University of Sussex, April 16, 2012.
2 – 6pm. Fulton 103.
With Dr Chris Warnes (Cambridge), and Assistant Professor Jesse Weaver Shipley (Haverford, US).
Chris Warnes, Faculty of English, St John’s College, Cambridge:
‘Reading the South African Romance: Allegories of Empowerment’.
Jesse Weaver Shipley, anthropologist, filmmaker, and artist, who is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and coordinator of Africana Studies at Haverford College:
‘Race, Travel, and the Aesthetics of Exaggeration in African Popular Culture’.
PLUS screening and Q&A of Shipley’s new film, a ficto-documentary entitled Is It Sweet: Tales of an African Superstar in New York (2012).
Drinks to follow in Arts B 274 from 6pm.
African Popular Cultures' is free: there is no need to register but please RSVP in advance (and for any further information) to email@example.com.
Organised by Professor Steph Newell and Katie Reid (School of English, University of Sussex).
Abstracts and film treatment.
2-3pm: ‘Reading the South African Romance: Allegories of Empowerment’, Dr Chris Warnes (Cambridge).
In 2010 two new publishing enterprises appeared in South Africa: Sapphire Press and Nollybooks. Between them, in the course of their first two years, these publishers brought out 27 romance novels, all aimed explicitly at a black, female readership, and written to a tightly prescriptive set of guidelines. They tell the story of feisty, attractive, young, black women, often from poor backgrounds, working their way up the ladder of professional success and falling in love with handsome, successful, older men, often their boss. The progress of the romance is bound up with the overcoming of work-related obstacles, and the ending of each novel harmonises the romantic and professional triumph of the heroine. These novels represent an entirely new departure in South African writing: the arrival in prose form of the mass-produced fantasy for black women. In this paper I show how these romances take as their defining quality the concept of empowerment, relating their narratives of individual empowerment, bound up as they are with conspicuous forms of consumption, to the various government policies that fall under the rubric of Black Economic Empowerment. These novels decode for their readers very real employment-related anxieties, projecting fantasies of ideal employers and harmonious workplaces, and imagining positive outcomes for current attempts to address black women's ongoing marginalisation. But they also betray a deep unease with the pace and nature of change in South Africa, with Black Economic Empowerment, and with the ANC's quixotic attempts to reconcile a redistribution of wealth and opportunity with an embrace of neoliberal economic policy. Ultimately, I show how these mass-produced fantasies are caught on the horns of a contradiction similar to that identified in a different context by Janice Radway: 'despite the utopian force of the romance's projection, that projection actually leaves unchallenged the very system of social relations whose faults and imperfections gave rise to the romance and which the romance is trying to perfect.' (Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Verso, 1987) p. 215).
3-4pm: ‘Race, Travel, and the Aesthetics of Exaggeration in African Popular Culture’, Assistant Professor Jesse Weaver Shipley (Haverford)
Stories of international travel permeate the Ghanaian popular imagination and dominate the lives of many Accra denizens who hustle and dedicate all their resources to leaving the country. Stories of traveling abroad are common in many West African popular genres from oral storytelling traditions to video-film scripts to hip-hop lyrics. Some tell of fabulous wealth acquired in Europe and America. Others describe horrific tragedy and failed hopes. Most relate overseas experiences to the transformations and stabilities of life at home. In contrast, scholarship on contemporary African diasporas usually examines African mobility from the perspective of where people land, what work they do, how they are treated, and how long they stay. This paper explores fictional stories of international travel from a variety of popular media in Ghana as well as real tales of artists who travel, or aspire to travel. I argue that foreign travel is a form of symbolic exchange that produces potential wealth and value, but involves great risk of failure and loss. Tropes of travel are forms of extra-ordinary value transformation that permeate ordinary, daily life, linking rural, urban, and international spaces, as well as various political, economic, popular and religious realms. I show how the sagas of leaving home and of returning are central to understandings of place and belonging in contemporary urban Africa.
4-4.30pm: Tea break
4.30-6pm: Film screening and Q&A with Jesse Weaver Shipley: Is It Sweet: Tales of an African Superstar in New York (2012)
Is it Sweet follows Reggie Rockstone Ossei, a celebrity in Ghana, and considered the founder of hiplife music – combining rap with local highlife popular music – in his move to the Bronx, NY. Rockstone draws huge crowds at concerts and attracts attention everywhere he goes in Ghana but is not well known outside of his country. He inspired a young generation of musicians with hit songs of 10 years ago though has not made much of a musical impact recently. When he performs for Ghanaians living in the United States, he is not sure what to expect. Is it Sweet follows his journey as he meets new fans, collaborators, and old friends. He explores what it is like to be Ghanaian in urban America. Music enacts a form of community as he works with young struggling musicians and shoots music videos. His former manager and producer have both relocated to the United States after living in Ghana. Their divergent paths guide disagreements about politics, race, and money. Reggie’s humor and irreverence shape this film’s intimate, and sometimes dystopic, story of an African superstar in New York.
DRINKS in ARTS B274 FROM 6pm.
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor Steph Newell and Katie Reid.
School of English, Arts B
University of Sussex
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