It is now widely acknowledged that cities are growing faster in Africa than almost any other region. As our urban populations are burgeoning, so urban art of all kinds is flourishing on the continent, as well as in African diasporas in the global North and South.
However, analysed predominantly through developmentalist lenses, as problematic sites requiring solutions, African cities are rarely engaged as deeply metaphorical and culturally complex. Stories and images of Northern cities such as London, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Paris abound. Reviews, analyses and theories of such representations are similarly prevalent, and within dominant Urban Studies discourses, the power of such cultural mediations to shape how we imagine, engage with and market the city has long been recognised.
From novels to film noir, and graffiti to ‘ruin porn’, cultural texts generate cities as meaningful entities, with material effects. In recent years, films such as District 9, Nairobi Half Life, Bamako, Jerusalema, and African Metropolis; novels such as Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), Zoo City (Lauren Beukes), The Hairdresser of Harare (Tendai Huchu), and Blackass (A. Igoni Barrett); and festivals such as Dakar 66, Infecting the City (Cape Town) and Chale Wote (Accra), have all challenged established notions of what constitutes the African urban experience. Yet such imaginative texts and performances from cities of the South have far less presence in the global academic imagination than their Northern counterparts.
Without either over-simplifying the distinction between South and North, or implying a homogenous African urban experience, there is clearly a need to document, critically reflect on, and (crucially) to theorise out of, the African images and stories that are integral to our rapidly changing streets, malls, markets, homes, and green spaces.
We therefore invite contributions to a special issue of Critical African Studies that will explore how urban African experiences both on and beyond the continent are represented, and indeed constituted, through cultural texts. These could include (but are not limited to) fiction, film, visual art, performances, poetry, sculpture, music and maps. We anticipate a collection that draws together scholars from a range of disciplines who are engaged in understanding the diverse ways in which African urban lives are represented by artists of all kinds. In the first instance we invite abstracts that may explore one or more of the following, or other relevant topics:
- Representations of urban landscapes and/or the built environment
- The city in fiction, and/or science fiction
- Modernity and African cities
- Theorising genre from African urban perspectives
- Creative non-fiction, memoir and/or autobiography
- Depicting urban infrastructure
- Street art
- Urban music genres and performance
- Performing (in) urban space
- Representing African identities
- African artists at work
- Representing the rhythms or sense-scapes of the city
Issue editors: Shari Daya and Rike Sitas (both University of Cape Town). Please contact us with any queries or informal expressions of interest.
Critical African Studies seeks to return Africanist scholarship to the heart of theoretical innovation within each of its constituent disciplines. We invite directional papers that provoke critical debate, and take a fresh approach to key and emergent social, political, and economic issues affecting Africa. In particular, we encourage pieces of critical inquiry that question or subvert long-held or widely assumed truths, especially concerning disciplinary boundaries.