Dis-Othering:
beyond Afropolitan
and Other Labels

is a collaborative project with Creative Europe on the necessary deconstruction of “othering” practices in European cultural institutions. It consists of an exhibition, symposia, a festival, talks and performances, a residency program, mapping research, and a website, all manifesting in 2018 and 2019 in Berlin, Brussels, Vienna and Warsaw. These different formats share the bringing together of artists, communities, thinkers and people of all walks of life to reflect on contemporary processes and technologies of “Dis-Othering.”

With “Dis-Othering” we wish to propose a phenomenon in which social identity building is not made by projecting onto the so-called “Other,” but rather a projection towards the self. A selfreflection. A boomerang.

That is to say instead of looking for or deflecting one’s faults, fantasies, or angst onto some other, one could embody them and live them. It is about acknowledging and embodying the plethora of variables that make us be. The project takes its cue from the Nguemba saying “Leh zo, A me ke Nde za,” which literally translates as “Keep yours and I keep mine.” This, in itself, is a reaction to the invitation to exercise Afropolitanness. The issue at stake here is, how can we work with such conceptual labels that mean well, without looking at their social, political and economic connotations, hence at what they actually do and what processes of identity construction they encourage?

DIS-OTHERING–beyond Afropolitan & other labels is not about the “Other” – which is just the “product.” The project is a deliberation on the amoebic and morphed methodologies employed by institutions and societies at large in constructing and cultivating “Otherness” in our contemporaneity. It is about the commodification and the cooption of the “Other,” about strategies of paternalization used in the cultural field.

Around the second half of the eighteenth century, Phillis Wheatley, a former slave and the first published African-American female poet, wrote a poem titled On Imagination. Here, imagination stands as the only space for the slave’s emancipation, one possible through the mind, while the body keeps being trapped in the materiality of existence. Imagination, about the other, about the unknown, can be understood as a space of resistance, a protection that makes the other less threatening, as bell hooks argues in Displacing Whiteness (1997). Imagination, however, can, did and keeps playing a completely different role.

The title of the exhibition is a direct reference to academic and anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s writings on the issue of false representations, of imaginary geographies essential to the West for the creation of its narrative empires and for its reorganization of meaning used to legitimize its supremacy, dialectically running through much of the literature of the last two hundred years, and standing as the foundation of academic and museological disciplines such as anthropology or ethnology.

Geographies of Imagination is an exhibition featuring artworks, performances and research materials that engage with the very different uses of fictionalized and stereotyped ideas of the “other” and particularly with the contact zone between them, to highlight and reflect upon the importance of looking at each other and looking back, and the political potential inscribed in those practices. Practices that we may consider of Dis-Othering.