Abstracts and Speakers

Diasporic Possessions

Mojisola Adebayo and Anja Sunhyun Michaelsen

We prefer possession to the more commonly used haunting – it is less polite and more in keeping with the level of affect that characterises the experience we are interested in. It is not subtle.
We are a theatre maker (Mojisola), who is currently researching a play / developing a performance with live music entitled WHITE: A Horror, and a researcher (Anja), who seeks “willful exposure to archive fever” (Ariella Azoulay) in pursuit of the uncontainable need to reconstruct and reclaim the fundamental gaps, contradictions, and omissions in the history of transnational adoption.
Mojisola’s play will be a terrifyingly funny story about an exorcist who delivers people from being possessed by whiteness, set in South Africa, Germany and Britain. Informed by horror films about possession that deal with race and the narrative dramaturgy of The Exorcist, the play will also investigate the documented story of the most extreme case of ‘possession’ ever recorded, that of a Black South African girl child, Clara Germana Cele, by Christian missionaries at a boarding school in KwaZuluNatal in 1906.
Anja’s archival research has confronted her with the re-surfacing of tropes of colonial arrogance and ignorance in post-NS humanitarian aid programmes and the violent nature of bureaucratic and logistical ‘efficiency’ in global child placement practices. It has also led to a study of counter-strategies that researchers and artists use to exercise their right to the archive and to intervene in it beyond the reach of law and authority.
Starting from these different interests, we talked, while watching films and over drinks at Südblock, about our shared interest in possession, its aesthetics and politics, and the possibilities of exorcism. Just as it is diasporic normality to talk about traumatic events in everyday passing, we will chat about some of the films we watched (The Exorcist, White Zombie, Whity, Get Out), and the multiple times, locations, affects and lives present in the state of possession.

Mojisola Adebayo is a Black British performer, playwright, director, producer, workshop leader and teacher of Nigerian (Yoruba) and Danish origin. Trained in Theatre of the Oppressed and Physical Theatre, Mojisola has worked internationally in theater, television and radio for over twenty-five years, from Antarctica to Zimbabwe. Mojisola has been teaching in academia since 1998, mainly at Goldsmiths, University of London, Department of Theatre and Performance and Queen Mary, University of London. During her fellowship at the University of Potsdam between 2020 and 2022, she undertook research on ‘White Climate: Afriquia Theatre Literatures and Agri/cultural Practices’. Her latest works include Family Tree, which won the Alfred Fagon Award for Best Play of 2021, and STARS, which was developed on a residency with idle women and premiered at ICA London in April 2023.

Anja Sunhyun Michaelsen is a postdoctoral scholar in the ERC Consolidator Grant Project “Tales of the Diasporic Ordinary” at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She holds a PhD in Media Studies from Ruhr-University Bochum. Prior to her position at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry (2018-2020) and at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Braunschweig, funded by the VolkswagenStiftung (2021-2022). Her research focuses on representations of (post-)colonial trauma, historical archives and minority historiography, as well as queer and ordinary reparative practices. Latest publications include: Refuge and Reparative Practice. Studium Generale Reader. Amsterdam: Gerrit Rietveld Academie, 2023, assembled with Amelia Groom, and “Girlfriends 1973.” The Wall Between Us. (Be)Longing, Repair and Its Politics of Affects. Eds. Cecilia Bien, Elena Agudio, Thi Minh Huyen Nguyen (Hg.): Berlin: Archive Books, 2022. 114-126.

Oceanic Tides, Machinic Flows

Charmaine Poh and Thao Ho

In our presentation we will engage with the topics of disconnection and memory-making. Drawing on Daoist cosmology, critical race theory and queer theory, we aim to re-consider binaries such as West/non-West, relationality/ non-relationality, normativity/ non-normativity, techno/non-techno, by way of close readings of The Gangster We Are All Looking For by lê thị diễm thúy and Charmaine Poh’s own on-going work THE YOUNG BODY UNIVERSE, a series of enactments considering the potentialities of the feminist techno-body. We are especially interested in haunting stories, histories that are barely there but at the same time all-present, in other words, story-telling of seemingly disconnected historical events and affects. Taking lê thị diễm thúy’s work and the theoretical frameworks of Evyn Lê Espiritu Gandhi’s Archipelago of Resettlement, as well as Lan Duong’s trans-Vietnamese feminism as starting points, Thao will trace the historical entanglements of boat people resettlement to Orange County, CA, and Palestine, and the affective residues/cultural production of lost memories. Grounded by Tung-Hui Hu’s concept of digital lethargy and the Daoist logic of xuan, a logic of recursivity put forth by Yuk Hui in his book, Art and Cosmotechnics, Charmaine will examine how the East Asian femme-presenting techno-body has been formed and shaped by larger philosophical, cultural, and historical forces. Combining our on-going research, the following questions will be discussed: What is Eastern thought, especially for those who are situated in the diaspora? How can postcolonial thought be expanded beyond the “western frame”? How do we contend with these degrees of lostness, whether through the diaspora, or through the ethers of technology?

Charmaine Poh is an artist from Singapore working across media, moving image, and performance to peel apart, interrogate, and hold ideas of agency, repair, and the body across worlds. Her current focus, THE YOUNG BODY UNIVERSE, is a series of enactments considering the potentialities of the feminist techno-body. Her work centres the affects of vulnerability, desire, and intimacy from the vantage point of subversion. Charmaine studied international relations and visual anthropology. She developed a photography practice using documentary and ethnographic methodologies before looping back into using performance as a driving force. She is a co-founder of the magazine Jom. In the fall of 2022, she started her PhD at the Freie Universität Berlin. 

Thao Ho is a researcher, filmmaker, activist and writer. Thao worked at the Gay Museum & Archive as a research trainee, where she focused on transnational queer movements and practices of memory. Thao is a PhD candidate at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, as part of the research project “Tales of the Diasporic Ordinary” led by Prof. Dr. Elahe Haschemi Yekani where she examines parallels and entanglements of memory politics, artistic practices and activism of Vietnamese artists based in Sài Gòn, Berlin, and Orange County, Garden Grove, through the medium of post-war visual art, sound and literature.

The Past Does Not Exist, The Present Too Much So

Tasha Pick and Fenja Akinde-Hummel

This presentation will explore questions of temporality, loss and excess in Isaac Julien’s Young Soul Rebels and Looking for Langston, with accompanying observation of Julien’s video installations. These two films stage the tensions that arise when multiple identitarian realities are lived at once. As multiple worlds and historical forces converge in a singular body, their meaning becomes dense, thick. Julien’s film worlds collapse linear time, creating a dreamscape made up of archival fragments and surreal encounters. The density generated by this simultaneity is counterposed by a feeling of profound absence. Julien’s films are structured around a sense of longing for an irrevocably lost object. Opening with the imagined funeral of Langston Hughes, the film grapples with the ways in which historical figures are invested with the power to bestow an identity in the present. Julien looks for Langston but can never find him. The film contends with the archive’s violent absences and seeks not only to ‘tell an impossible story’ but to ‘amplify the impossibility of its telling’ (Hartman).
Where Looking for Langston activates a discourse around archival absence Young Soul Rebels engages more purposefully with the here and now of 1970s London in the aftermath of a racist and/or homophobic murder, we are never quite sure. Julien’s protagonists negotiate the unerring continuity of multiple parallel, and at times interlocking present moments. This constant navigation of the concurrent presents, simultaneity, or what Claudia Rankine terms the ‘meanwhile’ seems, at first, to be at odds with the longing for the past, represented in Looking for Langston. We hope to intertwine and align these observations of time and affect as they are produced in Julien’s work.

Tasha Pick is a current PhD student at the University of Manchester. Their project explores how the ocean is positioned as a site of both extinction and possibility in contemporary cultural production. It traces the ocean’s implication in histories of racial and environmental violence; the transatlantic passages of slave ships, contemporary maritime border policing practices, corporate and state powers that use the ocean to dump waste and extract oil. Tasha’s research interests include: contemporary art and film, queer and trans theory, Black Atlantic studies, material feminisms, psychoanalysis and affect theory. They completed an MA in Gender Studies at SOAS, University of London in 2020.

Fenja Akinde-Hummel is a PhD candidate in the ERC Consolidator Grant Project “Tales of the Diasporic Ordinary” at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her project, titled Black Diasporic Temporalities (of the City), seeks to examine Black diasporic experiences and artistic reproductions of time as they cluster around the metropolitan centres of London and Berlin. This work is derived from the question: How much time does it take to be Black in an environment characterised by imperialism and its racist continuities?
(Research) interests include, postcolonialism, queer theory, the intersections of race and sexuality, memes and their afterlives, pop-culture more broadly, and diverse strategies of Black survival and resistance as they relate to the above.

Politics of Image Making and the Power of Liberation in the Creative Process

Rebecca Racine Ramershoven and Anne Potjans

Rebecca Racine Ramershoven’s artist talk and subsequent conversation with Anne Potjans will address the politics of image making in a Black diasporic context while constantly having to contend with the white gaze as a reference point of meaning making. Focusing on Black portraiture then and now, this contribution will capture the historical dimensions of Black bodies in photography throughout colonialism and slavery, and how in modern portraiture Black artists and artists of color deal with, transcend, and re-imagine the legacies of these violent histories. What are the strategies that are being used? And how are communities created around fighting racism as a visual regime?

Rebecca Racine Ramershoven is a photographer and is about to complete her M.A. in Photography Studies and Practice at Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, Germany. Since 2014 her works have been shown in national and international context, both in solo and group exhibitions. Most recently, she has shown her works “How much time do you want?“ and “Resilience“ at Folkwang Museum, Essen, and her piece “Identity I” at the Kunsthalle in Trier. In 2022, Rebecca Ramershoven received the award for „Zeitgenössische deutsche Fotografie“ of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung in cooperation with the Fotografische Sammlung des Museum Folkwang. In addition to that her photography was published in Camera Austria International as well as in defrag zine.

Anne Potjans
has been a postdoctoral researcher in the ERC Consolidator grant project “Tales of the Diasporic Ordinary. Aesthetics, Affects, Archives” at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin since October 2022 and currently works on a project entitled Night Shift – Queer Subcultural Spaces and the Black Diasporic Experience. Earlier in 2022, she completed her dissertation on “‘Why Are You So Angry?’” – The Uses of Rage and Anger in Black Feminist Literature.” From 2015 to 2022, Anne Potjans has been a lecturer at the American Studies program at Humboldt where she has taught a variety of classes in North-American Literature and culture, her disciplinary home. In the fall of 2019 she took part in a faculty exchange with the HONORS program at the University of Washington, where she taught a class on Black German and African American cultural and political connections. She is a joint winner of Peter Lang’s Emerging Scholars Competition “New Perspectives in Black Studies,” and is currently in the process of completing her manuscript. In addition to that, she has worked on post-WWII African American and Black German feminist diasporic connections, as well as on the intersections of Blackness, sexuality, and racial visibility in German film productions.

Queer Future Perfect: Invisible Desires, Archival Poetry and Utopian In-Betweenness

Elahe Haschemi Yekani

In my presentation I will engage in a “conversation” with the 2023 documentary film Între revoluții [Between Revolutions], directed by Vlad Petri and written together with Lavinia Braniște. The film offers a poetic reflection on the in/visibility of female queer desire that I understand as a form of archival poetry invested not in linear conceptions of liberation but in the queer temporality of the in-between. I am especially interested in the juxtaposition of the fictional letters and the documentary form. The audience is presented rare historical documentary footage from the late 1970s to early 1990s from Romania and Iran while the (fictional) women and their same-sex desire is never visually depicted. In many ways the narrated story and the images we are presented with do not align: we never see the women but from their longing letters we are to glean that they were lovers. The film evokes queer desires and a form of East-East political entanglement that is often overlooked in histories of the Iranian diaspora. The ordinary drama of the separated lovers plays out eventually as a temporality between revolutions that acquires yet another contemporary dimension against the backdrop of the current uprising in Iran.

Elahe Haschemi Yekani is Professor of English and American Literature and Culture with a Focus on Postcolonial Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany. She is the recipient of an ERC Consolidator Grant for the project “Tales of the Diasporic Ordinary. Aesthetics, Affects, Archives”, in which she investigates queer narratives of migration with a comparative focus on Germany, Britain, and the US in a new book project tentatively called Mini City. Her research interests include diasporic writing, postcolonial studies, visual culture, cultural memory and the archival turn, queer theory and intersectionality.

In addition to numerous articles and two monographs, Familial Feeling: Entangled Tonalities in Early Black Atlantic Writing and the Rise of the British Novel (Palgrave Macmillan 2021) and The Privilege of Crisis. Narratives of Masculinities in Colonial and Postcolonial Literature, Photography and Film (Campus 2011), Haschemi Yekani has published a third book on Revisualising Intersectionality (Palgrave Macmillan 2022) co-written with Magdalena Nowicka and Tiara Roxanne.
Twitter: @EHaschemiYekani

“Outside Eyes”

Omar Kasmani is Guest Lecturer in social and cultural anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin. His research advances queer of color critique and affect theory through a focus on contemporary Islamic life-worlds. It is invested in critical renderings of intimacy and the felt archives of migration. He is the author of Queer Companions: Religion, Public Intimacy and Saintly Affects in Pakistan (Duke UP, 2022) and the editor of Pakistan Desires: Queer Futures Elsewhere (Duke UP, 2023). His current book project renders the self as a public archive of daily loves, queer feeling and post-migrant be/longing in Berlin.

Chris Tedjasukmana is Professor of Everyday Media and Digital Cultures at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and principal investigator of the research group “Attention Strategies of Video Activism on the Social Web,” (funded by the Volkswagen Foundation). Selected books: Understanding Video Activism on Social Media (2024; with Jens Eder and Britta Hartmann), Movement Images: Political Videos on Social Media (2020; with J. Eder and B. Hartmann; in German), and Mechanical Vitalization: Aesthetic Experience in Cinema (2014; in German). His current research focuses on media practices of witnessing, critical phenomenologies of fitness and mindfulness apps as well as food as diasporic media. 

M. Ty is an ember of a diaspora and an assistant professor of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

2023-08-16 | Posted by Alexis Mertens