Wits City Institute Seminar

this is not a refugee camp Exhibition: reflections on African Mobilities, Counter-Cartographies and (radical) Imaginations

Wits City Institute Researcher Mpho Matsipa discussed the African Mobilities exhibition (23 April – 19 August 2018) at the Architekturmuseum at TU München. The exhibition revolved around seven pedagogical platforms across 7 cities in Africa and the diaspora, with a final platform in Munich on 26 April 2018.

24 August 2018 / Anthropology Museum, University of the Witwatersrand

Exhibition Team:

Andres Lepik – Director

Mpho Matsipa – Curator

Teresa Fankhänel – Project Coordinator

Jennifer van den Bussche – Curatorial Assistant and Senior Administrator

Ilze Wolff (Wolff Architects) – Exhibition Design

Bubblegum Club – Visual Strategy, video editing and graphic design

Allison Swank – Social Media

Coordinators of the Exchange Programme:

Dana Whabira, Njelele Art Station, Harare, Zimbabwe

Jean-Charles Tall, College Universitaire d’Architecture de Dakar, Dakar, Senegal

Patricia Anahory and César Schofield Cardoso, Parenthesis, Praia, Cape Verde

Mario Gooden and Mabel Wilson, Global Africa Lab, Columbia University GSAPP, New York, USA

Solam Mkhabela and Kirsten Dörmann, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Doreen Adengo, Adengo Architects, Kampala, Uganda


Sammy Baloji

Olalekan Jeyifous and Wale Lawal

Aisha Balde

Emanuel Admassu

Issa Diabaté


Dana Whabira, Nolan Oswald Dennis and Thembinkosi Goniwe

Paula Nascimento

Global Africa Lab

Solam Mkhabela, Kirsten Dörmann, Njoki Ngumi and Blessing Blaai

Patricia Anahory and César Schofield Cardoso

Doreen Adengo and William Monteith

Jean-Charles Tall


Ikem S. Okoye

Loren Landau

Manuel Herz

Neelika Jayawardane

Lesley Lokko

Chair: Noëleen Murray

Respondent: Matthew Barac (Reader in Architecture, London Metropolitan University, CASS)

Mpho Matsipa’s paper presented was a draft in progress towards a chapter of a book she is preparing. She described African Mobilities as an exhibition  conceptualised as three intersecting and linked themes: cartographies, speculative futures and prototypes. It consisted of six regional collaborators, five commissioned artworks and a number of contributions of existing work from artists and architects across Africa and the diaspora, and nine different institutions across Africa and New York. In the lead up to the exhibition in Munich, African Mobilities consisted on seven workshops, or exchanges, in seven different cities (Johannesburg, Lagos, Dakar, Kampala, Praia, New York and Harare) before the final symposium in Munich in April 2018.

However, as she argued, the exhibition was only one outcome of a curatorial strategy that was equally concerned with exploring the possibilities for establishing experimental pedagogical platforms for architectural and urban research across Africa and the diaspora. Rather than any a priori assumption regarding what the outcomes of the exhibition would be, nor what each contributor would ultimately submit, the exhibition privileged process over product and as part of a transformative cultural and pedagogical experiment. The exchanges and the structure of the commissions were concerned with producing a ‘living archive‘[1] of contemporary and alternative research practices and pedagogies on the continent.

The exhibition was concerned with questions of alternative imaginaries and methodologies of the future and the role of architectural research and design as possible sites of invention by designers and thinkers in Africa and the diaspora. The curatorial strategy was informed by a number of mobile, alternative pedagogical platforms like with Studio X – Johannesburg (Columbia University) and Àsìkò (Bisi Siva). Borrowing from both models, African Mobilities sought to experiment with alternative pedagogies and exchanges among practitioners across Africa and the diaspora. Bisi Silva’s expansive approach to curating was instructive, in terms of addressing the differential mobilities afforded to African design students and creative practitioners living on the continent and in the diaspora. Furthermore, the Àsìkò model served as a radical alternative to the traditional educational models found in many academic institutions that had inherited a British colonial educational system.[2] This model explicitly aimed to introduce research-based practice or critical theory to art/ architecture practice. The Exchanges were led by regional collaborators,  and they served as platforms in which leading young African design practitioners, educators, artists and scholars worked collaboratively to define their research agenda, which in turn informed the curatorial strategy for the overall show.

Mathew Barac’s comments in response focussed on the paper as a piece of writing and proposed that the writing be considered as ‘space of creativity’ beyond reportage and description of practice. His contributions to the development of argument and style, along with questions of ‘voice’, and the author/authority relationship called for a process of drafting and redrafting and for ‘play’ along with critical reflection.

*In keeping with the exhibition’s intentions for mobility –  a website was developed to coincide with the opening of the exhibition. The website is envisaged to enable the exhibition to reach a wider audience beyond the Pinakothek der Moderne.

  • African Mobilities was a collaboration between the Architekturmuseum der TU München in the Pinakothek der Moderne and the University of the Witwatersrand and Wits Enterprise (South Africa). It was curated by Mpho Matsipa (Wits City Institute). The initiative is supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation. The project was produced with the support of the Goethe Institute, which will also be involved in the upcoming tour of the exhibition on the African continent.

[1] Baptist, S. (2017) Editorial note. In ÀSÌKÒ: on the Future of artistic and curatorial Pedagogies in Africa, Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos.

[2] Silva, B. (2017). Creating Space for a hundred flowers to Bloom. In Àsìkò: On the Future of Artistic and Curatorial Pedagogies in Africa, Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, xix.