Collaborating since 2020, Berlin, Lagos, New Delhi
Born Germany (1993), lives and works in Berlin, Germany and Tirana, Albania
Born India (1989) lives and works between Berlin, Germany and New Delhi, India
Shaunak Mahbubani (curator)
Born India (1984), lives and works in Berlin, Germany and Mumbai, India
DNA (Blair Opara and Clinton Opara)
Born Owerri, Nigeria (1996), live and work in Lagos, Nigeria
Rebecca Pokua Korang
Born Berlin, Germany (1993), lives and works in Berlin, Germany
Wahala, Freedom, Quantum Leap 2024
wooden pavilion, video installation
Courtesy of the artists and Endrit Marku
The production of this work was supported by Anna Ehrenstein, KOW Berlin, IFA – Institut Für Auslandsbeziehungen, Goethe Institute.
Commissioned by Lagos Biennial 2024
The first Afro-Asian writers conference was held in 1958 in Tashkent. Sixty-three years later Anna Ehrenstein invited Vidischa-Fadescha, DNA (Blair and Clinton Roberts) and Rebecca Pokua Korang to Albania to revise the conference in a post-colonial and post-digital environment. As a result they created a four-channel video work that forms the core of a series of transnational exhibitions of site-specific spatial performances. Can we nourish hope for refuge within the hostile planetary environment, in which our bodies are rendered differentially grievable through new forms of racial capitalism? In which the abusive tactics of neoliberal domination are no longer mobilised dominantly through whiteness, as in neo-colonial relationships between China, India and Africa – but in which a more ‘diverse’ plutocratic elite is profiting from a global necropolitical and heteropatriarchal order.
The Albanian Conference
2024 is 1984 on speed. The panopticon is in our houses, in our hands. The decentralisation of media should give us power, but even a persistent real-time broadcast of destruction from ground zero is not enough to halt a genocide. As imperial violence keeps retracing its steps in a dizzying spiral, we seek refuge in rekindling the transnational solidarities that were attempted before us.
In the debris of World War II and the formal dismantling of many European colonies, newly independent nations banded together at the Afro-Asian conference at Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. Alongside birthing the non-aligned movement which influenced ‘third world’ politics for majority of the latter 20th century, the gathering also set in motion robust cultural exchange including the Afro-Asian Writers Conferences (AAWC) held from 1958-1979. These sustained meetings forged what Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o called ‘the links that bind us’, allowing for pertinent trans-national circulations of authors, texts, and ideas in the pre-internet era, a challenge to the cultural hegemony of the Western world.
Inspired by the AAWC, interdisciplinary artist Anna Ehrenstein invited artist-activists Vidisha-Fadescha, DNA (Blair and Clint Opara), and Rebecca Pokua Korang to her home country of Albania in 2021. Repurposing the format of the ‘conference’ for a generation cynical of institutional stricture, their gathering foregrounded friendship and informal exchange in a part-roadtrip part-big-brother-esque setting. The emergent alliance produced four videos along the coastline of Albania, choosing sites that are being exploited by post-colonial systems of social and ecological extraction. A post-digital aesthetic exudes irreverence on the surface, however, it is backed by the group’s experiences in political organising: be it desiring the end of the militarization of police forces and brutality, like the End-Sars movement DNA have been protesting in Lagos, the abolition of gender and caste systems Fadescha is addressing in the Indian context, the antiracist protests of Pokua’s and Ehrenstein’s Berlin base or the state capture context of Albania.
Two videos, Wahala and Freedom are music videos for songs by afro-fusion duo DNA critiquing public corruption and digital peer-policing tools. These also feature performances by Fadescha, drawing on their long standing inquiry into the labour of bodies within protest movements. Their articulation of this sustained labour—both within resistance as well as the cultivation of hope—was the trigger for the inclusion of gym equipment as a way to ground the videos in physical experience. The third video, too, speaks of hope, of imagining and seeding radical futures in the face of accelerating dystopia. Borrowing from science-fiction and Occupy strategies, Ehrenstein urges the cohort to articulate contemporary dystopias as a thing of the past, alongside utopian visions as if fulfilled in the present, affirming and energising their manifestation. Set against imagery of wildfires that ravaged the Albanian countryside concurrent to this trip, the fourth weaves a textual circularity between network effect, colonial law, and queer gathering to deepen and diversify the kinships that this project proposes.
Just as the AAWC moved from Tashkent, to Cairo, Beirut, New Delhi and ahead, the Albanian Conference has hijacked structures of contemporary art to nurture friendships, understand conflict, and draw alignments across neo-colonial experiences. The video works travelled through Albania at Bazament Gallery in Tirana and Ekrani Artit Festival in Shkodra, after being premiered in an exhibition at Berlin’s KOW gallery (2021) where Korang also invited dancers from the African and Asian diaspora to respond to and activate the show’s themes, centering the notion of the body as archive. Alongside, musicians DNA played concerts at multiple venues in Tirana and Berlin. At the Ural Biennial (2021), locals cooked Nigerian Egusi, channelling discomfort into a trigger for decolonisation. Curator Shaunak Mahbubani joined the group from Survival Kit, Riga (2023), where local Romani activist Ruksana Rudovic shared her experiences in asserting identity through cultural organising.
For the Lagos Biennial, we invite Lagos based organiser and performer Aaron Ahalu to expand on gender-queer experiences in Nigeria, as well as a new publication by Fehras Publishing Practices responding to the AAWC. Also marking an evolution in physical display, Albanian architect Endri Marku has designed a pavilion that speaks to the architectural influences that were spreading in parallel to the AAWC. Creating a gridded surface of slightly varying cubes, the structure pays homage to the usage of geometric components and facade openings characteristic of modernist building from that era while simultaneously evoking the image of a pixel grid, a nod to the post-digital milieu the Conference is now held within. As if reflecting tensions—between secured identities and a need for further plurality, for one—that act as triggers for continued evolutions of the project, the surface appears to shudder and glitch, seeding-protecting the possibility to imagine ‘a homeland for those traversing the complex channels of gender’s diaspora’2 and compounded colonial residue.
— Shaunak Mahbubani
1 Rossen Djagalov, From Internationalism to Postcolonialism: Literature and Cinema between the Second and the Third Worlds (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020).
2 Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (Verso Books, 2020).
THE ALBANIAN CONFERENCE’s work is included in REFUGE teams.