Indigo Waves and Other Stories:
Re-Navigating the Afrasian Sea and Notions of Diaspora

Sea, my oblivious afterworld,
grant us entry, please, when we knock,
but do not keep us there, deliver
our flowers & himbasha bread.
Though we can’t imagine, now, what
our dead might need,
& above all can’t imagine it is over
& that they are, in fact, askless, are
needless, in fact, still hold somewhere
the smell of coffee smoking
in the house, please,
the memory of joy
fluttering like a curtain in an open window
somewhere inside the brain’s secret luster
where a woman, hands red with henna,
beats the carpet clean with the stick of a broom
& the children, in the distance, choose stones
for the competition of stones, & the summer
wears a crown of  beles in her green hair & the tigadelti’s
white teeth & the beautiful bones of Massawa,
the gaping eyes & mouths of its arches
worn clean by the sea, your breath & your salt.

Excerpt from "to the sea" by Aracelis Girmay

Taking the stories and histories of the Afrasian Sea as its departure point, the group exhibition Indigo Waves and Other Stories: Re-Navigating the Afrasian Sea and Notions of Diaspora brings together artists, musicians, writers and thinkers to investigate, unpack and shed light on some of the smaller and bigger historical, cultural and linguistic links between the continents of Africa and Asia. The space also called Indian Ocean has been considered the oldest continuum in human history. The multi-chapter exhibition thus approaches this ocean as a communal horizon from which to read Afrasian (that is, belonging to both Africa and Asia) histories of forced and unforced movement through cultural affiliation, mercantile encounter and colonial empire.

Combining new commissions with existing projects, the exhibition traces links between the Asian and African regions, manifesting overlays and diasporic transfers between two areas of increased global political, economic and cultural importance in the 21st century. The Indian Ocean emerges as a communal horizon that reveals shades of cultural, linguistic, political and historical passage from ancient times to the present.

Indigo Waves and Other Stories is an effort to unpack and shed light on a long and continual history of water-based exchanges that have generated cultural and social affinities between the African and Asian continents. Following the first chapter at Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, the Berlin exhibition will be shown concurrently in two parts, composed in resonance, at the Gropius Bau and SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin. While moving between these venues, visitors can experience fluid associations that open up like the tug and swell of tides.

“Different waves of migration have shaped Germany and Berlin is one of the epicentres of African and Asian diasporas. With Indigo Waves and Other Stories we intend to awaken or reactivate the memories of these histories. As a pluriversal city, Berlin must afford itself the luxury of encountering its multiple histories, which are reverberations of narratives told and lived across the Indian Ocean, and stories that, from the land-locked space of Berlin, through the Afro- and Asian-Diasporic communities, also echo on, in and through the Indian Ocean.” — Natasha Ginwala and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, curators of the exhibition 

The ocean that stretches between Asia, Oceania and Africa – from Africa’s Swahili coast, through the Arabian Peninsula, up to Western Oceania – is known by many names: Ziwa Kuu, the Swahili Sea, the Afrasian Sea, the Indian Ocean, Ratnakara, Eastern Ocean, Indic Ocean and Bahari Hindi. This body of water has been continuously marked by hybridity, displacement and diasporic passage. The exhibition takes us from ancient routes of transregional exploration, trade and seasonal migration, up through contemporary Afro-Asian geopolitical, economic and cultural exchanges, from languages, foods, sounds, winds, waters, economies, philosophies and more. It lends research on such timely subjects as the economics of materials and commodities, labour practices and indentured labour, the history and architecture of epidemics and quarantine, climate and ecological disruptions, cultural and material syncretism, migratory, trade and economic routes, and the interdependence of human and non-human entities. 

As we transmit the knowledge that is harboured within many of us as water beings, Indigo Waves and Other Stories seeks to set up reciprocal motions that unsettle established geopolitical assessments and the dominance in academia around the North Atlantic. Instead, we attend to open tides of acculturation, Afrasian imaginaries, an atmosphere of multiple tongues and monsoon cycles of the Indian Ocean system.