Narratives of Now: Visual & Performance Art in Africa

The African Activist Association at UCLA presents a conference featuring music, spoken word (in Arabic, English, Swahili, and Yoruba), African food, a film screening, and excellent panel presentations on May 1 - 2, 2009.

Friday, May 01, 2009
5:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Neuroscience Research Bldg Auditorium
635 Charles E. Young Drive, South
(Corner of Charles E. Young Dr. South & Structure 9)
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Narratives of Now: Visual & Performance Art in Africa

  • Friday, May 1  --  5:30 pm - 9:30 pm
  • Saturday, May 2  --  9:30 am - 6 pm



  • 5:30  Reception
  • 6:00  Music Performance by Glenda Adjei
  • 6:15  Keynote Address by Professor Nouri Gana, Comparative Literature, UCLA
  • 6:45  Batuque Capoeira
  • 7:00  Spoken Word
  • 8:00  Film Screening


9:30  Complimentary breakfast

Panel I, And Art is….  10:15 - 11:15 am

Meleko Mokgosi, Interdisciplinary Studio Program, UCLA: Consuming Afrique

Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, School of Art, University of Wales Aberystwyth: The form, function and motifs of Olokun cult objects including earthen sculptures of Benin, southern Nigeria.

Katherine Smith, Department of World Arts and Cultures, UCLA: The Arts of "Making Do": The Artists of the Grand Rue

Panel II, The Screen, the Stage, and the Page  11:30am-12:45pm
Moderator: Ruby Bell-Gam, Librarian for African Studies and International Development Studies, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA

Michelle Bumatay, Department of French and Francophone Studies, UCLA:  Aya de Yopougon: A More Palatable Africa

Shanique Streete, African Studies, UCLA: Learning How to Pray: Images of Violence Against Women in the Novels of Amma Darko

Rayed Khedher, Anthropology, UCLA: Nouveau Theatre: The Emergence of a New Genre of Theatrical Performance in Modern Tunisia

Cassandra Tesch, African Studies, UCLA: From Kuxa Kanema to Dockanema: The Re-emergence of Mozambican Cinema

12:45pm: Complimentary Lunch featuring African Cuisine

Panel III, Symbols , Expressions, and Representations   2:00-3:00pm
Moderator: Andrew Apter, History/Anthropology, Professor, UCLA. Director, James S. Coleman African Studies Center, UCLA.

Bryan Edward Owens, African Studies, UCLA: Artists of the Green Sahara: An Examination of Early Holocene Rock Art in Africa

Glenda Adjei, African Studies, UCLA: Adinkra as Metaphor: Visual Representation of Akan Culture

Hassan Hussein, Islamic Studies, UCLA: An Introduction to African Tradition of African Calligraphy.

Panel IV, The Beats & the Streets 3:15-4:15pm

Mouna Mana, Alum of Education, UCLA: From the Battle of Algiers to the Lyrical Battle for Ears: A Brief Introduction to Algerian HipHop

Katelyn Knox, French and Francophone Studies, UCLA: Cigars, Champagne, and Convertibles: C  Coupé-décalé Music and the Performance of an African Identity

Catherine Appert, Ethnomusicology, UCLA: Rappin' Griots: Indigenizing Senegalese Hip Hop

4:15pm Closing Ceremony


Glenda Adjei, African Studies, UCLA
Adinkra as Metaphor: Visual Representation of Akan Culture

Adinkra symbols are often used to convey ideas about life and attempts to depict philosophical, socio-cultural, and religious ideologies of the Akan culture in Ghana; specifically the Ashanti.  These mostly metaphoric illustrations of proverbs, allegories, aphorisms, depict philosophical beliefs and the way of life of the Akan, and are culturally significant and ubiquitous to Ghanaian society.  The pictographic form of writing can be found on virtually anything one can envision—stools, cloth, masks, pottery, architecture, and nowadays even the body.  Adinkra functions as a communicative devise, bridging the gap between tradition and modernity, the living and the deceased, and the secular and the profane. Collectively, these emblems form a system of writing that preserves and transmits the accumulated cultural values of the Akan.  This paper examines the corpus of art motifs known as Adinkra, its symbolic meanings and representations, and its cultural significance within the Akan culture.

Glenda Adjei received her BA in International Development Studies and Sociology with regional concentrations in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean Basin at UCLA.  She is currently working on her thesis for the UCLA Masters program in African Studies. Her research focuses on micro-finance, women in the marketplace, and micro entrepreneurs in Ghana, based on field research conducted in Kumasi.  Her research assesses the effects of micro loans and microfinance programs from an urban context, examining and analyzing its efficacy, sustainability, and potential for poverty alleviation among urban Ghanaian women.

Catherine Appert, Ethnomusicology, UCLA
Rappin' Griots: Indigenizing Senegalese Hip Hop

Hip hop's rapid globalization is accompanied by complex processes of indigenization in local hip hop cultures. Fieldwork that I conducted over two years with Senegalese rappers in the United States and Senegal indicates that Senegalese hip hop involves a multi-tiered process of indigenization occurring at the social, textual, and musical levels. Senegalese rappers draw on hip hop's generic intertextuality (as evidenced in practices of musical sampling and lyrical signifyin) to position themselves in a transnational network of hip hop cultures connected through shared modes of cultural production. At the same time, many of these artists claim rap as a direct continuation of the griot (West African bardic) tradition, citing the verbal performance style tassou, in which griots deliver rhythmic lyrics over drum beats, as a precursor of rap music. Thus, combining hip hop (conceived of as African American and  indigenous practice) with traditional musical elements, Senegalese rappers engage in a performed intertextuality that places hip hop's origins in Senegal while remaining in self-conscious dialogue with the African diaspora. For Senegalese immigrant rappers in the United States, the musical and discursive indigenization of hip hop establishes a connection with their homeland as well as the established communities of the diaspora in which they live.

Catherine Appert received her M.A. in Ethnomusicology from UCLA and her B.M. in piano performance from Rutgers University. Currently a Ph.D. student in UCLA's department of Ethnomusicology, her research interests include African and Afro-diasporic musics, popular music and globalization, and music and gender. Based on comparative study in Dakar and U.S. urban centers, her dissertation will explore Senegalese hip hop as a transatlantic form of cultural production.

Michelle Bumatay, French & Francophone Studies, UCLA
Aya de Yopougon: A More Palatable Africa

Bandes dessinées or comics / graphic novels can be found throughout Francophone Africa: in the Maghreb, in West Africa and in Sub-Saharan / Central Africa.  Many of these bandes dessinées deal with everyday life in Africa, in particular urban life.  One award-winning and highly successful example of this is Ivorian Marguerite Abouet’s Aya de Yopougon (2005-present).  Set in the Ivory Coast, this series presents a modern image of Africa far removed from the violence and devastation of political coups, famine and disease.  Centering on the teenager Aya, her family and friends, this series seeks to entertain its readers while simultaneously delivering carefully selected information regarding life in the Ivory Coast.  To what extent can the story of Aya de Yopougon be considered global or universal and what makes it specifically African or Ivorian?  While answering these questions, I will show that the representation of modernity in Aya de Yopougon is a process fraught with tension and that in using this entertainment medium as a platform for teaching readers about everyday life to present a more easily palatable vision of Africa, Abouet runs the risk of irresponsibly oversimplifying the complexities she is trying to convey.

Michelle Bumatay is a fourth year doctoral student at UCLA in the Department of French and Francophone Studies.  Her research focuses on Francophone comics from Sub-Saharan Africa.  She is particularly interested in how comics, as a narrative form, correspond to and differ from novels and films from the same region. She is currently working on the strategies of comics writers and artists in their representations of everyday life and of violence (in particular the Rwandan Genocide).  In addition, she investigates the question of postcolonialism, the limitations of representation, the politics involved with producing comics and how the writers and artists of such comics respond to these multiple factors.

Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, Art History, University of Wales Aberystwyth
The form, function and motifs of Olokun cult objects including earthen sculptures of Benin, southern Nigeria

The paper examines the shrine and objects dedicated to the worship of Olokun among the Edo speaking people of southern Nigeria. The construction of shrine sculptures in Benin depends on local tradition of ideas and practices as well as on innovative elements exclusive to particular communal or individual shrine. Stylistic and iconographic analysis is used to ascertain the similarities between earthen sculptures and the popular bronze castings and ivory carvings of Benin. Just as the use of the bronze and ivory media explain the agency of the Oba (especially his significance in the socio-religious spheres in the society), so also does earthen sculptures constructed in various shrines conceptualize the agency of the deities it depicts, and not necessary the makers. Through the reproduction of the history of Benin kingship and the origin of Olokun worship, some of the conceptualizations that underpin the idea and practice of constructing shrine sculptures is provided. I argue that a significant number of Olokun shrine forms and objects have imbued meanings and functions assigned to them, these qualities makes it appropriate to study them as art forms like the forms on ivory and bronzes.

Ndubuisi Ezeluomba received a BA in fine and applied arts (Painting) and Post Graduate Diploma in Education from the University of Benin (1999 and 2002). In 2003, he received an MA in African studies/ art history from the centre of African studies of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He is currently writing a PhD thesis (Art History) at the School of Art, University of Wales Aberystwyth. He researches African material and visual cultures, and explores ‘Temporality’ and ‘Nothingness’ in paintings and sculptures. Recently published: ‘The Explanation of a Text with reference to the Mud Sculptures of Benin: Black Art Quarterly 12 No. 1 (2007): 33-35. Powerful Representations: The Human Body in Eighteenth Century Benin Art; in Baker Charlotte (Ed.) (2009) Peter Lang publishers.

Hassan Hussein, Islamic Studies, UCLA
An Introduction to African Tradition of African Calligraphy

Rayed Khedher, Anthropology, UCLA
Nouveau Theatre: The Emergence of a New Genre of Theatrical Performance in Modern Tunisia

Tunisia as most other African countries has a long tradition of the performing arts where cultural spaces have often been a breathing hub for artists and intellectuals of various creeds to convene and express their cultural resistance and to lay more emphasis on their Tunisian Arab-Islamic identity. The main concern of Tunisian intellectuals during the colonization period was to use theatre and other forms of art as a means of mobilization and struggle against the French oppressive occupation. Most plays acted as instruments of resistance and political commitment and sought to set the various problems of the Tunisian society in the context of the colonial encounter. The themes dealt with included colonization, rivalries between French settlers and the indigenous population etc. In post-independent Tunisia and with the emergence of the national state, the situation changed as new theatrical performance experiences emerged and led to the proliferation of a variety of new playwright groups. The national theatre got refashioned according to the cultural and political changes in the society with Tunisian intellectuals struggling to gain control over their own national culture. As such the 'free theatre' or the 'New Theatre' as some Tunisian intellectuals called it emerged to tackle a number of tremors that characterize contemporary Tunisian society. In this paper, I examine the development of the theatrical experience in Tunisia and the role theatre played in educating the masses and in sustaining Tunisian national identity. I address some prominent theatrical practices and focus on a particular type of theatre:  the Tunisian New Theatre founded by Fadhel Jaibi by discussing 'Khamsoun' (Captive Bodies), a recent controversial play that recounts the episode of 50 years of Tunisia's independence. Khamsoun is the powerful story of Amel, daughter of two leftist activists, who returns from France to Tunis making a sudden shift from radical Marxism to political Islam. Kamsoun, addresses a myriad of problems facing contemporary Tunisian society such as religious fundamentalism, the lack of civil and political freedoms, arbitrary detention and torture.

Rayed Khedher holds an MA in applied anthropology from California State University, Long Beach and is currently pursuing his Ph.D in socio-cultural anthropology at UCLA. His research examines issues related to transnational migration, media politics, human rights, Islam and social movements. Rayed has also served as a Youth Program Coordinator at El Taller International, an NGO that works to challenge structural violence and searches for alternative discourses on gender, human rights, development and justice.

Katelyn Knox, French & Francophone Studies, UCLA
Cigars, Champagne, and Convertibles: Coupé-décalé Music and the Performance of an African Identity

Though it is now one of the most popular music movements in West Africa, coupé-décalé was not always associated with a musical style.  Originally, the movement was a “way of life” characterized by designer clothing, cigars, champagne, convertibles, and the culture of opulence and was practiced by young members of the Ivorian Diaspora living in Paris known as the “Jet Set”.  When a violent civil war erupted in Côte d’Ivoire in 2002, African music producer David Monsoh believed that this “way of life” could bring a sense of hope and support to the war-torn nation and asked the Jet Set to create a musical style that could be associated with their lifestyle.  Musically, coupé-décalé is similar to its Congolese predecessor, soukous, however, most coupé-décalé lyrics are sung in an Ivorian street slang, nouchi, which literally redefines French words in order to subvert their meaning.  Since its introduction into Côte d’Ivoire in 2003, Ivorian and other West African artists have created their own subgenres of coupé-décale that give a commentary on contemporary social and political issues such as the introduction of bird flu into West Africa.  In this paper I will tease apart the multiple discursive levels that constitute the coupé-décalé movement, focusing primarily on the lyrics, the images presented in coupé-décalé music videos, and the dances associated with coupé-décalé in order to show the ways in which coupé-décalé represents a site of resistance and identity formation that resonates with a wide African and African Diasporic population.

Katelyn Knox is currently a second year graduate student in UCLA's French and Francophone Studies Department.  Her interests include West and Central African literature as well as the ways in which West and Central African music can be read as non-traditional literature and as a site of identity construction.

Mouna Mana, Alumni of Education, UCLA
From the Battle of Algiers to the Lyrical Battle for Ears: A Brief Introduction to Algerian HipHop

This paper will briefly address the history of HipHop and rap in Algeria incorporating archival data and lyric analysis of one of the most popular rap artists there, Lotfi DK. Algeria, a country known for its history with revolution and for giving rise to Rai music, has also developed its own rap and HipHop style and narrative. While many Algerian HipHop artists are known for their art once they receive notoriety or fame in the French music scene, the HipHop movement in Algeria was one of the first to emerge across Africa and the Middle East. HipHop in Algeria continues to be one of the more established and rapidly growing scenes of lyrical expression in North Africa and merits analysis in its own right as it addresses topics of sociopolitical, geopolitical, and even spiritual import.

Dr. Mouna Mana is a graduate of UCLA’s School of Education. Her areas of interest are broad including formative assessment, immigrant and minority students literacy, Arabic language education, and sociolinguistics, in particular the language of HipHop culture. As a multilingual product of immigrants with roots in North Africa and South Central Los Angeles, her attention has always been drawn to issues of language and education as well as language and everyday life. Her explorations of HipHop also include inquiries into the presence of the Arabic language in HipHop culture.

Meleko Mokgosi, Interdisciplinary Studio Program, UCLA
Consuming Afrique

By focusing on Botswana, my thesis proposes an ahistorical approach to African art that  is absolved from the anchorage of the western episteme and taxonomic descriptives (non-defective decoding apparatus); hence this is a call not for a democratic aesthetics but an aesthetics of symmetrical relative autonomy.  Central to exploring this is considering the way art is used and exported out of the country and continent plus how western culture and language have rapidly filtered and obliterated the inside.  One formulation crucial to addressing this is that what is labeled ‘modern’/progressing Africa exist only within the generic forms of premodernism and postmodernism.  Within 40 years, Botswana experienced postmodernism not at the philosophical but at a supra-superficial material level; an experience that was spread and accelerated by ‘independence’.  If left unexamined, what is at stake dissipates due to uncritical consumption, i.e. desire qua commodity fetishism, appropriation, self-exoticism, and xeno-[phobia/philia].  The rapid availability of western culture-consumer-image products has engendered the aestheticization of reality and a deep sense of dislocation of the self from one’s culture; so much so that one performs (since this is now beyond a representation) the self through the means and terms of the outsider.

Meleko Mokgosi’s experience of America is directly connected to his tertiary education – arriving in the US in 2003 to attend college.  As a recent Williams College graduate ’07, he was admitted into the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program ’07 – ’08. He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Studio Program at UCLA.

Bryan Cooper Owens, African Studies, UCLA
Artists of the Green Sahara: An Examination of Early Holocene Rock Art in Africa

The intent of this research is to analyze and interpret Saharan rock art in order to determine what these images can reveal to us about the peoples that inhabited the early Holocene Sahara (10,000 to 2000 BCE).  This art consists of both paintings and stone engravings.   In order for a more complete picture of the people that lived in the Sahara during the early Holocene to be formed, we must examine the art that they left behind.  The art that was created by these early people of the Sahara is an invaluable resource for attempting to understand how they viewed themselves, the world, and their place within it.

Bryan Cooper Owens is a second-year MA student in UCLA’s African Studies program.  His research interests are archaeology and history, focusing on the early Holocene Sahara and the use of art as an interpretive tool within archaeological studies.  Bryan received his BA in Anthropology with minors in Geology and History at West Virginia University and received his MA in African-American Studies at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia.  Bryan participated in excavations at Boxgrove, UK through the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

Katherine Smith, World Arts & Cultures, UCLA
The Arts of "Making Do": The Artists of the Grand Rue

This essay investigates the politics and aesthetics of “making do” as exemplified in the work of three artists living near the Grand Rue, the main street of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  These artists—Frantz (Guyodo) Jacques, André Eugene and Céleur Jean-Hérard—are making assemblages that, like Vodou altars, are piecemeal embodiments of divinity.  Working with recycled materials is a practice as old as Vodou itself, however the artists of the Grand Rue are making work that is political as well as religious.  These materials are the “zombies” of First World commodities sent to Haiti in the form of charity or commence; here they are reanimated in the artists’ workshop as postmodern icons.

Katherine Smith is a PhD Candidate in the Department of World Arts and Cultures.  She has actively engaged with religious and artistic communities in Haiti since 1999 when she first traveled there as an intern for a grassroots peasant association.  She is currently writing her dissertation, titled "Gede Rising: Haiti in the Age of Vagabondaj."

Shanique Streete, African Studies, UCLA
Learning How to Pray: Images of Violence Against Women in the Novels of Amma Darko

This paper explores Amma Darko’s work as a leading contemporary Ghanaian woman writer.  Her works primarily address issues affecting women and children in Ghana and the diaspora.  In the year 2006, when this paper was initially written, Amma Darko had published three books; Beyond the Horizon (year), The Housemaid (year), and Faceless (2003).  The presentation will focus on Faceless, where Darko explores the theme of violence against women through the experiences of some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens, its children.  Here, the paper examines Amma Darko’s social commentary on Ghanaian society as street children face extreme poverty and sometimes violence as a result.

Shanique Streete is currently a first year graduate student in UCLA’s African Studies Program.  Prior to UCLA, Shanique completed her undergraduate education at Tufts University with a bachelor’s degree in English and Women’s Studies.  Shanique was also a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow with the Congressional Hunger Center completing placements with D.C. Hunger Solutions and the National Women’s Law Center.  She also spent a year working as a Staff Assistant/Legislative Analyst with Women’s Policy Inc. in Washington, D.C.

Cassandra Tesch, African Studies, UCLA
From Kuxa Kanema to Dockanema: The Re-emergence of a Mozambican Cinema

In 1975, at independence, president Samora Machel helped create Kuxa Kanema – a weekly documentary film newsreel that was meant to take back the role that film held in Mozambique during the colonial period. As a former Portuguese colony,  Mozambique underflourished beneath Portuguese presence, which stunted the growth of a national film industry, primarily using film as a tool to transmit colonial propaganda at a time with Portugal was attempting to retain legitimacy as a colonial power.  What the Portuguese did introduce, however, was the use of documentary cinema.   In the post-independence period the Mozambican government began to regain the power of documentary cinema as a mode of mass communication and launched a program to fund documentary films.  However, as structural adjustment policies led to the privatization of former government services, these SAP’s brought the Kuxa Kanema film era to a halt.   National film in Mozambique was largely left unnoticed until a group of local cineastes founded, in 2006, Dockanema – the international documentary film festival of Mozambique as a non-governmental agency.   Three decades after the first phase of national cinema, and in a country with no film school to speak of, what does Dockanema mean for Mozambique?  How has the presence of Dockanema lead to the reemergence of a Mozambican cinema?

Cassandra Tesch is a Berkeley-born creative writer who holds a BA in Spanish and Portuguese from UC Berkeley and is a MA candidate in African Studies at UCLA.   As a student of the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking worlds, Cassandra’s research interests include, but are not limited to:  African Cinema and The Lusophone World.  Cassandra is currently writing her MA thesis on the preservation of historical memory in Mozambican cinema.    Additionally, Cassandra has taught Advanced Portuguese at UCLA for three years and has worked on two PhotoVoice projects (using photography as a vehicle for autobiography) in Brazil and Tanzania.   Cassandra’s passion is in teaching and desires to continue to teach around the world after completing her education at UCLA.  Contact:


For campus map, bus/transportation options to UCLA, directions, visit

Cost : Free and open to the public. All day parking available in Structure 9 for $9 or pay-by space in Structure 6.

African Activist Association at UCLA310-825-3686 or 310-619-9986

Download file: Narratives of Now flyer.pdf

Sponsor(s): African Studies Center, UCLA Graduate Division, UCLA Graduate Student Association (GSA), UCLA Social Sciences Council, and UCLA Academic Advancement Program (AAP).