A new AiW series curated by AiW Guest Katarzyna Kubin examines relations between Africa and Eastern/Central Europe.
AiW Guest: Katarzyna Kubin
In the essay “How Poles Became White,” the anthropologist, Kacper Pobłocki, writes: “Ideas tend to get ‘incarcerated’ into places. One goes to India to study hierarchy…to the West to study modern capitalism, and to the Caribbean to talk about race and slavery. Poland is where one focuses on anti-Semitism, but it would be the last place on earth to look for race or vestiges of slavery.” This statement introduces Pobłocki’s attempt to historically map the concept of “blackness” onto Poland. How uncanny that, just over half a century earlier, W.E.B. Du Bois was inspired by a 1949 visit to that Poland to reflect anew about his concept of “double consciousness,” which he documented in the essay “The Negro and the Warsaw Ghetto” (1952).
These reflections reveal how mythologies of mutual perceptions can shift productively, when considered outside of their seemingly “natural” context. It is in this spirit that, over the following several weeks, Africa in Words presents a series (including book reviews, original texts by guest contributors, interviews), that seeks to recognize a growing interest in the history of relations between Africa and Eastern/Central Europe, with particular attention to the Cold War period. Considering the relations between Africa and Eastern/Central Europe, as both imagined and geographic spaces, in the context of postcolonialism, can reveal new histories, new forms of cultural production, new channels of mutual influence. Highlighting these relations can also expose with refreshing honesty (or perhaps rawness), a range of potentially questionable assumptions that have been built into theories of postcolonialism and (post)communism. At least that is what recent scholarly and artistic work suggests.
The series includes voices from academics, artists and activists, who have diverse geographic and institutional affiliations, ranging from South Africa and Senegal to Romania and Poland. It is also multidimensional in its time perspective: some pieces reflect back on the history of these relations, while others are firmly planted in the present-day and highlight the contemporary implications of that history.
The series can be divided roughly into three parts: the first sets out to sketch a theoretical frame of reference for the study of relations between Africa and Eastern/Central Europe. The second zooms in on Poland, which has thus far drawn less scholarly attention, and features three contributions from authors based in that country. The third part puts the spotlight on an ambitious multimedia art exhibit that opened in London in early 2016 and continues to travel across Europe. As a work in progress, it seemed an apt finale to the series, simultaneously serving as an invitation and an inspiration for future interventions, be they academic or artistic.
The overarching aim of the series is to honor and promote efforts to push the boundaries of current thinking in postcolonial, Cold War and African studies, and so to contribute to a budding historiography of relations between Africa and Eastern/Central Europe.
- A Review of South African Literature Beyond the Cold War by Monica Popescu, by Katarzyna Kubin
- “In from the Cold War”: a colloquium on Eastern Europe, Africa and cultural diplomacy during the cold war, by Iolanda Vasile
- Warsaw in the 1980’s Through African Eyes, by Mamadou Diouf
- In Black and White… Reflections from studies about Black people in everyday Polish language and in media discourse in Poland, by Margaret Amaka Ohia
- ‘El Hadji Sy. At First I Thought I was Dancing’ in Warsaw: Process, Collectivity and Multiple Interpretations, by Karolina Marcinkowska
- Worthy of Note: “Red Africa” and “Things Fall Apart”, by Katarzyna Kubin
 See: K. Pobłocki (2015), “How Poles Became White,” in: M. Moskalewicz (ed.), Halka/Haiti 18⁰48’05”N 7223’01” W, C.T. Jasper and J. Malinowska, The Polish Pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Co-published by: Zachęta-National Gallery of Art (Warsaw) and Inventory Press, LLC (New York), p. 108.
Katarzyna Kubin is a PhD candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, based at the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS). She is also co-founder and current Executive Board member of the Foundation for Social Diversity (FSD), a non-government organisation based in Warsaw, Poland, that deals with issues of migration, equality and social diversity.