Penser l'Afrique

An exhibition and study program about African intellectual histories and the task of "thinking Africa"


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Tyler School of Art at Temple University

Contributing Institutions

School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennyslvania


James Merle Thomas

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought is pleased to announce Penser l'Afrique, an exhibition and transdisciplinary program of study about African intellectual histories, on display January 18 – February 14, 2018. The exhibition and related programming will support the English translation of Penser l'Afrique suivi de l'Afrique "fragmentée" [Thinking Africa followed by "Fragmented Africa", 2001], a book by philosopher Bourahima Ouattara, and is the inaugural North American solo exhibition of Christian Nyampeta, a visual artist and researcher who works across art, design, and theory.

Made possible through the support of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania; and the Department of Art History and General Activities Fund at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, the project will extend beyond its exhibition at Slought throughout the spring and includes workshops, lectures, and events, to be held at the Tyler School of Art through May 2018. Please join us for an opening reception and conversation between the curator, the artist, and theorist Nana Adusei-Poku on Thursday, January 18, 2018 from 6:30–8:30 PM. Announcements regarding additional programming are forthcoming.

Nyampeta's broader program is concerned with the ways that philosophical constructs—for example, the notions of rest, mutuality, or subjecthood—are translated into everyday life through debate, conversation, and cooperation. Nyampeta's transdisciplinary research operates in films, prototypes, and a discursive practice of collective translation, transcription, and publishing. These processes are conducted through formal and informal activities, and include lectures, readings, film screenings, and the production of radio programs, many of which take place in what the artist describes as "hosting structures"—a series of inhabitable sculptural and functional objects that serve as a substrate for shared thought and action.

Penser l'Afrique will be staged through two overlapping components: a month-long exhibition held at the Slought; and a translation working group and related seminar dedicated to postcolonial aesthetics and theory that will collectively translate Ouattara's text and further contextualize the project through a series of events held this spring.

Penser l'Afrique is curated by James Merle Thomas (Dept. of Art History, Temple University).

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The Slought exhibition unfolds through the screenings of two of Nyampeta's recent films, which will be staged in two galleries among hosting structures and an open dossier of questions, commentaries, fictions, annotations, accounts, and documents of learning.

Comment vivre ensemble (2015) features a series of conversations the artist conducted with philosophers and theorists (including Olivier Nyirubugara, Isaïe Nzeyimana Obed Quinet Niyikiza, and Fabien Hagenimana), who explore the conceptual framework and meaning of "habits." A discussion of the formation of rhythm, habits and practices through education, the film opens onto a broader discussion of intellectual history and concept formation under varying institutional settings, including schools, universities, cloisters, and seminaries.

Realized during Nyampeta's recent residency at the Camden Arts Centre, Words after the World (2017) is a fictional film about a writer attempting to complete a novel at a time when the use of words has become restricted by copyrights. As a result, the writer is compelled to craft new words in order to avoid silence and persecution, by entering into conversation and bringing into dialogue two philosophers, Alexis Kagame and Maniragaba Balibutsa. The script of the film is produced through the translation of extracts from Kagame's La philosophie bantu-rwandaise de l'être (1956); Balibutsa's Les perspectives de la pensée philosophique bantu-rwandaise de l'être après Alexis Kagame (1985), and Bourahima Ouattara's recent work, Penser l'Afrique suivi de l'Afrique "fragmentée" (2001).

Translation Working Group & Seminar

As an extension of the themes explored in Comment vivre ensemble and Words after the World, the second phase of the project will assemble a working group to translate Francophone extracts by philosophers and theorists including portions of Bourahima Ouattara's Penser l'Afrique; and Alain Mabanckou's Penser et écrire l'Afrique aujourdui [Thinking and Writing Africa Today, 2016].

Written as a short thesis followed by text fragments, Ouattara's Penser l'Afrique explores a way of being in the world, what the author describes as a "being-outside-of." For Ouattara, this is a circumstantial Black African reality enforced upon its subjects by slavery, colonial histories and today's militarised economical forces. This being-outside pushes back against the philosophical notion of the concept, enabling a wider critique of Western economic, cultural, and intellectual hegemony.

Alain Mabanckou is a Congolese novelist and theorist, who writes about the experience of contemporary Africa and the African diaspora in France. Delivered by Mabanckou as the 2015-2016 Chair in Artistic Creation at the Collège de France, Penser et écrire l'Afrique aujourdui features contributions from Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Severine Kodjo-Gravaux, Lucy Mushita and Lydie E. Moudileno, among others.

The texts by Ouattara and Mabanckou mark a way of thinking that charts the theoretical dimensions of African intellectual history in relation to, and against the grain of, western philosophical thought. Through a collective process of translation and discussion, Ouattara's challenging thesis will be studied and situated within a wider literary and philosophical context and form a component of a graduate seminar taught this spring in the Department of Art History at the Tyler School of Art examining the politics and aesthetics of postcolonial theory. Throughout, program participants will have the opportunity to collaborate with the curator and artist to realize range of materials, ranging from haptic personal projects, to discussing and reflecting on ideas presented through short lectures, readings, listening sessions and film screenings.

A full program of dates and events will be distributed by Slought and the Tyler School of Art. Those interested in joining the translation working group or the seminar should contact the curator of the exhibition (jmt@temple.edu).


Christian Nyampeta is a Rwandan-born, Dutch artist. In 2017, Nyampeta conducted a residency and related exhibition at Camden Arts Centre in London. This year, his work will be included in the Biennial of Contemporary African Art Dak'art, Senegal; and at Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden. Nyampeta convenes the Nyanza Working Group of Another Roadmap School Africa Cluster, and runs Radius, an online and occasionally inhabitable radio station. Nyampeta is currently completing a PhD thesis in the Visual Cultures Department at Goldsmiths, University of London.

James Merle Thomas is a Philadelphia-based art historian and curator, and currently teaches courses in global contemporary art in the Department of Art History at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University. Prior to earning his doctorate in Art History from Stanford University, Thomas worked with Okwui Enwezor to produce a series of exhibitions, including the Second Biennial of Contemporary Art of Seville (2006), The Seventh Gwangju Biennale (2008), and the Third Paris Triennale (2012).

Nana Adusei-Poku is an independent scholar, writer, and is currently Guest Lecturer in Media Arts and Fine Arts at the University of the Arts in Zurich. Between 2013 and 2017, she was Research Professor for Cultural Diversity and Visual Cultures at the Hogeschool Rotterdam, where she held affiliated positions at the Piet Zwart Institute and the Willem de Kooning Academy. Prior to receiving her doctorate from Humboldt University for a thesis on post-black art, she studied African studies and gender studies at Humboldt University; and in media and communications at Goldsmiths College, University of London.