- The First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar 1966: Contexts and Legacies ed. by David Murphy
The First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar 1966: Contexts and Legacies is a collection of ten essays that investigate art performances and postcolonial practices at a major cultural event promoted by Léopold Sedar Senghor, as well as the event's influence in large-scale spectacles of culture and the role of archives and archival-making from 1966 to 2016. Edited and introduced by David Murphy, the book is the only publication dedicated to a festival that some have cited as the "apotheosis" of Negritude (vii). Its most important contribution to the fields of African and postcolonial studies, however, is to combine multifaceted readings that go beyond Negritude and question the ways in which both Cold War ideology and Pan-African ideals haunted the First World Festival of Negro Arts, including how painters, choreographers, writers, and intellectuals have used the encounter to strengthen the ties between the African "homeland" and black peoples in the diaspora—especially in the United States.
Though the book does not expand on the history of preceding cultural events (such as the 1956 Congress of Black Writers and Artists and its second iteration in 1959, as well as the 1962 Conference of African Writers of English Expression) to a 1966 festival (FESMAN) that aimed to create a platform for bolstering transnational blackness, David Murphy's thorough introduction theorizes the festival as "an attempt to produce a global community through a shared blackness" (5). Engaging with the most recent literature on aesthetics and politics in the postcolonial period, Murphy focuses on the political climate framing the festival's organization and stages its performance within a double bind that black intellectuals, artists, and statesmen faced after independence: between the reality of nationalism and the imagination of a postcolonial globality. To that end, Murphy questions both the "involvement of the important US delegation" in Senegal and the larger "role of culture in a post-imperial world" (9).
In the volume's first part, "Contexts," each chapter engages with the double bind by offering a remarkable archival work on different aspects of the festival: staging of a "tradition" in art exhibitions (Vincent), creation of an "authentic" African ballet (Kringelbach), performance of the past in carefully programmed theatrical plays (Quinn and Bush), and coverage in popular media (Jaji). Perhaps [End Page 202] the strongest connection between these five chapters is their critical approach to the influence of and challenge to Senghor's aesthetic positions at the festival. Hélène Kringelbach not only analyzes how "the past was being reimagined in neo-traditional performance through the selection and standardization of a limited number of preforming practices" (74), she also retrieves from the archives a letter between Senghor's longtime ally Alioune Diop and Gray Cowan (Columbia University professor and future President of the African Studies Association) for academic expertise on "traditional African dances"—a request that seems to reveal an ideological contradiction between Senghor's strong sense of traditionalism and a lack of knowledge about those supposedly innate traditions. Similarly, Brian Quinn's close reading of Senghor's and Malraux's opening speeches revisits the "reworking of the relationship between culture and the State" (84) and then proceeds to analyze the behind-the-scenes of the festival's staging of Amadou Cissé Dia's Les Derniers Jours de Lat Dior to uncover a troubling instrumentalization of culture that "heads of states such as those in the audience at FESMAN" (95) can use for the mobilization of a nationalist sentiment.
In the second part of the book, "Legacies," the focus turns to the festival's afterlives: from the 1969 Algiers festival conceived as a direct response to the Dakar event (Anderson) and the 1977 Lagos Festival explicitly hailed as its direct successor (Apter), to the making of the PANAFEST archive that examines the relation between those three festivals and the Zaire 1974 music festival (Vincent and Malaquais) and a more theoretical consideration of "festivalism" in Africa...