Hosted by Logan Center Exhibitions
December 5, 2017
The weekend of October 13-19th saw over 100 visitors pour into the Logan Center as well as the Stony Island Arts Bank for Returns, the first public convening of a multiyear research project, public program, and online platform entitled The Ties That Bind: Waves of Pan-Africanism in Contemporary Art and Society.
Curated by Yesomi Umolu, Logan Center Exhibitions Curator, The Ties that Bind engages a multigenerational and international group of artists, activists, scholars, and curators across three public forums or “congresses” taking place in Chicago over the next two years. Returns, the first congress, posed and explored the question What does it mean to return—to a cultural history, to a movement, and to the site of Africa in developing an artistic language?
Over the course of five days, attendees at Returns explored topics such as major Pan-African festivals of arts and culture in the 1960s and 1970s, and the political and geographic aspects of Pan-Africanism; screened films from and about the African diaspora; and considered the origins and future of Pan-Africanism. Accompanying them through the weekend were scholars and artists from Chicago and beyond who had deep ties to the Pan-African movement as well as the South Side itself. The group included scholars Abdul Alkalimat, Haki R. Madhubuti, Dominique Malaquais, and Romi Crawford, artist and filmmaker Naeem Mohaiemen, photographer Marilyn Nance, filmmaker Floyd Webb, and a public roundtable discussion featuring post-colonial theorist Françoise Vergès. Read more about the artists, activists, and scholars who participated in Returns here.
Returns also provided a chance for viewers to take in rare footage of Muhammad Ali’s visit to Bangladesh, which underscored the power of individuals to facilitate the exchange of Pan-African ideas from country to country. Returns panelists also shared first-hand accounts of FESTAC ’77. FESTAC ‘77, also known as the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, was held in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1977. The festival spanned from January 15-February 12, 1977, and celebrated African culture, music, art, literature, drama, and dance. In an example of the interconnectedness of the Pan-African movement and the international pull of FESTAC ‘77, photographer Marilyn Nance, whose work has been shown in the Smithsonian, shared a photo from her personal archive of fellow panelist Haki R. Madhubuti, a founder of Third World Press here on the South Side, chatting with Stevie Wonder at ‘FESTAC 77.
Film and cinema was one of the genres of discussion regarding contribution to the Pan-African movement. The Stony Island Arts Bank hosted a screening of two films: William Greaves’s 1966 documentary The First World Festival of Negro Arts, and Ivan Dixon’s 1973 film adaptation of The Spook Who Sat by the Door.
The First World Festival of Negro Arts (poster from festival, left) provides a critical visual record of FESTAC ‘77, including interviews and footage of famous members of the Black Arts movement of the era such as Langston Hughes, Alvin Ailey, and Duke Ellington, who all attended FESTAC ‘77.
The Spook Who Sat by the Door, based on Sam Greenlee’s novel of the same name, is an action crime drama that satirizes the civil rights struggle and examines black militancy through the quest of a CIA-trained Freedom Fighter to liberate black America from the hypocrisy of the nation’s white ruling-class. The film is an example of the type of work created in the environment that FESTAC ‘77 fostered. The film was scored by Herbie Hancock, a Grammy Award-winning giant in the jazz music scene.
Françoise Vergès closed the convening by unpacking the ways in which colonial logic is manifested in contemporary society and capitalism, and offered suggestions for dismantling its strongholds through internationalism, solidarity, and education, as espoused through the collective imagination of Pan-Africanism. To further explore the content that Vergès shared and discussed with the public roundtable, consider reading her book Monsters and Revolutionaries: Colonial Family Romance and Métissage.
Supported through generous contributions from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the VIA Art Fund Incubator Grant, The Ties that Bind includes a website, which gathers text, images, videos and viewpoints from Umolu’s research and the project’s public events.