Call for Contributions: Arts and Aid in African Crises

Samuel Mark Anderson's picture
Call for Publications
January 31, 2016
United States
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Human Rights, Music and Music History

The Art of Emergency: 
Aesthetics and Aid in African Crises

More than ever, the relationships between artists and NGOs frame, inspire, and subvert responses to crises across Africa. As they negotiate disaster, both parties juggle the priorities of states, funders, and constituents with radical consequences. On the one hand, humanitarian efforts delimit the conditions of residents’ lived experience and consequently reshape their capacity and potential for future action—whether intentionally, as with sensitization and behavioral change projects, or inadvertently, as with unconscious impositions of Western funding priorities. On the other hand, international interventions are met with local resistance and quests for self-determination, as subjects seek to define their own sociopolitical priorities and mobilize their own conceptions of the role of culture in social change. Imposed, implied, or inspired, these projects stage interventions, choreograph social movements, narrate collective histories, sculpt bodies politic, and orchestrate public debate. The aesthetics of these processes—the means by which they deploy sensation—are fundamental to their reception, implementation, and impact. This volume charts the maneuvers of art through conflict zones across the African continent, advances diverse models of artistic and humanitarian alliance, and urges newly conscientious deliberation on the role of aesthetics in violence through intellectual engagement, artistic innovation, and administrative policy. 

As NGO messaging becomes the primary financial motor for arts production in many African contexts, it introduces dramatic changes to the creative landscape, shifts that have thus far escaped sustained academic scrutiny. Considerable academic attention has been directed towards the efforts of African states to articulate national cultures and sponsor artistic production following independence. In the neoliberal era however, African governments have radically receded from cultural activity, and international NGOs of various forms often rise in their stead as the most visible and affluent patrons of arts. Artists increasingly turn to NGO sponsorship in pursuit of greater influence and funding, while NGOs—both international and local—simultaneously commission arts projects to buttress their interventions and achieve greater reach and marketability. In order to garner support, both artists and NGO patrons frequently and uncritically invoke such tropes as the therapeutic nature of creativity and the power of art to transcend communication barriers. As such, the key values of artistic expression become “healing” and “sensitization” measured in turn by “impact” and “effectivity.” Such rubrics obscure the aesthetic complexities of the art works and the power dynamics that inform their production. Also lost amidst analyses of value and impact are the manifold, often hotly contested negotiations that accompany NGO-driven migrations of aesthetics. Clashes arise as foreign NGOs import foreign aesthetic models and preconceptions about their efficacy, alongside foreign interpretations of politics, medicine, psychology, trauma, memorialization, and so on. Meanwhile, each community embraces its own aesthetic precedents, often at odds with the intentions of humanitarian agencies. The arts are the sphere in which these different worldviews enter into conflict and conversation. The Art of Emergency shifts the discourse on arts activism away from fixations on message and toward diverse investigations of aesthetics, style, and power negotiations. In doing so, this volume brings into focus the conscious and unconscious configurations of humanitarian activism, the social lives it attempts to engage, and the often-fraught interactions between the two.

Such shifts are particularly evident in conflict regions, as states suffering civil war or other forms of political instability have become the exemplary sites most radically reorganized around NGO economies. Academic attention to such wartime sites has its risks, as Africa remains a problematically paradigmatic locus for Western conceptions of “war,” “development,” and “tradition.” This volume directly confronts such characterizations by exploring, through the agentive processes of artistic practice and patronage, the many contradictions arising in the intersection of these themes that undermine simplistic and stereotypical interpretations. Examining arts in conflict zones challenges two entrenched ideas: (1) that creativity inevitably counters violence and/or destruction and (2) that art is eradicated in wartime. Through studies of artistic engagements in numerous African conflicts, The Art of Emergency explores the spectrum of creative possibilities that accompany war. 

The subjects of aesthetics and activism cross academic boundaries and are interdisciplinary concerns. This publication invites work by scholars in the fields of African studies, anthropology, art history, cinema, development and public policy, ethnomusicology, global health, media studies, performance studies, political science, post-colonial studies, and visual studies. Additionally, we seek to place academics, artists, and activists in conversation, and welcome contributions from each of these perspectives. In order to represent the aesthetic impact of the work we highlight, we look forward to hosting a robust companion website featuring artistic works, interviews, documentaries, examples in various media, and other research data, and we welcome suggestions for diverse digital humanities approaches.

Possible themes include but are not limited to:

•    Arts before, during, and after wartime
•    Aesthetics in/of/against NGO interventions
•    Targeting of arts, artists, heritage, or culture by combatants
•    Militarizations of art, culture, and/or tradition
•    Representations of past/present/future violence
•    Exposures or exclusions of ideas/individuals through arts
•    Propaganda
•    Arts of revolution or rebellion
•    Uses of hip-hop, graffiti, and other globalized forms of resistance aesthetics
•    Artists in various war-displaced contexts: e.g. refugee camps, diasporas
•    Artists’ efforts to bring local conflicts to international attention
•    Arts and NGOs’ roles in the consolidation of state violence
•    Uses of ritual and performance in reconciliation and other postwar projects
•    Reenactments, memorials, and other arts of remembrance
•    Transitional justice mechanisms as contexts for artistic performance or as performances in and of themselves
•    Arts as mechanisms for resolving or triggering trauma
•    Arts, NGOs, and domestic abuse or other forms of everyday violence
•    Arts as media for public health messaging
•    Aesthetics of journalism
•    Impact of changing arts patronage models on aesthetics and livelihoods
•    Conflicts of semiotic readings between international, national, and local actors
•    Imageries of suffering in international news and fundraising priorities
•    Aesthetic effects of different media (radio, video, internet, etc.) on sensitization projects
•    Aesthetic approaches to social change (e.g. Platonic ideal, Aristotelian catharsis, Brechtian remove, Freirean pedagogy, local?)
•    Theatre for Development or other models of practice
•    Role of urgency/efficiency/expediency in generating artistic styles
•    Role of art in generating affects of urgency/efficiency/expediency

In addition, we plan to host representational diversities of:
•    Geography (North, West, East, Central, and Southern Africa)
•    Artistic media (music, theatre, dance, graphics, street art, radio, film, etc.)
•    Stage and form of conflict (rebellion, insurgency, invasion, civil war, postwar, etc.)
•    Type of NGO (international, community-based, human rights, public health, environmental, religious, etc.)
•    Political perspective
•    Academic discipline

As a pioneering volume on the topic of art and NGOs in Africa, The Art of Emergency aims to catalyze meaningful dialogue and facilitate opportunities for discussion between contributors. To that end, the publication will be the result of a two-day symposium hosted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in October 2016 that will include formal presentations, roundtable discussions, and an editorial workshop. All contributing authors are expected to participate in the symposium. In the interest of stimulating novel interdisciplinary conversations, we will be selecting contributors—scholars, artists, and practitioners—based on the quality of their original theoretical contributions (beyond reports from specific sites) and their mutual legibility.

We expect to adhere to the following agenda: 
Jan 31: Initial abstracts (300 words) to be submitted. 
Feb 28: Contributors selected and notified. 
Apr 15: Longer summaries (1,500-2,000 words), bibliographies, and CVs requested by our prospective publisher. 
October: Symposium hosted at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
December: Final chapter submission (10000 words or less).

For consideration in this volume, please submit your name, affiliation, contact information, and an abstract of no more than 300 words by 31 January 2016 to

Chérie Rivers Ndaliko (Department of Music, UNC–Chapel Hill) and Samuel Mark Anderson (Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard), editors

Contact Info: 

Samuel Mark Anderson (Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard):

Contact Email: