Chimurenga offices in Cape Town, South Africa. Courtesy Chimurenga
In February of this year, the Cape Town–based Pan-African publishing platform Chimurenga began a residency with the Museum as Hub. As is frequently the structure for many of the Hub’s research residencies, the New York portion of this collaboration was based around a series of private meetings that culminated in a public presentation introducing the group’s work to a New York audience. Most immediately, the residency resulted in the redevelopment of an article by Naeem Mohaiemen, and artist Dave McKenzie authored a new text for Chimurenga. Over the next year, the group will be partnering with several Museum as Hub partners to produce new articles. Below, New Museum Assistant Curator Ryan Inouye details some of Chimurenga’s past publications in anticipation of these upcoming contributions to Six Degrees and Chimurenga’s gazette, the Chronic.
CHIMURENGA CHRONICLES THE NOW-NOW
Pick up any academic or popular publication that deals with urban life in Africa and be prepared to be overrun by caricature, hyperbole, stereotypes, and moralistic hogwash. Urban Africans are either bravely en route to empowering themselves to attain sustainable livelihoods or the debased perpetrators of the most unimaginable acts of misanthropy. Explanations for these one-dimensional distortions vary from historical dependency perspectives, to the vagaries of the peddlers of neoliberal globalization agendas, or to the glorious agency of dignified actors who persist with their backs straight, chin up despite the cruelties bestowed by governmental neglect and economic malice. Amidst these registers it is almost impossible to get any meaningful purchase on what is actually going on in the vibrant markets, streets, pavements, taxi ranks, hotel lobbies, drinking halls, clubs, bedrooms, rooftops, gardens, dump sites, beach fronts, river edges, cemeteries, garages, basements, and other liminal spaces of daily life and the imaginary
—Editors Ntone Edjabe and Edgar Pieterse
So reads the foreword to the African Cities Reader (ACR), an annual publication cocreated by Chimurenga and the University of Cape Town’s African Centre for Cities. Published in April of 2010, the inaugural issue of ACR endeavors to bring us up to speed on what is happening in the continent’s metropolitan centers. As a response to popular media, ACR can be understood as challenging long-standing representations of the continent and, in relation to the field of urban studies, the publication problematizes the reductive reading of the contemporary African city as a sprawling, densely populated metropolis that has roots in, but also precedes, colonial European logics and legacies. Through this lens, other urban paradigms emerge, elevating discussions about the African city beyond a discourse of violence, injury, resistance, or urban sprawl. Contributions draw from, and across, many fields of practice and study, including: literature, journalism, art history, visual art, anthropology, geography, and activism, among others.
Roughly meaning “revolutionary struggle” or “liberation,” as well as the name of a type of popular music with lyrics characterized by social and political commentary in Zimbabwe, Chimurenga has been developed by founder Ntone Edjabe through collaboration across a range of projects. Like the partnerships between artists, curators, and organizations that contribute to the New Museum’s Museum as Hub initiative, the Cape Town–based publishing platform has similarly provided an infrastructure that enables relationships with writers, editors, and contributors. Over the last ten years, the core of Chimurenga’s activities has been the Chimurenga Magazine, a Pan-African publication on culture, art, and politics that has functioned as a springboard for autonomous thinking and political reflection by Africans about Africa. The magazine has taken many forms, primarily that of a workspace and print magazine that is published in print two to three times a year and online monthly. The platform has also developed the Chimurenga Library, an online archive of Pan-African publications; Pilgrimages, a collaboration with Bard College’s Achebe Center that paired fourteen African writers with guides in fourteen African cities; mobile newsrooms, open nomadic editorial meetings that take the shape of a public forum; and has even spawned a sibling radio station, the Pan African Space Station (PASS), which streams music online and hosts musical performances in venues across the continent.
But it is Chimurenga’s most recent venture, a gazette called the Chronic, that may have the most potential to realize the aims laid out in the passage above. The publication’s title suggests an abbreviation of “the Chronicle,” a common naming convention for newspapers. Most immediately referencing a call to record events for public record, as newspapers have historically done, this title also signals the frequent recurrence (by other accounts a temporal lag) that characterizes the Chronic’s close-to-the-ground coverage of politics, health, the economy, sports, arts, technology, and more. Beginning as a one-off “speculative newspaper” in 2008, with the release of a new quarterly gazette in April 2013, Chimurenga spun this into a regular addition to their various publications. The initial newspaper for the week of May 18–24, a 128-page multi-section broadsheet with the stand-alone Chronic Life Magazine and Chronic Book Review Magazine inserts, introduced Chimurenga’s unique spin on newsworthy coverage and topical content. On the cultural front, there were fresh takes at every turn: This inaugural issue featured a food guide with reviews of Johannesburg restaurants specializing in home-cooked cuisines from across the continent and, in the book review insert, “Cover Story: A Visual History of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart,” there was a reading of African political aspiration and its corollary representations. This was not through textual interpretation but, rather, through a survey of cover designs that have graced the various editions of Achebe’s famous novel since its first publishing in 1958. In the most recent issue, “Body Paths” explored the predicament of moving bodies across national borders for burial, describing “immigrant journeys which do not stop at death,” and “Moving ‘White Man’s Deads’ is no second hand business,” in the “Cash & Commerce” section of the April 2013 issue, addressed the settlement committees that preside over the continent’s thriving secondhand clothing market.
Whereas the pages of ACR offered a forum for proposing new thinking and practices emerging from the continent’s urban centers, Chimurenga’s Chronic puts this thinking into practice. The form of the newspaper demands more timely content development and more direct reflection on aspects of everyday life, and as a lightweight print publication, it allows for hand-to-hand circulation through bus stops, bars, and other social spaces where cultural journals don’t normally travel. Moreover, the transition of the Chronic to a quarterly has necessitated a new cooperative infrastructure. Chimurenga has spearheaded a Pan-African group of independent publishers with Kwani? in Nairobi, Kenya, and Cassava Republic Press in Abuja, Nigeria, to print and distribute the gazette locally. The platform also brings together journalists, editors, writers, theorists, photographers, illustrators, and artists for debate and dialogue that focuses on topical issues pertaining to Africa and its relationship to the world.
South Africa has several colloquial variations on the word “now” to mark time—just now, a noncommittal phrase meaning something like “maybe later,” and now-now, another vagary that is more urgent but still means “sometime shortly.” So it is no coincidence that Chimurenga is serious about chronicling the now “to write our world differently, to begin asking new questions, or even the old ones anew.” As “an intervention into the newspaper as a vehicle of knowledge production and dissemination”—indeed, one that traverses time and space—Chimurenga’s Chronic seeks to refocus critical discourse in and around the African continent by reinvigorating a staid form to capture the sights, sounds, and speeds of everyday life from a different perspective. Since its founding, the Museum as Hub initiative has endeavored to provide institutional support for artistic and curatorial practices of varying temporalities, foregrounding exchange across multiple contexts and histories. Guided by this commonality, a number of Museum as Hub partners will partner with Chimurenga to develop new content that will be copublished over the next year in issues of Chronic and Six Degrees. First up in this series will be a text organized by art space pool in relation to Seoul-based artist Che Onejoon’s film A Monumental Tour (in progress). This documentary work examines architectural projects that have politically linked North Korea with various African nations since the 1970s, particularly the fabrication of public monuments by the Mansudae Art Studio.
Chronic, May 2008: online and in print