Nathalie Artist Portrait Future Monuments series 2015Mba Bikoro merges installations, sonic radio, live art performances, film & archives. Her work analyses processes of power & fictions in historical archives critically engaging in migrational struggles. She creates environments for untold narratives of resistance movements by African women and indigenous communities. Sedimented in narratives are testimonies of sonic nature archives, queering ecologies and postcolonial feminist experiences towards new monuments, reacting to the different tones of societies shared between delusions & ritual. She brings new investigations about the architectures of racisms in cities, the archeologies of urban spaces & economies of tradition systems by exposing the limitations of technologies as functional memory records. She has received several awards including Fondation Blachère & Afrique Soleil Mali for Best Artist Dakar Biennale (2012), IAPSIS Swedish Arts Council (2018), Arts Council England (2016) and Goethe Institut (2016).


Nathalie Bikoro interviewed by Marcio Carvalho

Nathalie El Carusel Au Hazard Balthazar photo Gabriela Salgado 2013

1. For Fanon, struggles for decolonization are first and foremost about self-ownership. They are struggles to repossess, to take back, if necessary by force that which is ours unconditionally and, as such, belong to us. What strategies you use in your art practice that might defy forms of knowledge, remembering and forgetting?

I would have a different positioning on this, as this is not exactly what Fanon tries to transmit in his statement. Fanon's writings have only been very recently translated and read within the academy for purpose to forge a critical language to reflect on today's society. However the work of repossession and violence that has been declared is anchored from a translated eurocentric positioning which doesn't reflect fully on Fanon's ideas from creolised French, experiences and purpose. Each of his books are evolutions also from observations specifically on Algerian colonisation and psychological condition taped through the knowledge of a French mixed Black man, he himself criticised his own views at times in lesser known journals and throughout many decades, his views have been challenged and contested by feminists writers like Marie-Chantal Kalisa.

The need to re-possess is the need for violence and for erasure and exclusion of any others; taking back that which is lost, taking back that that were already constructed myths created for us; the only thing that can belong to us is not a country but our shared imaginations.

What I do in my practice is a form of tender militancy that breaks the knowledge of what we have been given. The practice reflects on forms of monument-ing experiences through ephemeral conditions, cannibalising languages/processes of transmissions through biomythography and critical reflections on cultural appropriations. It is no longer about making images but about being inside of them. Mythology is the simultaneous act of forgetting and remembering which provides for me a space no longer of performativity but of magic. To decolonise we also have to forget about what we know as live art and performance, we have to learn and unlearn our own myths and stories, our own contours and this means according to Marimba Ba, becoming Griot. A political tool for healing through its own form of transmission enabling to trigger poetry and abstraction.


2. Today there is a gap between image and essence. Images they can distort the essence of a people, a place, a culture, etc, making them distorted, unworthy. Does your work try to restitute both, for better understandings of what lies behind stereotypes and epistemic colonialities?

Images are symbols of distortions, constructions and ideologies based on one person's vision, they can be violent, but it doesn't mean that they are not true. They are true because they reflect the vision and psychology of the message the person wanted to transmit, they are false because they do not reflect the voices and sensory realities of what is happening in the picture. Both are epistemic reflections on Eurocentric positions. The picture assures the story told by the oppressor not necessary the oppressed.
I don't destroy this in my work but what I can do is reflect on these positions and create spaces of engagement where you can learn how to read what you do not see, therefore make you see who you are, and in many cases audiences have an inability of self-reflection, an amnesia of their own identity because they are forged in spaces of privileged violence. We perform our own values of resistance and democracy but it doesn't mean that that democracy includes all the communities we try to reflect on.
My work is about emotion, connection, healing and apology. Often it means I have to forge the same system of violence endured in this "image" of western ideology/fantasy that will activate a frustration and denial. What I do within this task of performing is exactly how to read the picture, what is going on behind the picture that you cannot see, to unlearn and learn processes of emotions and allow a different possibility of ourselves and capabilities. Some may call it African, some may call it violent, witchcraft, magic but I am simply a storyteller who has an archive of experiences on her shoulders which reflect on our condition today. It is difficult to let go of that which we were given, it is difficult to react without imposing violence upon the other who tells you your story.

I don't restitute the 'true' of the image because often even our own traditions and images have been constructed for the purpose to dominate, control and colonise our people against our own, this is where Negritude doesn't work for me, the claim to come back, return to our 'authentic origins', i think the only thing we can return to is our memory based on touch, emotion, words that enabled us to survive and these can be forged by truths based on myths, transformations as well as distortions to protect those who were oppressed. We must not forget that colonisation is plural, it is based on the dominance and extermination of a population that have different sets of values or simply based on the idea of forging dominant races for political and economic purpose. Colonisation today is everywhere, women against women, black against black, white against white, every country I have been the history of colonisation was forged a long time before Europeans 'discovered' the world.


3. Today it's impossible to talk about knowledge without tapping into education. It seems that our education systems they became quiet obsolete in their pedagogies and their forms of knowledge. We still study based on Eurocentric views about the world, which in turn deprive students from a better understanding about the past and consequently a lack of tools to deal with and imagine many presents and futures still to come. What is your opinion about how academy is dealing with knowledge? And If you could use art, or art systems to decolonize the university and make it more pluriversity, and to re-invent the classroom, what would you do?

The limitations and risks for artistic practice stands on the relationship to power and class hierarchies that divide us. My approaches to education, history and and spatial strategies of reconfiguration and memory were encouraged in Brazil, South Africa and Senegal for example but banned and dismissed by university in Gabon as a way of provocation and propaganda against a very right-winged regime government.
To decolonise the classroom there is no one method or strategy it is a process of constant reinvention, passion, dedication and knowing how to be with people as groups and individuals. Knowledge loses its worth if you do not know how to transmit and teach to others, this is the consequence of most international educational systems North to South. The inability for connection and transmission. Knowledge are positions, forms of beliefs held by one or few groups which doesn't mean that they are true to all. Knowledge must be based on biomythographies, based on spaces, voices, interaction, sharing and self-care. Knowledge to be transmittable must be based on a science not based on exploitation of others or common sense measurabilities but exactly on the things we have lost, we cannot see, we cannot comprehend but on the constant building of truth, myth, poetry and fact, a science of the "griot", the one that must perform.
My method for the Eurocentric sceptic on education would be to challenge them to do the hard work, there is no instruction book on decolonising the classroom, it is based on those who have forged a life of experiences that those want to negate or those who have no comprehension of it based on their social privileges. The same way that there is no "repatriation" to forgetting the history of violence, genocide and colonisation, there is no one "method" for the classroom to decolonise. The classroom is a system, a space enforcing individuals to propose equal status whilst in fact they come all from different systems of experiences and what decolonisation can do is provide a nutrition, a re-adaptation on finding your own voice, protection and terrain. It would be impossible to give an instruction book of decolonial methods, our tools of emancipation should not be used and abused by neighbouring oppressors who might be inclined to forge privatisations and capitalisation over material that is meant to heal and provide safe spaces. The space of the academy has seen no changes but popularisation of violence; they were able to include material not to teach or transmit them into active active knowledge but as tools to maximise capital profits and therefore change structures of education into public capitalistic spaces written and spoken by professors that often have no anchors in the experience of what it is to be Black for example.
The academy is not the space that will decolonise the classroom, but the movement and interaction between international students who bring new knowledges, memory and experiences have been the compound for pushing and deconstructing the systems of violence in education.
Part of the challenges of the academy is who is able to enter inside it and who can get appropriately paid. Often professors and old administrative systems will slow the process of change and will hijack knowledge of others without finding tools or purpose to critically transmit material to their students. Now in reflection to politics and based on the depending economy brought by international students into Northern countries, universities are obliged to act on "diversity", but as Sarah Ahmed mentions, this idea of diversity is based on uncritical and eurocentric position to serve the purpose of increased economy and not on the knowledge transferred in the classroom. Ahmed reflects how too often academy maintains systems of violence, racism and ignorance by not allowing any protection and safety to their students when faced with abuse, statistically highest against POC students. Hence her strategy for decolonisation is what she calls resignation. In my years teaching in the academy in England notably and elsewhere, abuse is re-occurrent and is not dealt with according to the law.
What has decolonised the classroom in recent years, were POC students' complaints to the academies that forced the universities having to let practitioners like myself enter the classroom. What the students demand will become important to forge futures of their own narratives and archives. As long as power relations exists in the classroom between students based on their privileges and the teachers it will never be integral to the methods of practical decolonial artistic processes.
For international practitioners my advice would be to transmit our knowledge through a strategy that Fanon would call a "virus", creating an anti-biotic culture through cannibalist dissonant archives. Fanon suggests that an anti-biotic culture is a revolt, makes a change of bodily processes necessary as a means of anti-dote against dissonant social structures. Therefore body in motions must create a virus as an antidote against cognitive dissonance, marginalisation, invisibility and epistemologies of exclusion. The cognitive processes in performance use existing archives to generate new mythologies based on unacknowledged histories and loss. In perform-ing that which we do not see or what we do not want to know, we activate relations between communities, we activate plural anthologies, we activate memories for means of visible language and an antibiotic social historical re-positioning.