IU's Institute for Advanced Study to host NEH institute on 'Recasting Lives in African Cities'

  • June 28, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An unusual three-week institute focused on arts and culture in the cities of Accra, Lagos, Nairobi, New Orleans and Port-au-Prince will be hosted this summer by the Institute for Advanced Study on the Indiana University Bloomington campus.

"Arts of Survival: Recasting Lives in African Cities" takes place July 6 to 26 and will bring together 22 faculty and three graduate students from universities and colleges all across the United States.

Funded by a $191,592 National Endowment for Humanities grant, “Arts of Survival” will allow college and university teachers to explore contemporary urban culture and arts in cities that share African roots but have been shaped by unique histories. The goal is to examine interactions between art and everyday life in African and African diaspora cities, especially in “post-catastrophe” environments. New Orleans, for example, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, suffered through a massive earthquake in 2010.

"Arts of Survival" is co-organized and co-directed by Eileen Julien, director of the Institute for Advanced Study and professor of comparative literature, French and Italian, and African studies at IU Bloomington; and James Ogude, senior research fellow and deputy director at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Julien said "Arts of Survival" has four “big ideas” behind it.

“We planned the institute to heighten awareness of the uniqueness of these cities; to examine the various arts and media that are prominent in each of them, such as festivals, film or music; and to look at how the arts in public spaces can be transformative for cities that have faced severe challenges,” Julien said. “Finally, we hope to help all of the participants develop new approaches as teachers and scholars to these cities and their identities.”

Participants in the institute include three IU alumni. Mohammed Hirchi, originally from Morocco, holds a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from IU and now teaches at Colorado State University. The opportunity to discuss issues related to cities in transition with other scholars drew him to the institute.

“Africa is a global space that is impacted by colonial and post-colonial market economies,” he said. “I’m fascinated by how new identities are constructed and negotiated in African metropolises.”

Julien, who is author of “Travels with Mae: Scenes from a New Orleans Girlhood,” is bringing a personal touch to "Arts of Survival" by loaning part of a collection of Mardi Gras regalia to the Mathers Museum of World Cultures for an exhibit beginning July 12.

“My parents were very involved in Carnival and attended balls every year,” Julien said. “The Mathers will be displaying some of my mother’s ball dresses as well as the outfit my father wore when he reigned as king in a ball and parade in the 1970s.”

Daily institute sessions are for enrolled participants only. But several opportunities are planned for the public, including film screenings July 10 and 24; a conversation with Julien on July 12 at the Mathers Museum about Mardi Gras, costumes and growing up in New Orleans; and a second conversation with other institute faculty July 21.

"Arts of Survival" attendees also will participate in a weekend trip to New Orleans for an immersive experience in the life of an urban area with deep African roots.

In addition to Julien and Ogude, Grace Musila, associate professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, is one of the institute leaders, along with IU Bloomington faculty Akin Adesokan, associate professor of comparative literature and cinema and media studies; and Oana Panaïté, associate professor of French. Suzanne Godby Ingalsbe, associate director of the Institute for Advanced Study; Kelley Totten, special projects assistant; Institute for Advanced Study administrative assistants Sonila Zajmi and Meredith McGriff; graduate student Nzingha Kendall; and undergraduate intern Abigail Aylward are also playing critical roles in organizing "Arts of Survival."

More information about "Arts of Survival" at IU Bloomington is available online, or email ias@indiana.edu.

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