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Kunsthistorisches Institut

About MAM

Multiple Artistic Mobilities – Travelling Artists from/to African Countries and European German-Speaking Countries (MAM)

Multiple Artistic Mobilities (MAM) is a research project and network of scholars, which focuses on itinerant artists who travelled between various African countries, including Benin, Ghana, Senegal, Namibia, Zaïre, Ethiopia, Egypt or Nigeria, and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Austria and Switzerland from the 1950s to the 1980s. MAM seeks to collate and analyse multiple transcultural exchanges between artists, institutions and other agents in the field of visual arts during this period of decolonisation.

MAM sets a particular focus on artists’ individual trajectories and explores the diversity of experiences beyond national or institutional affiliations. The research will pursue aspects of micro-history, based on case-studies with individual historical and political circumstances. In acknowledgment of the problematics of a notion of ‘German-speaking countries’, the network will be aware of local differences, homogenized diverse histories and cultural practices, as well as of the limitations of entering the research through a mapping by nation-states. While taking into account the repression and neglect of colonial histories which European German-speaking countries had in common, the potency of research about artistic cross-cultural practices lies in a framework ranging from macro-political protocols to self-organized travel infrastructures. Given the socio-political complexities of its field of research MAM aims to retrace the entangled histories and cross-cultural foundations of cosmopolitan modernisms. The project critically reflects on different approaches in relation to post-colonial and de-colonial discourses. As a network of international researchers, we expect to apply current trends of academic transdisciplinarity and to consider the multiple epistemologies and historical perspectives which frame artist’s own trajectories and our contemporary research. MAM aims to develop a dynamic field of methodological approaches with younger researchers as well as with collaborative partner organizations.

In the 1950s, during the early stages of the Global Cold War, state and private programs began to promote the reception of art from different African and German-speaking countries. At the same time a number of newly independent African nation states such as Ghana or Guinea Bissau actively sought artistic, political and economic exchanges and supported these journeys with grants and scholarship programs. Different political framings, expectations and timings of socialist and non-socialist artist travel context and exchanges are part of the research agenda comprising both individual and institutional activities. There were also instances of privately or self-funded travels by artists both ways. The resulting encounters and networks form part of the long-term processes of decolonisation, and the specificity of distinct political transformations, struggles and counter-discourses.

One of MAM’s primary concerns is to identify and to map individual artists’ travels and itineraries, their agendas and effects: Who is known to have travelled from German-speaking European countries to African countries and vice versa? Who travelled across different countries in the South? What was the impact of travel and exchanges which were funded by state grants? How did individual journeys change individual artists’ works and career trajectories? Particular attention will be payed to international support networks, study programs and practice-based transformations. How did artists’ travels influence collecting and exhibiting practices in diverse African and European German-speaking countries? We will study what the processes of cultural knowledge production may be and to what extent the geo-political location of the producers plays a role. MAM seeks to assess which resources currently exist that provide information on artists’ travels and commissioned works while also examining the role of cultural institutions, universities and art schools. Based on this MAM will investigate in how far transregional relationships and cultural diplomacy shape the (re-)negotiation, dissemination and development of different concepts of artistic practice.

Developed at the University of Zurich, in partnership with the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Geneva University of Art and Design, the Museum Rietberg, University of Abomey-Calavi, University of Art and Design, Offenbach am Main, and University College London, MAM’s objective is to nurture critical debate, provide an international infrastructure for early-career researchers and peer-to-peer dialogue as well as to foster innovative approaches to knowledge production, while also providing a greater visibility within the academic community and cultural institutions.


Founding members of MAM are:           

Annette Bhagwati (Museum Rietberg)

Tamar Garb (University College London)

Bea Gassmann de Sousa (University College London)

Marie-Hélène Gutberlet (Independent curator/University of Art and Design, Offenbach am Main)

Christian Kravagna (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna)

Bärbel Küster (University of Zurich)

Doreen Mende (Geneva University of Art and Design)

Iheanyi Onwuegbucha (Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos)

Romuald Tchibozo (University of Abomey-Calavi)