortunately sold, that the following interview took place, on June 20, 2019. Only interrupted by laughter and tea refills, the poet’s flow went on joyfully.

Kopano Maroga

Kopano Maroga

© Katinka Bester

3Fanny Robles: My first question has to do with ANY BODY ZINE. How did the project emerge and how is it evolving?

4Kopano Maroga: ANY BODY ZINE started in 2016 and it’s a collaborative project between me and two friends of mine, Nicola van Straaten and Julia de Rosenwerth. We all came out of the dance school of the University of Cape Town. Julia and I were in the same year, Nicola was a few years ahead of us, she actually graduated before we arrived at the school. I had met her randomly, in open hip hop class, it was our first meeting but we didn’t really meet, and it was maybe a year or two after that we were contracted, all the three of us, on a dance tour with this company called Underground Dance Theatre, that’s based in Cape Town. That’s when we started talking and found that super mutual interest, because there wasn’t really coverage around the kinds of discourses we were interested in, in terms of dance and bodies, and movement, and body politics in Cape Town, or South Africa or Southern Africa at the time, that weren’t academic journals, and academic journals are super boring [Laughter]! No one really reads them! [Laughter] And when you do read them, the South African journals about dance are so problematic… but I think that’s the general discourse about the body, that is so entrenched in colonial thinking: the body is like a mechanism, the body is this kind of a-political site. That’s not to say that the body is intrinsically political, but the way people write about the body often depoliticizes the body. So yes, boring kinds of engagements with the myriads of possibilities of the body.

5Nicola already had a zining practice, she created these independent publications before and she proposed this idea to us: what if we started a publication that engaged with, or created a platform for, the engagements we wanted to see about the body? And also, even though we were in the dance industry, and in the dance community, and in the kind of creative community in Cape Town, we actually didn’t know who was doing what where, and so maybe we could create a platform that could bring people to us.

6We launched our first issue in February 2016, it was just the three of us that provided the content, because there has to be a beginning, right? [Laughter] And then every two months we would release a subsequent one. We released open calls and we started getting steadily and steadily more submissions, from people from different kinds of practices, some people that didn’t have an embodied practice but the way that we thought about it was: if you have a body you have a body practice! [Laughter] And that’s where the idea of “Any Body” comes from, as a kind of response to the super exclusionary kind of way that the dance and embodied practice works with: you must be some kind of professional, a person with some kind of expertise to be an expert about the body, but I feel (and that’s what we all felt) that if you have a body you are an expert about the body, you know? [Laughter] You have one! [Laughter] And everyone does!

7We got a lot of different kinds of submissions from people: photographic essays, poetry, more traditional essays, dense essays. One of my favorite issues is probably the second issue we released, which was the Space/Place issue. There was this one essay that was written by an artist in Cape Town called Katara Sedai, called “Too much remembering leads to forgetting”. One of my favorite essays that we’ve published. That was about her practice as research, methodology. She was in a relationship with someone who just left suddenly, with no kind of warning, and in order to grieve that person she started these cairn making practices. She would leave these cairns all over Cape Town and take pictures of them, because they were all sites that had significance in relation to her relationship to that person, as a way of laying that relationship to rest. She talks about how, through that process, as much as it was rehabilitative, coming back to those places, physically, warped how she remembered those moments and their relationship, because it made it appear like their relationship was really healthy when maybe it wasn’t. She has a really interesting way to map this intersection between the personal, the somewhat political and also the mechanisms of remembering, that biochemistry, and neurology related to remembering, and how bringing one’s body to the site of memory actually doesn’t increase the veracity of a memory but clouds it. I found it so… Wow! And there were many of these submissions that we got over the period of our publication or publication making. In 2016, we released 6 issues: Beginning, Space/Place, Rhythm, Sex, Colour, the last one was subject/object. They were all themed with those titles, and people were responding whatever way they wanted, however they thought was relevant. We also had a site so there were physical publications as well as online, because we also believed in open access, so you would have to buy the physical publication but you could also engage with all of the content online for free, and still can.

8Then in 2017 Nicola moved to Berlin to pursue her masters, and because she was the person that had the zining expertise, we decided to use 2017 as a kind of experiment year to see how this kind of transcontinental collaboration would work. Instead of publishing physical publications we just went online, it was the only format that we were publishing through. And at the end of 2017, because we had such great content and it would have been a waste not to publish it, we did a crowd funding campaign and with the money that we got (it was super sizable, which was amazing!) [Laughter] we reprinted all of our content from 2016 to 2017, which brought us to 10 issues altogether at the end of 2017, which we fully published, which was cool!

9Fanny Robles: What about the performance platform?

10Kopano Maroga: We had our first performance platform in 2017. We started experimenting with posting performance places for different kinds of practitioners and different kinds of disciplines. The first event was called “Falling”, at the same time as we had released the Falling issue (the 2nd issue of 2017) online. I presented some work I had been working on with a friend of mine, Adriana Jamisse, who is from Mozambique, but we studied together at the University of Cape Town as well. Julia, who is one of the cofounders at ABZ, presented a solo of hers. My partner Jan Wallyn presented his solo because he happened to be around, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to do that. A friend of mine, Emma Turpen, who is American-South African, presented a video installation work. Another friend of mine, Coila-Leah Enderstein, who is also a pianist, collaborated with us on my and Adriana’s duet, it was cool.

11It was the first time we did that and we thought “Wow!”, this is super interesting and a really great way to actually sell zines as you have a lot of people coming. We could collect people’s details and follow up with them. We started doing that a little bit more regularly, we had another performance platform at the end of the year 2017, which was called “ANY BODY ANYWHERE MAKING”, and we extended on this kind of co-collaboration methodology. That idea with this performance was to have an open improvisation space towards the end of the event that anyone could participate in. And there was this big wall with these A5 squares that people could fill in themselves, and that would be a publication at the end of the performance, that we never made [Laughter]. But it exists on these pieces of paper… so funny… It was really interesting, really cool. We had some musicians over there, as well, who were responding to the open propositions, we had some readings.

12And then in 2018 we developed this program called the ANY BODY DANCE LAB, in collaboration with an initiative in Cape Town called the New Dance Lab. Two of the choreographers, Kristina Johnstone and Thalia Laric, were originally part of the Underground Dance Theatre, that employed us all, so we knew each other. Their initiative is interested in creating a platform for new dance. So we collaborated with them in creating a six-weekend residency, for ten full-time residents and five part-time residents, and it was at this space called the Theatre Art Admin Collective in Cape Town. The idea was to invite different body practitioners in our community or that we knew of, to facilitate workshops over periods of six weeks, and also to present work, over the period of six weeks, for the ten residents that would be part of the program. To kind of catalyze, inspire (maybe not), to offer tools to then develop their own practices. The way that worked was every Friday we would have a presentation, a performance by whoever was facilitating workshops that weekend, Saturday morning we would have some kind of a movement warm up class and then a three-hour workshop. Then we would break for lunch and then in the afternoon we would have open space for people to start developing their ideas. And that would be the same format for Sunday. We also had “writing” workshops like an authoring from ABZ: how do you write about the body, about creative practice that implicates the body? And that culminated in 3 performance moments for the residents. We had the “5-minute shorts” where they all presented a 5-minute idea, embodied idea, in a kind of performative context. Then in another performance moment and that was the final weekend they could expand on that 5-minute proposition for 10 minutes. And we had on the Sunday a kind of open studio performance space, for people whose work was more durational, more installational, more site-specific. We just created a context for that.

13And the project culminated in the ANY BODY DANCE LAB publication. Throughout the residency we collected interviews, some written provocations and exercises from the residents, as well as a kind of more in-depth analysis of embodied research by Kristina Johnstone, who is one of the people from ANY BODY DANCE LAB. And then a friend of mine Jesse Navarre Vos did some portraits of the residents that all went into that publication, as a way of just capturing that moment and also trying to make more transparent this kind of way of working that isn’t product-oriented but practice-oriented. And hopefully trying to create a context or a way to show people who are trying to do similar things that aren’t as product-oriented how to go about that. Facilitate that, show what the mechanics are, the kind of fundings mechanics, and also just to share what is difficult, what didn’t work, what did work, and what people’s experiences were. It was pretty cool and we’re proud of that edition. We published that at the end of 2018. That was out last publication, that’s now 11 publications.

14Fanny Robles: You then moved from print to sound…

15Kopano Maroga: In 2019 we started a podcast, called Between twenty and thirty: Conversations for the new moon. The idea behind this was just to get, once again, people networking, and capturing people’s practices, speaking to practitioners from Southern Africa, that we have some kind of relationship with, about their lives between the ages of 20 and 30, to kind of figure out the different ways in which people practice, in that period that can be so volatile. A lot of people are studying, some people are not, some people have children some people don’t, some people are working as creative practitioners, some people are working as waiters while creatively practicing. People’s lives are really really different. And also looking at it from different generations. The first person we started with was Nico Athene, who was a resident for Anybody Dance Lab. She became a really good friend of mine after the residency, that’s what’s so cool about ANY BODY: it really facilitates the development of these sorts of relationships. The possibility of people meeting, but also discourses and ways of working meeting, and being complicated and expanding. After the Dance Lab so many of the residents started collaborating with each other in small ways, but they sincerely didn’t know each other before that moment. And that was really beautiful to witness. And even for us there were collaborations with the residents, and with each other, afterwards in so many different ways.

16And so with the podcast, we were also interested not just in talking to people who were also in our age demographic, but other people as well. Niko Athene is in her thirties, close to our age demographic, but we also spoke to Jay Pather, who is the head of the Institute for Creative Arts at the University of Cape Town, and was my co-supervisor for my masters (I went through that same institute). He is now in his sixties, so speaking to him and speaking to Niko were two completely different conversations! In his twenties and thirties he was in a state of emergency, during Apartheid in South Africa. That was a really illuminating conversation because how people were practicing during that time isn’t really known [Laughter]. You only know those stories by speaking to people, because it’s a very different cultural context in South Africa and in some ways there was more cultural support during that time for some people and less for others, so it’s interesting to have that feedback, to see how different the cultural landscape looks like, and how different the possibilities of practicing look like between then and now. We also spoke to Caroline Calburn, who’s the director of the theatre Arts Admin Collective where we were having the residency, who’s also of the same age demographic as Jay but is a white woman. Jay is a coloured Indian man, Carol is white, so they had a very different experience during Apartheid during the state of emergency, both different and similar in interesting ways. We spoke to Mmakgosi Kgabi, who’s an artist from Botswana who moved to Berlin, also in her thirties, very interesting, very different kind of practice and context, coming from Botswana. We spoke to Robyn Orlin as well, who’s a pretty prolific South African maker, who I have feelings about [Laughter].

17Fanny Robles: “Feelings about”?

18Kopano Maroga: Yeah! I’m still trying to understand how I feel about her and her work, let me say that. But very interesting conversation. We also spoke to Kristina Johnstone, the one half of New Dance Lab, very interesting story as well: of South African and Finnish descent, grew up in Belgium, moved back to South Africa to study, from undergraduate through to postgraduate, moved to Uganda to teach ballet, came back to South Africa to start Underground Dance Theatre while teaching at the University of Cape Town, and in the midst of that many interesting twists and turns, at the end of her thirties had a child in Uganda, which is really interesting, and also beautiful beautiful human, amazing practitioner, makes beautiful work. Just a series of very interesting people whom we all love [Laughter] in different ways, or we’re connected to in different ways, that we feel have interesting stories to tell, for people who are trying to do this thing of practicing, more on the fringes especially, because all of them worked in these kinds of more fringe forms, no one is really in the kind of mainstream. Which is something we should think about, we should have someone from the mainstream but that’s for me! [Laughter]

Kopano Maroga, icarus’ descent

Kopano Maroga, icarus’ descent

© Institute for the Creative Arts

19Fanny Robles: When you say that it was different under Apartheid in terms of funding and that maybe some things were more easily feasible for some people, what do you mean?

20Kopano Maroga: For some people and even all people, it depends how you look at it. Pre-democracy, we had Performing Arts Councils: cultural hubs in each district, one in Cape Town, one in Durban, one in Joburg, one in Bloemfontein, I think there was one in the Free State. In each province there was a hub. These councils were completely government funded and really prolific. For example in Cape Town the Cape Town City Ballet was funded by the Cape Performing Arts Council, and at the time they had a company that was 60 strong. It’s kind of standard for any ballet company, but to compare to now, the Cape Town ballet company has about 10 full-time members, and everyone else is part-time, and we have people coming in and out, because they lost that cultural funding after democracy. They completely restructured the cultural funding in South Africa, all the Performing Arts Councils were dismantled. They are now centralized into the National Arts Council and the Department of Arts and Culture.

21The NAC is responsible for disseminating funds and coordinating the DAC in its involvement in different places in the country, and under that there are even smaller entities. There’s the Arts and Culture Trust, which is in collaboration with the Nedbank (one of the biggest banks in South Africa, which is a problem but cool [Laughter]), there’s Business Art South Africa, which is in charge of creating connections between the business world, the private sector and the cultural sector, creating partnerships there. And on the surface level we think that it makes sense because it supports small initiatives to be able to support even smaller initiatives, but what ends up happening is that the ability for institutions or small organisations to even achieve sustainability isn’t really there, because there are so many initiatives to fund. The NAC will not fund an organization in its emerging stages for more than 3 years, so you get funding for 3 years if you are an emerging institution, but then you’re not eligible if you apply after those three years, because the thinking is that you’ve already been given this kind of exceed funding. There’s another tier that you have to apply for, but generally after three years you’re not in a state where you can apply for institutional funding.

22So then you work on a project to project basis, but it creates this kind of precarity, and this is the problem dance companies, and any kind of companies generally, are facing. Even the Cape Town Opera Company, all the opera companies in South Africa, all the ballet companies in South Africa, all the contemporary dance companies, all of them are facing this problem of sustainability. They have to find ways to collaborate with the private sector which faces dynamics of private capture, so it’s really just an unstable sector. I don’t know of any kind of person who’s in a stable performing arts context anywhere in South Africa. Everyone is more or less freelance, even if you’re in a company. That’s the context we’re working in now. Whether it is better or not depends who you speak to.

23I use the Cape Town City Ballet as an example because their headquarters were at our dance school, so I’m just more intimately aware of their situation. We had a lot of people from the City Ballet who were teaching us and would tell us what was happening. Under Apartheid, even though it wasn’t technically allowed they had people in the company that were not white. A few of them, it definitely wasn’t the majority of people because the majority had to be white, but it created a context for a sustainable career as an artist of colour, which now is actually almost harder to facilitate. Today if you work for the Cape Town City Ballet, you’re seasonal, so you don’t have an income the year through. Even if you’re permanent, you’re seasonally permanent! So it’s a really precarious existence, it’s hard to make work in that kind of context. If you create the kind of work that requires gestational development and experimentation, there really is not a single fund that I can think of that really facilitates that. You always need to co-fund or find sponsorship from different sources. Or you have to be in an institution like I am, and then you have the resources and the space.

24Fanny Robles: The institution you’re talking about is the University?

25Kopano Maroga: Yes. My scholarship comes from the Institute for Creative Arts, which is attached to the University, but a little bit outside of the University. That scholarship money comes from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, which is an American academic institution. It gives you an idea of where sustainable scholarships come from: it’s always coming from the outside. There’s this kind of “third-world” dependency that the cultural sector is in, post-democracy. Which is not to say that democracy is the reason for that, but neoliberal neocolonial dynamics are the reason for that. I guess it’s what I see coming out through the podcast about the different ways people are practicing now, and the different trajectories that they face. That becomes abundantly clear, it’s very rare that anyone who we speak to, our generation, is ever rooted for an extended period of time, because of that dynamic. There’s always this sense of displacement, because there’s no way to practice on an ongoing basis without continuing to look for work in different kinds of contexts and places, whereas before then there seemed to be the ability to be in one place for a longer period of time, because the economic reality, the economic situation wasn’t the same as it is now. It’s just an interesting generational conversation I suppose. And that’s where the podcast really came from, the will to create that oral and audio archive, that often exists informally but doesn’t exist in a fixed way anywhere. We wanted to collect those stories, so that there was a place where they could rest. And maybe even as a kind of gesture towards the oral history tradition of South Africa. A lot of indigenous cultural groups in South Africa work with oral history, so certain cultural practices are only passed down in the oral sense. Not everything that is written down is the most valid way of knowing, which I think is a very Western episteme (the idea that if it is on a piece of paper then it’s true). It is the kind of mechanism that facilitated colonialism, because title deeds, property rights, all of that has to do with what has been able to be written down. There’s a very minimal gesture against that in the podcast, there are ways to collect archives that don’t subscribe to that.

26Fanny Robles: Coming back to this idea of archive, why was it important for you to print ANY BODY ZINE and not just make the content available online?

27Kopano Maroga: For me it wasn’t important because I didn’t have that as a practice, but Nicki did. She was the one that introduced me to the beauty of printed material, because what’s beautiful about Nicki’s practice is that she thinks of subtly innovative ways of working with print media and print material. Even though it kinds of subscribe to this same episteme of “what is printed is true”, it also subverts that, because the way that she curates content and encourages the curation of content isn’t supposed to be didactic and easy to extract information from. These are kind of less “this is how you do this, and this is how it works”, but more affectual, which I find very interesting. And it was really after that second issue that we published, Space/Place (which is still my absolutely favourite issue), that I started to feel on an affectual level what print media can do. That’s when it became quite important, and more and more important, that we ensure that we print. There’s still a lot of mystery about that practice and … She must know this but I think she’s very much a witch! [Laughter] and for me the publications exist as these kinds of grimoires, these collections of spells and workings in the world. I think that’s what’s interesting about zining, even though it exists in the same kind of tradition of the Western written episteme (not to say that other cultures don’t write! [Laughter]) but it somehow speaks to that tradition and that canon.

28But then, as you said, the online space is really nice because then you ensure that it’s always accessible. And just on a practical level, because we just fund ourselves or go from project to project funding, printing the publications offered a means of income, so that we could keep the website running, we could keep printing for the next cycle, we could rent a space to host performance platforms. So it was also a means of participating in capitalism, while also providing the possibility of still engaging with the material without having to pay for it, or be in an environment where you can pay for it, because the bookstores where the zines are stocked in are not accessible [Laughter]. They’re in the metropoles, Johannesburg and Cape Town, and metropoles are not accessible to a majority of people in South Africa, but one would hope that the internet might be. So, having those possibilities was quite important for us.

29Where it ends up and who ends up reading it is also interesting. We see people tagging us on social media who we don’t know, or are not from Cape Town or Joburg, or South Africa… I think when you print something it also has the possibility to proliferate in a different way, to move in a different way, and reach different kinds of people, as books tend to do, and that’s nice as well [Laughter]. And I don’t know if there’s something in the energetic transfer that these things can facilitate when they’re moving, maybe. If that’s a thing it definitely wasn’t intentional, but I think just making that a possibility and creating that possibility is very interesting to participate in.

Kopano Maroga

Kopano Maroga

© Louis Kerckhof

30Fanny Robles: In your ABZ profile you say you’re interested in finding “healing knowledge systems”. You created a piece entitled Whiteness as a virus, and you were just talking before about biochemistry. Of course, thinking about the body logically leads one to use this kind of medical discourse, but you seem to have a special interest in it: where does that interest come from?

31Kopano Maroga: When I was at university doing my undergraduate I ended up doing a bachelor in social anthropology, and through anthropology I was introduced to medical anthropology and the discourses that existed there, around embodiment. That’s where the body politics element of ABZ comes from, that particular interest. And it gave me a really interesting and incisive way of languaging the body, because before medical anthropology, I didn’t really have theoretical frameworks for understanding the body outside of the disciplinary frameworks of ballet and contemporary dance, that are supposed to train the body and mold it into a certain way of working through the world, but don’t produce any discourse to understand the world, or to access the world through the body. And anthropology gave me that, specifically medical anthropology.

32For example in the piece of art Whiteness as a virus, the analogy comes specifically from being introduced to the study of epidemiology at the time of the Rhodes Must Fall protests, although I didn’t realize that these things were being connected for me then. Epidemiology is the study of how viruses proliferate, and through what vehicles and mechanisms they proliferate. It became a very interesting framework for thinking through race theory, because the attachment of performance of coloniality or performance of whiteness to the phenotype “white” didn’t capture what was happening in the country at that moment. The way that white people (let’s say white people for now) were talking about what was happening with the protests (which were, in a majority, black protests) was also being mirrored by ministers, in parliament, in government, who were not white (but you don’t need to be white to practice whiteness [Laughter]), but existed in an arguably white institution.

33At the time I wasn’t thinking about it like this, but I was witnessing that happening and was having this framework built around me, theoretically, that would become attached later. I really saw the framework we were engaging with in the lecture theatre being echoed in the public domain, the spread of a certain kind of way of thinking, regardless of phenotypical presentation, which is the nature of a virus: a virus does not discriminate by virtue of phenotype, generally speaking. I think that is how I began to understand the body and how it became my go-to framework for thinking about politics and embodiedness, which I think are always the same thing or will always be the same thing for me, because of that moment.

34Thinking about systemic issues as if they’re separate from our own organicness for me is philosophically and argumentatively unsound. Because if a system is originally from organic matter, why would that system itself not have some level of organicness? If we follow that line of thinking then, like any organic matter will adapt to its circumstances, so will certain kinds of repressive systems, from capitalism to neoliberal capitalism to late capitalism, and arguably the same trajectory or chronology from colonialism to neocolonialism, feminism to second-wave feminism to third-world feminism or third-wave feminism. All those adaptations, are they not permutations or transmutations similar to the transmutations that we see in the composition of viruses? Or microbes, bacteria?

35Fanny Robles: Feminism as a virus?!

36Kopano Maroga: [Laughter] Vaccinations are viruses, you know what I mean!

37Fanny Robles: How did you come to work at the Vooruit, and how does your practice and thought process fit into your new position?

38Kopano Maroga: 2017 is when I met my current partner, who lives in Brussels, and is the current director of Zinnema. And when I started my masters in 2018 with no idea of what I was doing my masters in [Laughter], my initial question for my thesis was looking at public art and public art institutions and spaces, and how they were responding to what I perceive as a global call for decolonization. At the time I was travelling between South Africa and Belgium, two very different but similar contexts, that have some shared histories, and I thought it might be interesting to try and find through my own institution, with my supervisor Jay, how he was thinking about decolonization and the way he said he was responding to it in his programmation and his development of certain programs (artistic as well as academic programs), and to see what was happening in other kinds of places in the world, with similar kinds of people who were working that way.

39So I spoke to my partner about these things and he recommended I spoke to Mathieu (Goeury) who is the artistic coordinator at the Vooruit. We met up for a coffee and we had a free-form conversation around those themes. At the time the Vooruit had gone through a structural reconfiguration and went from an art center to an art institute, which is a different degree of artistic organization in Belgium. Internally they were also trying to find ways to horizontalize their internal practices, almost as a gesture towards decolonization, which I found interesting because sometimes decolonization can be simply associated with decentralization, which for me is a dangerous thing. And from having this conversation he became interested in my thinking and my work and asked me to send him some pieces, which I did. He then invited me to be an “artist as witness”, as he called it [Laughter], for a program that they had in May of 2018: it was a commemorative program of the 1968 worker student protests in Western Europe, which was curated by Silvia Bottiroli, an Italian curator. And they invited a bunch of thinkers, makers, and artists from around the world, who engaged in these ideas about protest. Mathieu invited me to just follow that program and form some kind of response in whatever way I wanted. Because I have this publication and publication making practice, I responded with a publication called I DON’T KNOW IF WE’RE WINNING, which is available through the Vooruit. That was a moment to connect my very recent experiences with student protests in South Africa, the kinds of protest that I was witnessing on a very surface level in Belgium, and find a way of making the personal political and developing that kind of practice for myself as well.

40 Then I was invited by Marieke (De Munck) to be involved in the artistic planning of a program called “Women and Children First”, which had a focus program on feminism and privilege, once again at the Vooruit. I was part of planning that and I also presented: we launched the publication Women and Children First and I facilitated different workshops. One was called “As the body is, so it knows”, which is a way of workshopping that I’ve been doing for a while, to connect the body and writing in a workshop context, and to think about the body as a tool, as a way of thinking, and then writing through the body, in a sense. And I also co-facilitated a workshop in practical magic with Bieke Purnelle, who is the director of RoSa, a feminist organization in Ghent.

41Mathieu first thought it might be interesting for me to do prospection work, because the prospection schedule was just too heavy for him to handle by himself. I said: “Totally, but on a visa level it’s just not going be viable!” [Laughter]. In the kind of reconfiguration of the Vooruit, Mathieu proposed to the artistic team that they needed a young programmer to focus on young programmation (whatever that meant!). They first intended that position for someone who was living in Ghent, but then they thought that the kind of feedback and thinking that they were looking for was actually what I was already kind of doing, and I was already related to the institution. Besides, the dramaturge at the time, Róise Goan, who’s from Ireland (the dramaturge is always a guest dramaturge: they come from outside of that context), was set to be leaving. So they ended up amalgamating these two positions: the young programmer and the incoming dramaturge. I thought that it was really interesting and had to go through a little bit of an application process and created a kind of trajectory plan and response plan and, after submitting that, they said “yeah, cool, let’s do it!” [Laughter]

42Fanny Robles: You said that the situation is not necessarily similar in Belgium and in South Africa, and yet you find similarities: what are these similarities?

43Kopano Maroga: I want to try not to be problematic [Laughter] but essentially the kind of political situation: the burgeoning support for the far right. I think it’s more of a global thing than a Belgium/South Africa thing, but I just see it more clearly in these two contexts which are the contexts that I’m in. We had our elections, in South Africa and Belgium, a week apart (maybe a bit more, but very close together) and in Flanders in Belgium there has been a tripling in the support for the constituency of the Vlaams Belang, which is the far far right, and the same thing happened to the Vryheidsfront in South Africa, which is a party that I didn’t even know existed until these elections! And they’re also very rightist, very conservative, even though so are the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. The word “Democratic” is there but they’re anything but. Their policies are democratic but their implementation of their policies are very much not democratic: they’re essentially a private capture of Cape Town, selling up parcels of property to the private sector for pocket change, which is terrifying.

44It’s been very interesting to witness these kinds of dynamics, because in the South African context, obviously, people who are voting for the Vryheidsfront are not just white people. I don’t know if that’s true in the Flemish context in Belgium. I would imagine (the oral history that surrounds it is) that it’s predominantly the White conservatives in villages that have never met migrants, have never met people of different racial experiences and backgrounds, and the Vlaams Belang and N-VA have successfully curated this image of the Other that creates and incites this actionable fear. Whereas in South Africa, even though it’s a similar dynamic, the reason behind this increase in support for the Vryheidsfront which is very rightist, racist and problematic, is different. They had, as one of their faces, a person of colour (I forgot their name): we saw them on all these posters and it really created this narrative appealing to a kind of logic whereby so-called “coloured people” (or “mixed race” people, as other people would understand them), literally had more rights than black people, because of their “proximity” to whiteness. And they kind of reutilize that narrative to appeal to the coloured community. Because there’s been a huge nationalist sentiment within the coloured community (not the entire community), of them being the original indigenous people of South Africa, with their Khoisan ancestry. Which is not not true, the Khoisan are the indigenous people of South Africa. But with the way that migrancy has worked and with the creation of the Afrikaans and coloured identities, there’s so much of a mix that to call coloured people of today the original people of South Africa (or for example Xhosa people, who also live in the Western Cape and have a lot of mixed blood with Khoisan people) doesn’t make sense [Laughter]. But that appeal is being subsumed by the white right, to collaborate in the re-capture of the Western Cape and South Africa, by supposedly original peoples and white people, who somehow feature into that [Laughter].

45There’s a similar rhetoric within the Flemish political context, when they’re talking about Flemish identity and the lack of a Flemish identity representation, within Belgium in general, but also in Belgian cultural institutions. But what actually constitutes Flemish identity is very amorphous. I mean it means “white”, right? [Laughter] “White” and Flemish speaking. But beyond that, on a cultural level, what that means is quite a vapid concept. In the same way that “nationalism”, or “indigeneity”, or “original peoples” in the context of South Africa are also vapid concepts, as multiculturalism has operated in that part of the world for so long. So, to create this false division between coloured people and black people, as if coloured people are more indigenous than black people, is just completely ahistorical. In the same way that this narrative around Flemish identity, with so many Flemish people coming from so many different places, because of the construction of Flanders and Belgium, is also ahistorical. It’s interesting to witness those two ahistorical narratives being championed with such vigour, and such support, and success. Obviously horrifying and terrifying as well.

Jesus Thesis and Other Critical Fabulations

Jesus Thesis and Other Critical Fabulations

© Jesse Navarre Vos

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Table des illustrations

Titre Kopano Maroga
Crédits © Katinka Bester
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Kopano Maroga, icarus’ descent
Crédits © Institute for the Creative Arts
Fichier image/jpeg, 144k
Titre Kopano Maroga
Crédits © Louis Kerckhof
Fichier image/jpeg, 32k
Titre Jesus Thesis and Other Critical Fabulations
Crédits © Jesse Navarre Vos
Fichier image/jpeg, 224k
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« Kopano Maroga: Archiving creation as creative practice »E-rea [En ligne], 19.1 | 2021, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2021, consulté le 26 janvier 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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