Archive for October, 2016


David Murphy of Stirling University on the First World Festival of Negro Arts

It feels as if the excitement of Africa Week at the University of Edinburgh has just ended; yet at the blink of an eye, we find ourselves amidst 10 days of festivities with the busy line up of the Africa in Motion Film Festival (AiM), now in its 11th year.

CAS is supporting a number of events on the festival program.  Although the official opening screening of the festival was last night, AiM kicked off in earnest at the Chrystal MacMillan Building (CMB) on campus earlier in the afternoon.

The half day symposium, “Havana – Dakar 1966: Capitals of an Artistic and Political Revolution”, featured presentations from several academics, screenings of multiple period clips, a dialogue with a filmmaker, and a delicious lunch.

The event opened with Egyptian filmmaker Jihan El-Tahri in discussion on her work, her transition from film to journalism, and the difficulties in getting funding to produce pieces on African revolutionaries.  El – Tahri’s films on the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser and Cuban support for revolutions in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo both screen today.

After a delicious lunch, David Murphy of the University of Stirling, explored a number of pan-African cultural festivals of the 1960s and 1970s, with an emphasis on the First World Festival of Negro Arts (held in Dakar in 1966).   The event, nominally apolitical, was the site of ferocious Cold War jockeying, with teams of Soviet and American documentary filmmakers seeking to portray the respective superpowers in as favourable a light as possible.  Murphy has just released an edited work on the event and his enthusiasm and depth of knowledge on the Festival was palpable.

Rounding out the trio of talks was the University’s own Raquel Ribeiro, whose work focuses own Cuban interventions in Angola.  Ribeiro presented on the political and cultural ramifications of the Tricontinental Conference held in Havana a few months before the Dakar festival.  A compelling clip from the Cuban filmmaker Santiago Alvarez was screened and I was also fascinated to learn about the prominent Cuban role in building the film industry of Guinea – Bissau.

Following the talks, activities shifted from the CMB to 50 George Square where UNESCO and US Information Agency commissioned films on the First World Festival of Negro Arts were screened, followed by Q and A.  Senegal’s Ambassador to the UK was in attendance, adding a unique and invaluable perspective to the symposium.

For those interested in exploring Cuban – African connections further, They Are We, an exploration of Sierra Leonean and Cuban heritage ties, screens as part of AiM at 6:30 pm on November 4, at 50 George Square, free of charge.

Brooks Marmon is the editor of Postgrads from the Edge.




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CAS students and others following an Africa Week film screening

Less than two months have passed since I’ve arrived in Edinburgh, but they’ve been packed with the excitement of delving into a new research project, meeting faculty and students with diverse interests and backgrounds, and a range of Africanist events.

In fact, the vibrant program of seminars, talks, and film screenings have threatened to put my thesis research on the backburner.  The centerpiece of this active intellectual social scene is a weekly seminar series featuring a mix of local and visiting scholars.

In recent weeks, seminars have showcased scholars based in the UK, Belgium, and the US, presenting findings on an array of timely topics including security, mining, labor, and media issues.  At the end of each talk, students and faculty continue the discussion over a pint at a pub near campus.  This time last year I could scarcely have imagined I’d be quaffing a brew alongside Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society.

There’s been a lot going on outside of the seminar series as well.  Less than a month after I arrived in Edinburgh, the University hosted Africa week, with six days and 20 events showcasing cultural and political trends across the continent.  The activities served notice that CAS’ work is not in isolation, but part of a broad and multi-faceted engagement with Africa at the University of Edinburgh.  From engineering to medical sciences, there’s a range of active collaborative partnerships and research programs pertaining to Africa at the University of Edinburgh.  In my brief time on campus, I’ve attended a lecture on northern Nigeria at the School of Divinity and encountered scholars and students working in Africa through the Global Development Academy.

Africa Week was notable for fostering a number of new connections.  I met Dr. Ola Uduku, an architecture lecturer and the International Dean for Africa, several NGO practitioners based in Edinburgh, and a number of the MasterCard Foundation scholars from a diverse set of African nations.  I attended several film screenings, a research debate, and a Scottish Business in Africa Forum, but sadly missed a South African wine tasting and a number of presentations on scientific interventions on the continent.

The last few weeks have provided a brief respite from the frenetic pace of Africa Week and I’ve done some preliminary exploring of the CAS library, which is distinguished by a fascinating treasure trove of reports, publications, and historical ephemera.  I’ve also brushed up on my study of Edinburgh connections to Africa – I learned via a student presentation that Hastings Banda, the first Malawian head of state, studied medicine at the University, while a plaque outside of the Chrystal Macmillan Building regularly reminds students of another alumna and post-colonial leader, Julius Nyerere of neighboring Tanzania.  I even discovered that I share my uncommon surname (I’m an American of European descent) with one of Ghana’s most accomplished urologists, a University of Edinburgh trained surgeon.  I’m very excited to deepen this knowledge at a history seminar next month by two CAS students, Henry Mitchell and Tom Cunningham, on the global and imperial histories of the University.

As the Scottish weather is cooling down, the pace of Africanist activity is picking up.  Later this week, the former BBC Africa correspondent, Andrew Harding, will deliver a talk on his recently released book and at the end of the week, the Africa in Motion film festival kicks off.  With movies from locales as diverse as Niger and Mauritius, the festival promises to be a highly welcome diversion.  CAS co-sponsors a symposium, Havana-Dakar 1966: Capitals of an Artistic and Political Revolution, as part of the festivities.

My first weeks at CAS have been stimulating and richly rewarding.  In addition to all the above, courtesy of CAS I’ve nibbled on delicious sausages at the annual braai, sampled my first Scottish beers at one of Scotland’s oldest pubs, and watched my second film by the Mauritanian director, Abderrahmane Sissako.

It’s been a great start to the semester and I look forward to what the future has in store!

Brooks Marmon is a first year PhD student and the incoming editor of the CAS blog.  He is eager to hear from readers and potential contributors alike. He can be reached at s1667414@sms.ed.ac.uk




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