Italy and East Africa: Unexplored Histories, with Ghirmai Negash and Dawit L. Petros
The Power Plant, Toronto, Canada 18 Jul 2020
To consider multiple perspectives about migrations, modernism, and Italian colonization in East Africa – the subject of Dawit L. Petros: Spazio Disponibile – in greater depth, The Power Plant presents a series of online conversational programs in partnership with the Istituto Italiano di Cultura.
Initially conceived as a symposium, this series seeks to illuminate how this period of colonization in African and Italian history informs the current political climate, past and present migrations, and how artists continue to respond to its legacy. This program will feature a presentation by Ghirmai Negash, and a conversation between the author and exhibiting artist Dawit L. Petros. The conversation will be followed by a Q&A.
Postcolonial Spaces: Modernity, Conscription and Resistance in G. Hailu’s Novel The Conscript
By Ghirmai Negash, Professor of English & Postcolonial Literatures and Director of African Studies Program at Ohio University, and African Literature Association President 2020-2021
Grounded on the notion of Edward Said’s theorization of colonial spaces in which the violent relationships between colonizers and conquered peoples are fundamentally defined by “the struggle over geography,” this presentation proposes to show how the identities of Eritrean conscripts in Gebreyesus Hailu’s novel, The Conscript (1927), were molded by modernity (exposure to urban architecture, transnational travels across seas and deserts by trains, ships, and trucks, modern warfare, and racialist cultural ideology). Equally as important, it will also show how the conscripts were progressively transformed by the same modern consciousness into radical critics and opponents of colonialism, after experiencing the physically destructive and culturally dehumanizing effects of colonial power on the conquered geographies and populations. Because the author of The Conscript was a European-educated indigenous elite, the presentation will, moreover, shed light on the inherent paradox of postcolonial writing and, particularly, on how the author was both enabled and constrained by his circumstances when inscribing through language the trauma of colonialism and the humiliation and embarrassment of this “event of shame” while aware that one’s “obligation to write coexists with the impossibility of doing so innocently” (Timothy Bewes, 2011: 42).
Ghirmai Negash is Professor of English & Postcolonial Literatures and Director of the African Studies Program at Ohio University, where he teaches postcolonial and decolonial literatures and critical theory. He is widely published in journals and author, editor, and/or translator of seven books, including: A History of Tigrinya Literature in Eritrea (1999); At the Crossroads: Readings of the Postcolonial and the Global in African Literature and Visual Art (lead editor, 2014); African Liberation Theology: Intergenerational Conversations on Eritrea’s Futures (with Awet Weldemichael, 2018); and, a critically-acclaimed translation of Gebreyesus Hailu’s 1927 novel The Conscript from Tigrinya into English (2012). He earned M.A. degrees in English and critical theory from Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam (1986-91) and a Ph.D. in African literature from University of Leiden (1999). He was founding chair of the Department of Eritrean Languages and Literature at University of Asmara, Eritrea (2001-2005), before he moved to Ohio University in 2005. He is currently on editorial boards for the Journal of African Literature Association and the African Studies Review. He is a member of the African Academy of Sciences, and was awarded NEH (2015) and STIAS (2019) Fellowships. He is the 2020-2021 President of the African Literature Association.
Dawit L. Petros (born in Eritrea, 1972) lives and works in Chicago and Montreal. He received his MFA in Visual Art from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University, a BFA in Photography from Concordia University, a BFA in History from the University of Saskatchewan and completed the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York. Recent exhibitions have been held at the 13th Havana Biennial in Matanzas, Cuba (2019); Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University (2019); Bamako Encounters Biennale, Mali (2017); Dakar Biennale, Senegal (2018); Prospect.4, New Orleans (2017); and the Walther Collection Project Space, New York (2016). Petros is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Photography, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.