„Because All Black Lives Matter“ – Introduction to an event with Rozena Maart and Natasha A. Kelly

Am 02.11.2022 fand im Rahmen des globale° Literaturfestivals eine Veranstaltung in englischer Sprache mit der Wissenschaftlerin Rozena Maart und der Autorin Natasha A. Kelly statt, die sich der Frage nach "dem Bild der Schwarzen Frau" in der Vergangenheit, sowie der Gegenwart widmeten. Ausgangspunkt war die von Natasha A. Kelly in der Kunsthalle Bremen ins Leben gerufene Intervention zu dem Gemälde Schlafende Milli von Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, das jedoch nur einer der Ansätze für das Gespräch zu den Darstellungen Schwarzer Frauen in Museen und Gesellschaft war. Maimuna Sallah wandte sich zu Beginn der Veranstaltung in einleitenden Worten an das Publikum, ihre Rede ist an dieser Stelle veröffentlicht. 
© Matej Meza, globale°

Welcome to the globale° festival – the festival for transnational and border crossing literature. Today’s event focuses on the image of the Black woman in past and present European history and takes place here at the Kunsthalle Bremen, presented and hosted to you by our dear guests, Dr Natasha A. Kelly and Prof Rozena Maart.

Dr Natasha A. Kelly is a writer, curator, director, activist and publisher. She has a PhD in Communication Studies and Sociology with a research focus on German colonialism and Black feminism.

Her thesis “Afrokultur” was adapted for theatre, and she had her film debut with “Millis Awakening” in 2018. She is also the editor of the anthologies Sisters & Souls 1 and 2, which brings together contemporary Black authors whose writings are inspired by the Afrogerman poet May Ayim.

In addition to her consultations for various art and cultural institutions, Kelly currently exhibits her artistic intervention called “Who was Milli?” here at the Kunsthalle Bremen. This intervention is based on the painting “Sleeping Milli” by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. It is part of the currently running exhibition “Remix”.

Prof Rozena Maart is a Professor of English literature, philosophy, and psychoanalysis, as well as a writer and poet. She lives in Canada and South Africa and is a Research Ambassador for the University of Bremen. As an award-winning scientist, her work critises gender-based violence and apartheid. Therefore, she started with four other women, the first Black feminist organisation in South Africa called “Women Against Repression”.

Furthermore, Maart examines the intersections between and among political sciences, philosophy, Black consciousness, Derridean deconstruction and psychoanalysis, by addressing questions of race, gender, sexuality, coloniality, and identity.

My name is Maimuna Sallah, I’m very much looking forward to today’s panel talk but before we start, I’d quickly like to thank the initiators of this festival as well as the cooperating partners of this event, the Kunsthalle Bremen, the Bremen Council for Integration and the University of Bremen.

The slogan of this year’s globale° is “Togetherness”. And the following talk focuses in that regard on what defines the co-existence of people living within a society. Which intersectional entanglements and struggles unite us? How do imperial powers, colonial continuities or various forms of discrimination try to violently separate us? What members of a society are visible? Who dominates, governs, and represses? And on the contrary, who is made invisible, alienated, foreignized or exploited? Each of these questions points to the connection between the theme of the festival and this panel talk.

If we talk about these power dynamics and look at the history of Black people, especially the history of Black women in Europe, it is a history of discontinuity according to the telling of the white and colonial gaze. Characterized by turning Black identities and biographies invisible and denying or silencing their practices of resistance.

However, looking at Black women’s history from an empowering, appreciative, and honouring perspective, very different narratives emerge that oppose racialised, exoticising, and fetishising points of view.

An emancipatory perspective on Black women in the history of Europe, and therefore also in the history of Germany, recognises personal biographies and owned identities. They have a place in life, even if society tries to deny their existence. Lives with dreams, desires, achievements, and love. A life as mothers, daughters, sisters, siblings and souls. Trans*, non-binary, queer, afrodiasporic, dark-skinned, light-skinned, Black existences.

Because All Black Lives Matter.

Too many people do not know the story of a Sarah “Saartje” Bartmann, a Josephine Baker, or a sleeping Milli. If they do, it is usually biased and infused by racist and sexist stereotypes. Their stories are often erased, reduced to the body or pushed into the position of being victims. This is “The Danger of a single story,” as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said.

The perception of the Black woman, whether in music, art, literature, teachings or science and the recognition of their care work, at home and in paid labour, is now beautifully reshaped and shifted by resistance and power, especially by worldwide protests within and beyond the activism of the Black Lives Matter movement. It is also carried by gentleness and tenderness. It relies on breathing regardless.

As we criticize colonial continuities, it is not only about accusations but also about broadening perspectives, rooting for visibility and embracing representation. To give all those people, all those Black women, the attention they deserve. To break with the eternal seeming and tiring framing of the stories in which their efforts do not exist or count.

It is about time to dismantle patriarchal, white, and Eurocentric perceptions. Women’s solidarity must not end at European or any other borders. We must stand in solidarity with all struggles and all revolutionary freedom movements. As Audre Lorde already clearified: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

This applies universally in addition to the slogan of “Togetherness”, as also to the slogan:

women, life, freedom.

And with these introductory words, I want to hand over to our guests.

Thank you.

Maimuna Sallah ist Aktivistin und Speakerin im rassismuskritischen Kontext und studiert Transnationale Literaturwissenschaft an der Universität Bremen. Ihr Interessens- und Arbeitsschwerpunkt liegt auf der Dekonstruktion von kolonialen Kontinuitäten an der Schnittstelle von Bildungs- und Kulturpolitik.

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