The new season at the Paris museum Palais de Tokyo opens on Friday with a series of exhibitions titled Six continents, or more. The collection of themed installations represents one of the most powerful conversations about liberation we’ve ever seen in a curated art exhibition. Organizers say each section presents artists whose respective practices cross borders and boundaries to enhance artistic expressions rising from a world where there is no such idea as a center anymore. How remarkable is that one statement alone?
Palais de Tokyo New Art Exhibitions
The jumping off point for the explorations that are presented center around the calls for revolt and healing voiced by “Ubuntu, A Lucid Dream.” The video invites attendees to enter Ubuntu, an as yet undiscovered space within the imagination and within all collective bodies of knowledge. The term, which belongs to the Bantu languages of South Africa, evokes notions of humanity, collectivity, and hospitality. Though difficult to translate into Western languages, it can be loosely interpreted as “I am because we are.”
We at Design Diary were so eager to spread the word about this exhibition because we feel the philosophy behind it is both timely and needful. Organizers describe it this way: “The call for a ‘humanity in reciprocity’ that is embedded within Ubuntu thinking constitutes an essential but widely misunderstood notion of African philosophy. In both its philosophical and spiritual dimensions, Ubuntu can be considered as one of the few characteristics of African societies to have survived the six-hundred years of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism; phenomena that have otherwise destabilized the continent’s societies and undermined traditional frameworks of knowledge transmission.”
They note that Ubuntu thought can be found in numerous African languages and cultures, solidifying the place of the individual within the community, as well as in the links between different peoples. It structures a conscience and a vision of the world based on interdependence of relation. “Ubuntu was also a vital notion for the ideas of the liberation movements and the post-colonial experiments that proliferated across Africa in the 1960s,” they explain, “fueling hopes for an African socialism or a political Pan-Africanism.”
These hopes “sprang from the literary and poetic production of the content and of its diasporas, from authors such as Aimé Césaire Vumbi-Yoka Mudimbé, Edouard Glissant, Alain Mabanckou, Yanick Lahens and Léonora Miano—to name only a few francophone writers amongst many others. Musicians Fela Kuti and Mariam Makeba were also legendary spokespersons of this philosophy of unity through encounter. Because it symbolizes the bonds forged between all people, Ubuntu was used and largely popularized by Nelson Mandela to foster a vision of an ideal society that could be opposed to the segregation of the apartheid era in South Africa, and later to promote national reconciliation.”
The intelligence of feeling behind this exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo runs deep, as is evident in this explanation of the trajectory of history and the path to the future it presents: “Contemporary realities unfortunately confront us with the defeat, on many fronts, of the spirit of Ubuntu, between political failings, deadly conflicts, and multiple forms of violence that target women and LGBTQI+ people in particular. And yet this philosophy is actually being reinvested by intellectuals, activists, and producers in all fields of contemporary creation through new dynamics where various lines of thought and different imaginaries are being reassembled across all continents.”
They go on to say, “In a world that is more uncertain than ever, at loss of meaning, riven by sectarianism and violence, this philosophy is no more an abstract ideal than it was in the 1960s. Ubuntu and its dual question ‘making humanity together and together inhabiting the earth,’ to quote philosopher Souleyman Bachir Diagne, emerges once again at the heart of social, political, economic, cultural, and ecological demands and debates.”
We regret that we are not in Paris to see this exhibition, which brings together artists whose works enter into resonance with Ubuntu philosophy, each space an intervention and a mediation of the real world. The exhibition Six continents, or more was curated by Marie-Ann Yemsi, an independent contemporary art consultant and curator. She was born in Germany, holds a degree in political science, and lives and works in Paris.
In 2005, Yemsi founded Agent Créatif(s), a cultural production and art consulting studio recognized for its expertise in contemporary artists from Africa. As an exhibition curator, she focuses on collaborative practices, as well as artistic projects that foreground questions of memory, history, gender, and identities tied to the political, social, and ecological issues of the modern world. She is particularly interested in experimental forms involving performance, sound, speech, and publishing.
Art That Provokes and Inspires
We salute Yemsi and each of the artists featured within this exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, and we particularly recognize the museum for staging such a dynamic display of art that provokes and inspires. If you’re in Paris when the exhibition debuts, you’re in for a special treat as it will be the first day the museum is open to the public after a renovation. The address is 13 avenue du Président Wilson, and tickets are available online. Those of you attending Maison et Objet and Paris Deco-Off in January will still have time to see the exhibition, as it is on view through March 20, 2022. If you go, we’d love to know your thoughts about seeing it in person.