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The Chimurenga Library

“History is the science of the state, while memory is the art of the stateless.” – Wendell Hassan Marsh, ‘Re-Membering the Name of God’, The Chronic, New Cartographies, March 2015

The Chimurenga Library is an ongoing invention into knowledge production and the archive that seeks to re-imagine the library as a laboratory for extended curiosity, new adventures, critical thinking, daydreaming, socio-political involvement, partying and random perusal. Curated by Chimurenga, it offers an opportunity to investigate the library and the archive as conceptual and physical spaces in which memories are preserved and history decided, and to reactivate them.

It started in 2009 as an ongoing archiving project that profiles independent pan African paper periodicals from around the world, and quickly evolved and expanded to include several major research projects, such as Panafest – the story of four pan African festivals that shaped public cultures on the continent (Dakar 66, Algiers 69, Kinshasa 74 and Lagos 77).

The Chimurenga Library focuses on how we forge communities, produce and circulate knowledge and operate in the border zones between informal/formal, licit/illicit, chaotic/ordered, etc. Our research has yielded an eclectic repository of stories and anecdotes, digital copies of documents, artworks, images, sound and film footage, as well as books, magazines and albums. Our methodology is often closer to detective work, replete with entirely unexpected fortuitous coincidences, even encounters with ghosts, allegorical and otherwise.

The Library recognises people as knowledge and memory as the art of the stateless. It engages a politics of friendship; a process of discussion and discovery that takes place in various public spaces and contexts. Since 2009, we have used this methodology to stage interventions and major exhibitions in libraries and archives around the world, ranging from large public libraries such as the City of Cape Town library and the San Francisco Public Library, and small community libraries and art spaces such as the Keleketla Library in Johannesburg and the Show Room in London, to public spaces such Freedom Park, Lagos where people replaced books.

All our exhibitions embody the proposition evoked by the title by “finding oneself,” as Moses Molelekwa put it, on library shelves and in communities; quietly encroaching upon existing classification systems; and proposing a navigation system, clearly subjective and affective, for content found both in Chimurenga and the collection of the library, archive or community we are working in. Chimurenga Library exhibitions include public talks and conversations, and live performances and interviews, that function amidst cartographic installation, mapping ‘routes’ that link ideas with people, writing, research, music, publications, record cover design and other materials.