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I D O N’T K N O W IF W E ’R E WINNIN G Kopano Maroga & VOORUIT


i d o n o t b e l ie v e w e w il l w in. i d o n o t b e l ie v e h o p e s h o ul d b e a p r e r e q uis it e f o r t r y in g a n y way. Alok Vaid-Menon



The pieces that follow here were catalyzed by The May Events, a series of performances, talks, screenings and installations curated by Silvia Bottirolli at the Arts Centre Vooruit in Ghent, Belgium. They are a collection of thoughts, feelings, provocations and exhortations around the ideas raised over the duration of the program. I was commissioned by Vooruit to create a publication in response to the program. As part of the process of creating this publication I spoke to some of the artists involved: Roland Gunst, Jamila Johnson-Small and Michiel Vandevelde. A huge “thank you� goes out to all three of them for taking time out to sit and talk/write to me and for providing some of the inspiration and content for this publication.

Excerpt from Paradise Now (1968 - 2018) a theatrical performance by Michiel Vandevelde & fABULEUS presented during he May Event

“I wa nt to tal k abo ut my des pai r or, rat her , my vis ion wit hou t hop e. My des pai r is bas ed on an int ell ect ual und ers tan din g of the fai lur e of the pro mis e of we ste rn mo der nit y. Fro m an ear ly age , I hav e min gle d wit h soc ial mo vem ent s, tak ing par t in ma ny waves of soc ial upr isin g bec aus e I thi nk that, alb eit def eat ed and des pai rin g, mo vem ent s are the car rie rs of a pos sib ilit y that is not wh olly ext ing uis hed .�


On Hope I think I must have been 12 when I started having suicidal ideation: the mental state of imagining yourself killing yourself. I can still remember the first time I self-harmed. I was in seventh grade history class. It was mid-morning. There was near-white sunlight streaming through the window making everything look holy. I was in a room full of my friends. I remember feeling a hopeless sinking. A black hole flowering at the apex of my pelvis, and I was crumbling into it. Until I made six neat incisions across my left wrist with my scissors: ladder rungs I used to climb out of my skin. I think the thing that amazes me most about this is that, in a room full of my friends- supervised by an adult- no one seemed to notice. Whether that's a statement on our collective self-interest or lack of social proprioception or this hyper-individualist society we've constructed, I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that often the greatest shifts in our lives take place with no one but ourselves to bear witness. At the many, many burials of all the people we used to be, more often than not, we will be our only mourners. Sometimes silent; often weeping; always alone.

i thin k hop e is an opiate for rag e i thin k hop e is fut ile wit hou t rec ogn izin g grie f i thin k hop e is an imp ote nt pol itic if we are mea nt to hop e blin dly i thin k hop e has bee n use d to pac ify opp res sed peo ple bec aus e if we hav e hop e: we wak e up we go to wor k we buy our gro cer ies we pay our tax es we vot e i don ’t thin k cap ital ism can wor k wit hou t hop e i thin k hop e wil l kill us if we do not lea rn how to hon our grie f i thin k it mig ht kill us reg ard les s


On Empire It’s always a mindfuck for me being in Europe. Particularly any one of the colonial superpowers. For me, coming from the postcolony of South Africa (though the “post” is debatable [more on that later]), to be in Europe is to be in the most successful looting project on planet Earth. To be in the epicentre of expropriation. The pillar of pillage. And to be in Belgium, a country that has as part of its legacy: King Leopold II (one of the most vehemently violent colonial overlords in history); the co-orchestrated assassination of the Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister (Patrice Lumumba) and chocolate -the legacy of which is rooted in the violent colonization of the Congo- the mindfuckery reaches astronomical proportions.

Eve n sw eet nes s can scr atc h the thr oat, so sti r the sug ar we ll Ocean Vuong, Notebook Fragments.

I had a friend who often performs in Europe ask me how I found it here… “Don’t you think it’s the most savage place in the world?” “...” An easy answer would have been, “Yes”. Another answer, “No.” A truer answer: “The man I love calls this home/ I’ve never been able to get around this easy as a pedestrian/ They actually pay for my work here/ I think that’s because they have so much stolen wealth to pay for it with/ I don’t know if that’s a superficial and historically reductive summary of the European economy/ Probably not/ I don’t know how to reconcile what this place has done to my home with what my home has done to me as a result/ All my mental illnesses are rooted in trauma which is rooted in colonialism which is rooted in .../ Original sin/ Europe is an African project/ Africa is a European fiction/ European sovereignty is one of the biggest fabrications of the 20th century/ I don’t where this leaves us/ I don’t know where this leaves me...”

The difficulty of being in this space is finding a way to exist here that does not forgo nuance and yet does not acquiesce to apathy. What I mean by this is something that the scholar W.E.B du Bois terms “double consciousness”: the state of internal conflict experienced by oppressed people in the context of an oppressive society. How to live in a context that is actively erasing/ oppressing you? To travel between two worlds, the global north and the global south, and to see the differing material re-



alities in these spaces renders the theory of “double consciousness” vividly visible. The direct correlation between the development of the global north and the underdevelopment of the global south is harrowing to witness first hand. To see what it means to live postcolonially, that is to exist in the aftermath of the orchestrated genocide and strategic disenfranchisement of entire peoples, and to subsequently witness the continuation of that project in the forms of constructed third world dependency under the guise of “development” makes the neocolonial project seem completely intractable. How do you begin to hope for any kind of liberation in a structure that necessitates your own destruction in order to replicate itself? How do you begin to hope for any kind of liberation when that self-same structure has been the vehicle through which you understand and navigate the world? How do you begin to conceive of any kind of liberation when your entire frame of reference is in the context of oppression? How do you get free when you’ve built a life within and from oppression? This is where I get stuck. My existence is so wholly implicated in the colonial project that in some ways I am of it. I cannot point to the imperialism of the English language without that same finger landing in my mouth, my dreams, my way of making the world manifest in words. I cannot point to the aggressive colonial history of Belgium without pointing at my love for my partner who comes from here. I cannot rage against the machine without raging against what it has made of me. And this is where I sit. In the double consciousness of trying to concurrently make and unmake myself.

empire means they will take your shit / and then ask you where it went / another day another noose for me to hang from / strange fruit ripe for the plucking / words singed just under my soft palate / now wrung from my throat on command / how many different ways can I say:

“i am hur tin g and the re is no lan gua ge to nam e the wo und ” colo nial isM / apar thei d post-col onia lism / post-apa rthe id neo- colo nial ism / neo- apar thei d cish eter opat riar chy whit ecap ital istp atri arch y there is no terminology that can theorize me out of what was lost to me before i could know loss / what has buried me in grief rich enough to take root in / flowering azure blossoms / reaping another harvest of heaving /another field humming with all mine / that lay buried yet unrested somewhere someone raised their fist / and now it is on some shirt in some department store / and they are dead / somewhere someone raised their voice / and now it is sampled in some song somewhere / and they are dead somewhere someone said,






and now it has been written about/photographed/exhibited / and they are dead / the scream heard around the world / but failed to launch a single ship / empire means they will assassinate you one century / and commemorate you the next / empire means they will remember you / but only after you are dead / empire means even your memory / is something to be mined i don’t want to have another conversation about empire / but i have to keep my trauma fresh and watered / have to keep dancing some kind of death jive / so that what has happened remains clear in my memory if i cannot have freedom let me have hope / if i cannot have hope let me have time / if i cannot have time let me have memory / if my memory must be mined let it be mine / if it cannot be mine let it be buried / if it must be buried let it be a seed / if the seed cannot grow then let it lay in good ground / let the seed that refused to take root / know an eternity of stillness / circular prophecy / rainbow remembrance / blood sacrifice

“i don ’t kno w if we ’re win nin g”

On Home I come from a country that does not exist outside of the context of protest: South Africa. As in Apartheid, South Africa. As in Mandela, South Africa. As in international beacon to democratic transition, South Africa. As in #RainbowNation, South Africa. As in #PostRacialism, South Africa. That is to say, I come from the resultant fiction that was birthed from the friction between the European colonial project and the indigenous, African survival project. I come from a place where the ground is thick with the blood of people who fought for nothing more than the right to live. And now they are dead. I come from a place where people resisted and lost. Resisted again and lost again. I come from a conquered country; a conquered people. A people who have been given no moment to rest nor mourn. After the 1994 democratic elections for the first time in the history of the political system enforced as a result of European contact the country was politically represented by a majority black political party with a black president. The narrative surrounding South Africa became that of a liberated nation. I believe this political moment is relatively well known around the world and, in terms of historical precedent, it is one of the few examples of a post-colony achieving a democratic, majority turnover of political power without the advent of civil war (though it requires a stretch of the imagination



to conceive of colonialism and apartheid as anything other than war on the indigenous peoples of South Africa). Under superficial scrutiny this would look like something to celebrate. Maybe it was. But what was not included in this narrative was the unspeakable cost paid for a liberation deferred.

On Aesthetics I went to an exhibition on the May ‘68 protests in Belgium at Bozar (The Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels). A week or two before they “recreated” an occupation on their facade. It was meant to commemorate the occupation of the Centre that took place during the ‘68 protests. It made me mad. It made me sick. To imagine that in some places protest can be reduced to an aesthetic device and, elsewhere, it is a singular mode of survival. In 2015 I formed part of the protesting body of students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) against the memorialization of colonial figures on campus. In particular that of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes, whose likeness sat etched from stone in pride of place in the middle of UCTs main campus atop a foothill in Cape Town surveying his domain like something out of The Lion King.

Excerpt from Paradise Now (1968 - 2018)

W e nev er h a d to fi gh t fo r m uc h. W her ea s ther e is m uc h to fi gh t fo r . Y et, in a n a ge w her e pr o te st h a s li tt le or op po si te ef fe ct s, to b e so ft in the fa ce of a v io le n t po li ti ca l a nd ec on omic sy st em, se em s the only po ss ib il it y w e a r e le ft w it h.

Sto ry tim e: Cec il Joh n Rho des was the Prim e Min iste r of the Cap e Col ony (no w Cap e Tow n) fro m 189 0 till 189 6 (am ong oth er thin gs). He is con side red by man y to hav e set up the leg islative and adm inis trative arc hite ctu re of Apa rth eid1 thr oug h his inst itut ion of the Gle n Gre y Act 2. Rho des ’ viru len t rac ism is bes t enc aps ulated by som e cho ice quo tes of his own : “...t he nat ive is to be tre ate d as a chil d and den ied the fra nch ise. We mus t ado pt a sys tem of des pot ism in our rel atio ns wit h the bar bar ians of Sou th Afr ica” “I pre fer lan d to nigg ers .” 1: Apartheid was a legal and structural system of racial segregation instituted in South Africa from 1948 - 1990 2: A piece of legislature that constructed the first divisions between the white settlers and indigenous peoples of South Africa


This was the man whose statue sat in the middle of the one of the (supposedly) most prominent universities on the African continent in post-colonial, post-apartheid South Africa in 2015. Fact: stranger than fiction The movement was dubbed #RhodesMustFall. A movement that later gave way to the #FeesMustFall movement, in protest of exorbitant school fees at a tertiary level in South Africa. It’s hard to imagine that, in the 21st century, these are things that we have to protest for. It’s not hard to imagine the raw fear I felt the first time the police arrived on campus in the dead of night to “de-escalate the protests”. The “de-escalation” ended in my first confrontation with stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas. A combination I would become all too familiar with in the coming weeks as protest after protest the police or private security (mercenaries hired by G4S security company, the same company hired by the current Israeli government to secure prisons where Palestinian political prisoners are detained without trial) were sent to “de-escalate the protests”with near militaristic force. In the year after the protest I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. The following year I developed chronic insomnia after forming part of the #FeesMustFall protests of 2016. I’ve been in and out of therapy ever since going through rounds of various medications. I was one of the lucky ones. A lot of us who were involved either got arrested (some cases are still pending today), expelled, failed as a result of missing class to protest or simply weren’t able to return after the trauma of being pelted with stun grenades or trampled and brutalised

by police officers and/or private security or shot with rubber bullets or sprayed by chemicalized water cannons or or or or or or or or or… That is to say, there are those of us for whom protest is neither an aesthetic nor a commemorative device.

In conversation with Jamila Johnson-Small In Jamila Johnson-Small’s installation “Meditation Tapes” she creates a kind of sanctuary within a hiking tent that can fit about three or four people. A place for a moment’s respite. Inside there are pillows to lie down on and a set of headphones connected to a recorder. What plays through the headphones is what Johnson-Small describes as a “not quite radio show/listening space/headache/mindfuck/mixtape on the topics of control and compromise, wondering about new aesthetics for in-absorbable disruption”. I found myself in the Meditation Tapes tent after a hypnotic dance performance by Alesandro Sciarroni -a meditation in itself on “turning and turning in the ever widening gyre” 3. Once the headphones were on I could hear voices talking in 3: From William B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming”



a kind of free-flowing, stream of consciousness style accompanied by a sometimes melodic, sometimes not sonic underscore. It made me think about what it might have been like inside the womb. I couldn’t follow the voices and instead got caught up in the stream floating somewhere outside linear cognition. It was the safest I had felt during my entire tenure in The May Events. The first time it felt like I wasn’t required to activate any of my critical reasoning and just allow myself to float on this free association stream of consciousness. I wondered whether this is what could be meant by “safe space”. I’m not a huge believer in the idea of “safe spaces”, people carry violence with them regardless of intent or political correctness. But maybe the potential of safe spaces lies in curating environments that suspend cognition, if even only momentarily. That neither here nor there moment between waking and sleeping. After The May Events I approached Johnson-Small via email to talk more about the program and some of the things she’d catalyzed in my mind thereafter: On Sun, 17 Jun 2018 at 18:36, Kopano Maroga wrote: KOPANO: Yo queen! Hope you are well and flourishing! Like I said on insta, I'm trying to get in contact with some of the folks that were part of the May Events to inform what I'm gathering and writing for the publication. At this point I'm not set on making use of these conversations

in any way over and above letting them catalyze space and time for reflection. If I would like to use your words or quote you in any way I'll be sure to contact you to check in first. I thought I'd loosely structure this with some of the thoughts I've been having post the May Events and get your thoughts on some things that have been orbiting around my thoughtsphere. Please feel free to respond with as little or as much as you want to whatever interests you. The thing that really stood out for me at the May Events was the way the installations/performances etc catalyzed really interesting conversations over dinner/lunch/ drinks/on the patio. I'm really interested in that conversational place and that practice of coming together from our corners of the globe to break bread and...

JAMILA: I love the way you write this KOPANO: ...share our stories of overcoming and being overcome The working title for the publication is "I Don't Know if We're Winning". It came from a thought that got sparked in my mind when I was listening to one of the "round table" conversations with Pamina, Michiel and Antony. I don't know if you were there for this one?




KOPANO: It's also connected to the conversation you had with Ilse and Margarita. Basically, I'm thinking about how how countercultures and liberation movements and mass articulations towards freedom become appropriated and commodified by dominant systems. JAMILA: Yes, what is counter culture today and is it even possible to be oppositional (anymore)? What are/would be the contemporary strategies? KOPANO: Like, how Pride started out as a black and trans led queer riot against the police/state and has been turned into a celebration of white, male homonormativity (depending on where you are) and how feminism has been white washed and used to silence black and brown people and champion white mediocrity or, in the case of Hillary Clinton's candidacy for president of the US, aggressive state nationalism. You raised some really interesting things for me in the conversation you had with Ilse and Margarita in relation to #MeToo and contemporary feminisms. You said a few things that really stuck with me: "...what is the cost of disclosure" "...these people are not only symbols but people" and, to paraphrase, "the politic of "we" is a lazy politic". I'm really interested in your ideas around identity politics.

JAMILA: How do you define ‘identity politics’ here?

KOPANO: I think this politic often gets used to make people objects of their presentation rather than agents of their experience but I also think it can be really valuable when we work against an erasive politic of "we"... What are your thoughts? Can you expand on your ideas around "the cost of disclosure"? JAMILA: Something to do with the quest for visibility and the idea/ illusion (delusion?) that this will be emancipatory as an end in itself. That to be seen it’s necessary to reveal yourself and revealing yourself in an environment that is harmful for you and has built itself through the control of your invisible back, your invisible cunt, your invisible blood, can be a call to arms, a call to be included (in that toxic violence, from a different position) and also can serve to provide the oppressor with better tools whilst you re-enter traumas in order to be seen... Did someone say this in that conversation? (Can’t remember) But then, on the cost of disclosure’s like if everything is validated by individual accounts and exposure - moments when things rise to the surface and become visible - when is the structure considered to be at fault and it’s continual failings, that we all contribute to somehow (different ‘how’s eh), reconsidered and recalibrated also through different behaviour? I am thinking right now of the prison system and incarceration as punishment ...and then/also something about the case by case basis of the metoo movement, even if it is towards the idea that ‘we’ have ‘all’ experienced certain violences because they are systemic, I can’t seem to reconcile the fact that to be included you as an individual need



to state publicly what is supposedly already known or understood because that ‘knowledge’ apparently can only stand up with continued validation of personal experiences of sexual harassment and assault. Which sort of seems to defeat the object. Or not be ‘knowing’ or ‘understanding’ at all..? So the personal cost of disclosure being something but that maybe it can also serve to perpetuate a culture that refuses to accept certain things as currently being facts ... I mean, I am not saying anything new here or anything very well rounded (!) but my two pennies from the tube X

On Grief and fing ers are col d i wan t to wri te abo ut joy and yet can only mus ter tun dra aft er arc tic tun dra kha lil gibr an wri tes that “yo ur joy is you r sor row unm ask ed” what to do wit h a bar e fac e wra cke d wit h grie ving

what to do wit h the pit in 28 my sto mac h whe re obs idia n flo wer s blo om in och re hue s whe n i cur l into mys elf it is to kee p fro m spil ling ove r to fill the grie ving bar rel wit h an upt urn ed lau ght er the und ers ide and und eRwor ld whe re all my dea d lay bur ied and heaving blo od it wou ld be eno ugh to be rel eas ed, if just for a mom ent, out of the sea s of had es and into per sep hon e’s roc k poo ls the re,

i hav e bee n tol d, she wee ps gol den tea rs wro ugh t fro m an uns pea kab le sad nes s


har bou ring drif ted sou ls in saf e por t the re is goo d com pan y and in grie f to be had in this the re is som e res pite som eth ing like joy wit h a sub tle gau ze of blu e we are a mel anc hol ic so we nee d not peo ple mak e any apo log ies for what has bes et us rife as a viru s and just as dea dly han ds are stil l col d; hea d is hum min g a death dirg e loo king for goo d soil to lay dow n in and hop e aga inst hop e to tak e roo t


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This publication would not have been possible without being commissioned by the Arts Centre Vooruit. In particular I would like to thank Matthieu Goeury for approaching me to create this publication and providing the context to find ways to be creative with my grief and the grief of many. A huge thank to Jonas Nachtergaele and Dries Deriemaeker of Topocopy for their print and design support and for running with and elevating what I was envisioning. Y’all are fucking dope! A huge thank you to the three artists I interviewed for the publication; Jamila Johnson-Small, Roland Gunst and Michiel Vandevelde. Your insights were seminal to what this publication became. Huge thanks go to the thinkers and makers that have been fundamental in the ideas present in this publication: Alok Vaid-Menon, Johanna Hedva for her Sick Woman Theory, Ocean Vuong, Thulile Gamedze as well as all the artists and thinkers work I was privileged enough to bear witness to during the May Events: Silvia Bottiroli (curator), Boyzie Cekwana and the students of KASK, Pamina Coulon, Anton Jager, Ivana Mßller, Margarita Tsomou, Ilse Ghekiere, Alessandro Sciaroni and my South African sisters FAKA. Lastly this publication is dedicated to my community back home in South Africa and for all we have lost. Aluta continua.

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Kopano Maroga & Vooruit - I don't know if we're winning  

Kopano Maroga was commissioned by Vooruit to create a publication in response to The May Events, a series of performances, talks, screenings...

Kopano Maroga & Vooruit - I don't know if we're winning  

Kopano Maroga was commissioned by Vooruit to create a publication in response to The May Events, a series of performances, talks, screenings...

Profile for vooruit