Exercises in Demodernity and Decoloniality of Ideas and Knowledge

On his deathbed, Copernicus published the book that founded modern astronomy. Three centuries before, Arab scientists Mu’ayyad al-Din al-’Urdi and Nasir al-Din Tusi had come up with the theorems crucial to that development. Copernicus used their theorems but did not cite the source.

Europe looked in the mirror and saw the world.

Beyond that lay nothing.

The three inventions that made the Renaissance possible, the compass, gunpowder, and the printing press, came from China. The Babylonians scooped Pythagoras by fifteen hundred years. Long before anyone else, the Indians knew the world was round and had calculated its age. And better than anyone else, the Mayans knew the stars, eyes of the night, and the mysteries of time.

Such details were not worthy of Europe’s attention.

Eduardo Galeano. MIRRORS–Stories of Almost Everyone. 2009

For the Long Night of Ideas of the Auswärtiges Amt and its partners, SAVVY Contemporary invites you to the challenge of unlearning the given and of deconstructing the ideologies and connotations which are eminent to what frames our societies today. The proposal is unlearning as an inherent part of learning or a process of carving out space for more ideas.

With a series of performative interventions, lectures, artistic contributions from 6pm till Midnight and six DJ-sets from Midnight till 6am, we aim at articulating exercises of disobedience and indiscipline as an attempt and a means of decolonising the singularity of “knowledge”, challenging not only the level of the individual but also the systemic problems, and giving space to the possibility of a plurality of epistemologies. We also aim at putting a spotlight on corpoliteracy as a form of learning, i.e. bodily knowledge, experientiality and performativity as means of unlearning, but also acquiring, enacting and disseminating knowledge. Along the very well known and resonating words and researches of Gayatri Spivak, we will focus on the fundamental process of “Unlearning one’s privileges as one’s loss”. Our privileges, whatever they may be in terms of race, class, nationality, or gender may prevent us from gaining a certain kind of Other knowledge: not simply information that we have not yet received, but the knowledge that we are not equipped to understand by reason of our social positions. To “unlearn” one's privilege is a vital step that marks the beginning of an ethical relation to the Other. On this journey, SAVVY Contemporary engages in what Paget Henry would call the poetic power of artistic practice to un-name and re-name, de-institute and re-institute selves, lower the volume of imposed voices and un-silence suppressed voices in an effort to resolve crisis of entrapment.

Unlearning is not forgetting, it is neither deletion, cancellation nor burning off. It is writing bolder and writing anew. It is commenting and questioning. It is giving new footnotes to old and other narratives. It is the wiping off of the dust, clearing of the grass, and cracking off the plaster that lays above the erased. Unlearning is flipping the coin and awakening the ghosts. Unlearning is looking in the mirror and seeing the world, rather than a concept of universalism that indeed purports a hegemony of knowledge.