“In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless…”
(Borges, On Exactitude in Science)[ppw id=”95610621″ description=”Pay only $1 to continue reading” price=”$1″][/ppw]
Since its launch in 2011, every edition of the Chronic has engaged, forcefully, with this question: When will the new emerge – and if it is already here, how do we decipher it? But few editions of the paper have addressed this query as centrally as our current project on cartographies.
We’re using texts and testimonies as data (including fiction, where it provides a deeper truth) to produce beautiful representations of the new that is emerging or re-emerging across the continent geo-politically and otherwise. We’re seeing “secret countries”; Qaddhafi’s financial and military network; soft power (foreign cultural agencies; the entertainment complex and its relationship with the trendy “Africa Rising”); new trade routes (scrap cities, soccer cities, religious and market cities, drug and prostitution ports and more); water conflicts (tied to land and water grabs); neopats and repats (new and returnees migrants from the West and Asia); pidgins (meeting points of major language groups, spoken and written); transnational armies (that explode the fiction of national armies and various players in armed conflicts). And more.
We are aware of the specificity of each country – we live in them. But we’re not producing maps of any individual country precisely because what we’re contesting is the country-focus approach. We’re mapping political, economic and cultural strategies that show how dated that approach is, that it has more to do with political correctness and some idea of “post-colonial Africa” than the reality we experience and imagine. We dispute the “fact” that our histories begin with the Berlin Conference of 1884-85.
We are aware of cartography’s histories. However, we ask: what if the maps were made by Africans for our own use, to understand and make visible our realities and imaginaries? How do we shift our knowledge of the continent from “what it should be” to what we experience and imagine it to be – how to make visible networks of trade, power structures, movement of people and ideas as we experience them? How does it shift the perception we have of ourselves and how we make life on this continent? We do not know, and this is why we’re doing this work. Who no know go know. And we’re not doing it alone, we are collaborating with Kwani: sharing editorial resources and co-disseminating the outcome of this work. Together we’ve invited writers and artists to map the new, in words and images.
More soon. Peace.