From Hut to Monitor: The Electrification of Chokwe Wall Murals in Angola, 1953-2006

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Session Title:

  • Perspectives on Colonialism and Art

Presentation Title:

  • From Hut to Monitor: The Electrification of Chokwe Wall Murals in Angola, 1953-2006

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Abstract:

  • “Lunda Tchokwe” was a major initiative of the first Trienal de Luanda in 2006.  Conjuring ancestors of a pre-colonial past, the project digitized and reprinted images from an anthropological volume on wall murals of the Chokwe ethnic group of northeastern Angola, Paredes Pintadas da Lunda by José Redinha (1953). My concern in this paper is with the continuous reinscription of protocols of access to ghosts and ancestors of a mythic past, of which “Lunda Tchokwe” is the latest. The digitization of “African” culture presently thematized by many African artists negotiates communalism in terms of “free” information technology and visibility/access, a postcolonial return to ancestors that overcomes colonial appropriations of “African” creativity.  Underneath that myth of free access, however, lie real and hidden protocols of its transmission.  The ever-evasive communal control over transmission, or the access to the powerful ancestors that secure contemporary resources, is figured in this paper as the specter that haunts digitized heritage projects.

    One particular type of visual symbol that recurs in the book and the “Lunda Tchokwe” project derives from sona drawing practice, a self-organizing algorithmic method of drawing in which young Chokwe boys learn about hierarchy and social mores.  Once mastered, the drawing practice allows the practitioner to speak publically to/for the ancestors: to own the myths, legends, and to access the power structures of the Chokwe. Importantly, sona is at once an open and a closed logic system.  This paper compares sona logic to the information science underlying the current digitization of the sona symbols in the “Lunda Tchokwe” project. Similar to the open and closed logic of today’s information systems, in which Lunda Tchokwe is now embedded, sona contains “bottom up” logic as well as the more specialized and occult realm of code and its ownership. Since the moment of colonization of Chokwe art, it has been in the realm of transmission media (as code and as material) that access to knowledge was seized and its restrictions again circumscribed.

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