We speak with South African architect and curator Mpho Matsipa on her exhibition "African Mobilities" which is on view in Munich until August 19
African Mobilities is an exhibition focusing on movement. Migrating, circulating people and the exchange of ideas, resources and aesthetics across borders. How does that relate to architecture?
African cities are reconsidered as sites of innovation, rapid transformations, new architectural typologies, infrastructures and technologies, highlights the curator Mpho Matsipa in her statement. The exhibition seeks to explore how architecture responds to the complexity of African Mobilities—beyond the figure of the refugee.
At the same time, the exhibition breaks with the expectations that are connected with the media image of Africa and from which the field of architecture is not excluded.
"If I speak to my colleagues in various parts in Africa they don't identify with the ways in which we are represented. This is about centering African voices and imaginations about the future and not always being consigned to a discourse of crisis that only allows for one particular kind of response," Matsipa says. Workshops and conferences over a period of two years were held in different African cities, Munich and New York, leading up to the exhibition African Mobilities. The result is a multi-disciplinary show with fresh perspective on the interface of art, architecture and social research.
But the reach of the ideas behind the exhibition does not end at the threshold of the showroom. Instead of an exhibition catalog, the website africanmobilities.org was launched, as a resource for the ongoing discourse on mobility. On there, the Chimurenga Library, an online archive with more than 500 books, music titles and movies, lays the foundation for a different kind of architecture—the cultural infrastructure of ideas, motifs and stories. Because that is where the very origin of architecture lies.
Ann Mbuti for OkayAfrica: The full title of the exhibition is African Mobilities: This Is Not a Refugee Camp Exhibition. It's quite unusual to say what an exhibition is not about. Can you explain how you ended up using this title?
Mpho Matsipa: I felt it was a necessary intervention. I followed the hysteria about what is imagined to be large number of migrants from Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia into Europe and the truth is that there are many more people moving in Africa and across African borders than into Europe.
It's important to have far more complex and many more representations by Africans who deal with the complexity of the different kinds of mobility and circulations that happen on the continent beyond migration studies, crisis or developmental language. The title is a response to the dominant representations of Africa as a space of crisis and the thinking about mobile African bodies as refugees.
Does that mean the exhibition excludes this subject completely?
We owe it to ourselves to speak to that crisis. There are contributors to the exhibition who themselves are refugees. Aisha Balde, for example, came to South Africa as a refugee, but she doesn't concern herself with repeating representations of refugee camps, but rather provides a very complex reading of geopolitics, of the construction of territories, of UN regulatory loopholes.