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In Search of Gilbert and Idrissa: African Students in the USSR – Performing the Past

Performance & Reading

13/04/23 7pm


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In a performative, collective reading of imagined dialogues, artist Sandra Muteteri Heremans will share her research for a film in progress on the experiences of African students in the USSR during the Cold War.

In Search of Gilbert and Idrissa: African Students in the USSR – Performing the Past by Sandra Muteteri Heremans uses screenplay as a research method to explore the personal experiences of the African students, their personal lives, personal positioning, and negotiation with the communist ideology, their trajectories before and after their return to their homelands. The long traveling path (sometimes several weeks) was characterised by encounters with other students in capitals of neighbouring countries, places where discussions would happen about contemporary ideologies. Through the figures of Gilbert and Idrissa, the story’s protagonists, the artist explores the historical potentiality of two intersecting narratives: postcolonial and East European, through counter narratives coming from more informal archives in the development of my research, such as oral histories and family archives. The performance and reading—and its projections and the misunderstandings that unfolded in the collage of historical images and personal dialogues—is an experimentation in rehearsing ways of engaging with oral knowledge beyond reproducing the violence inherent as much in the Cold War era as in the present world.

The characters of the script will be read by the artist, together with Dinan Alasad and Aseel ElBagir.

Sandra Muteteri Heremans is a visual artist and filmmaker with a background in art history and anthropology. Born in Rwanda and raised for the most part in Belgium, Heremans is interested in the artistic and political legacies of the twentieth-century in today’s world. Her current research for a film in progress investigates the experiences of African students who studied in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Through these protagonists, Heremans charts transnational lives in the context of newly independent states, showing the complex entanglements between the communist “Second World” and the national liberation movements the “Third World” sought to establish, and in so doing, excavates and reactivates histories buried under decades of myopic “First World” triumphalism.

Image: Courtesy of Sandra Muteteri Heremans.


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