Approximately one hundred years ago on February 5, 1916, Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings organised an evening event, the Cabaret Voltaire in a popular nightclub frequented by artists in Zurich. Hugo Ball suggested that Switzerland is a “Birdcage surrounded by roaring lions.” 1 Ball and Hennings were supported by a gamut of firm advocates of “coincidences as a creative force” 2 including the poets and artists Tristan Tzara, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Hans Arp, Richard Huelsenbeck and Marcel Janco. The event, the place and, the Dada movement that followed was organised as an aggressive, sometimes caustic gesture to war-torn Europe.
The Dada evening was described as a “bizarre and chaotic repertoire of performances which reflected the chaos and destruction caused by World War I”. 3 The birth of this Dada manifesto was a method revealing the loss of importance of spheres of institutional influence; a détournement 4 to the events in Europe and in the emerging world, “The talk was of people being overwhelmed by the increasingly confusing world around them. The world was simultaneously becoming more complex and multifaceted, with out-of-date political parameters.” 5
“BE REALISTIC:: DEMAND THE IMPOSSIBLE.” 6
At this juncture we have to reconsider the contemporary place of imagination in relation to the myriad forms of alienation as they resonate in artistic circles; its scope and effects as another meaningful ensemble that confers on each element its new scope and effect. This rerouting and reworking indicates a complete loss of the original sense, the roots from double meaning to its branches in double consciousness; a reinvestigation between history and its shadow, an erasure of that which has been rendered obscure by history and historical specificities.
Draw Me Nearer, is the collective constitute, a particular and continual expression of that which has been obscured in widespread cultural changes, foremost its marginal subject and subjectivities. The group conjures a distinctive social and cultural orientation; a collective for whom the expectation is to produce art that would be ‘representative’ of the “unambiguous affirmation of black history and cultural identity.” 7 “Black Art”, if the term must be used, defined historical developments within contemporary art practice and had emerged directly from the joint struggle of Asian, African and Caribbean people against racism, and the artwork itself explicitly refers to that struggle”. 8
Inspired by anti-racist discourse and feminist critique, Draw Me Nearer is a discursive formation of art and politics in which the collective highlights issues of race and gender and the politics of representation particularly in relation to race and the wider media (inclusive of fashion, popular culture, music, street art and film). The academic, Michele Wallace, suggests, “one could also observe that it was not until the 1980s that the dual meaning of ‘representation’, as both practice of depiction (in art) and a practice of delegation (in politics)” 9 emerged. In 1993, the “cultural critic, Mark Dery, affixed the term Afrofuturism to the growing artistic movement and critiques that followed narratives of people of African descent in historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism within non-Western cosmologies” 10,
in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color (an inclusive term used mainly in the USA for people of African, Asian and Hispanic descent, the term encompasses all non-white groups, emphasising common experiences of racism) but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine historical events of the past.
Draw Me Nearer treaties include the possibilities of viewing the various curveballs from the Dutch perspective and its colonial histories in their research activities and studios, herein the act of drawing itself is a political force of drawing nearer to the haunted dreams and victories folded in ancestral awakenings…“widening, eroding resistance whenever encountered to open the way for a more intense flow of energy” 11.
In re-turning to the Dadaist notion of ‘coincidences as a creative force’, the Draw Me Nearer collective contests how “European culture does not allow ‘a succession of accidents and surprises’ but instead maintains the illusions of progression and control at all costs (….) Black culture, in the ‘cut’, builds accidents into its coverage, almost as if to control unpredictability. (…) this magic of ‘cut’ attempts to confront accident and rupture not by covering them over but by making room for them inside the system itself.” 12
Shaheen Merali is a curator and writer whose work explores the intersection of art, cultural identity and global histories. He was head of Department of Exhibition, Film and New Media at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2003−2008), where he curated several exhibitions, accompanied by publications, including The Black Atlantic, Dream and Trauma and Re-Imagining Asia. He was also co-curator of the Sixth Gwangju Biennale, Korea (2006) and of Berlin Heist for the 4th Mediations Biennale, Posnan, Poland (2014). His recent exhibitions include Refractions: Moving Images on Palestine; When Violence becomes Decadent and Fragile Hands. His essays have been included in publications including Contemporary Art from the Middle East (2015), Dissonant Archives (2015) and InFlux: Contemporary Art in Asia (2013).
1 - Henri Neuendorf, Friday, February 5, 2016, 100 Years Ago Today, Dada Was Born at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich
2 & 3 - Ibid
5 - Martin Mittelmeier Dada: Eine Jahrhundertgeschichte / A Century of History, Siedler Verlag, 2016
7 - Kobena Mercer, Romare Bearden, 1964 : Collage as kunstwollen, Cosmopolitan Modernisms, p 139, Iniva, London and MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005
8 - Eddie Chambers, Black Artists in British Art: A History from 1950 to the Present, p56, London: I.B.Tauris, 2014
9 - Ibid, p 142
10 -The work by seminal artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sun Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic addresses themes and concerns of the African Diaspora through a technoculture and science fiction lens, encompassing a range of media and artists with a shared interest in envisioning black futures that stem from Afrodiasporic experiences.
11 - Rakhyt, April 26th, 2011, Hip Hop And Afrofuturism: The Seeding Of The Consciousness Field, http://afrofuturism.net/
12 - James Snead, ‘Repetition as a Figure of Black Culture’, in Henry Louise Gates Jr ed, Black Literature and Literary Theory, p 67, London, Methuen , 1984,