Decolonising Art Book Fairs

To Create is to Remember, to Cite is to Acknowledge

On the occasion of a new publication, editor and curator Nkule Mabaso looks into power relations of knowledge production and citation.

Photo: C&

Photo: C&

By Nkule Mabaso

Taking the book Decolonising Art Book Fairs: Publishing Practices from the South(s) (2021), edited by Yaiza Camps, Moritz Grünke, Pascale Obolo, Michalis Pichler, and Parfait Tabapsi, as a case study on the occasion of the Bergen Art Book Fair 2023, let us consider how spaces like these structure the encounter with and transmission of knowledge through the relationship between making and making public. I write this short reflection as a contributing editor to the book, while working on a series of papers around citational practices with Serubiri Moses.

Cover of DECOLONIZING ART BOOK FAIRS: PUBLISHING PRACTICES FROM THE SOUTH(S), Ed: Yaiza Camps, Moritz Grünke, Pascale Obolo, Michalis Pichler, Parfait Tabapsi, Co-Ed: Nkule Mabaso, Berlin: Miss Read, Paris: AFRIKADAA, Yaoundé: Mosaiques, 2021.

Citation allows for the transmission and expansion of knowledge within a field or discipline. Like other reproductive technologies, it can be subject to biases and abuses. Certain groups or individuals may be cited more frequently while other ideas or perspectives are marginalized or ignored altogether, adding up to epistemic violence. As Katherine McKittrick argues in Dear Science & Other Stories (2021), it is important “how we know, and how we come to know, and who we know, how we know what we know, where we know from, who we know from.” Scholars should be aware of these dynamics and work towards a more equitable and inclusive praxis of citation, making the focus of their engagements not simply about output but about relationships.

Sara Ahmed has gone as far as arguing for excluding white men to unmake a scholarly system that champions white patriarchal scholarly traditions. Acknowledging the feminist drive behind Ahmed’s gesture, McKittrick proposes that all writing should be read and critically engaged with because “[t]he project of erasure, too, often unfolds as an affirmation of racial privilege.” Which brings me to Decolonising Art Book Fairs.

As the title indicates, the book both has a political agenda and functions as a repository and directory, connecting audiences to platforms and projects they may not have encountered before. In many of the book’s essays, publishing is presented as an outright progressive act, a tool of giving voice and agency, recognizing bodies and experiences that are usually not prioritized within the circulation of knowledges. Processes of dissemination are themselves sites and tactics of intervention that can suspend and decenter existing normative knowledge practices. The spread of overlapping concerns and ideas across Decolonising Art Book Fairs demonstrates interconnections between practices that resist such neglect and propose how to know the world differently.

Inside pages of DECOLONIZING ART BOOK FAIRS: PUBLISHING PRACTICES FROM THE SOUTH(S), Ed: Yaiza Camps, Moritz Grünke, Pascale Obolo, Michalis Pichler, Parfait Tabapsi, Co-Ed: Nkule Mabaso, Berlin: Miss Read, Paris: AFRIKADAA, Yaoundé: Mosaiques, 2021.

In her contribution, “Imagining an African Feminist Press,” Sharlene Khan responds to the shortcomings of geographic situatedness and the specificities of one’s environment. She evokes the communities that form the writing networks and structures that surround her praxis and the gestures that determine how we produce text and conjure and demystify the opacity of readerships. Elsewhere, she recounts:

Khan underlines that it has been particularly hard for women of color to find publishing avenues; I would argue it is hard without compromising one’s scholarship in terms of both ideas and form. Khan references Khwezi Gule’s 2016 text “Doing Ventriloquism” (published in the book Aluta Continua: Doing it for Daddy… Ten Years On, 2020), in which he talks about the invisible hand of white editors, with texts being cut, language and headlines changed, many times needlessly, which has left him feeling compromised as an intellectual who understands the weightiness of language in a “genderized, sexualized, wholly racialized world.”

Also in Decolonising Art Book Fairs, Fouad Asfour’s essay “Why talk about artists publishing practices in Southern Africa?” asks: “how can one write today when online publishing seems to push print publications into a space of under determinacy?” Publishing practices expand and change, he writes, and the very notion of the artist publication has turned into a cumulative transcript of what kind of creative practice one could imagine. Mario Pissarra in turn considers the achievements of online publishing, where the unboundedness of becoming public is projected outwards and internet infrastructures also perform archival functions. Pissarra’s and Asfour’s contributions highlight that the proliferation of continent-based production approaches the internet as a democratic sphere of dissemination. Despite the increase of potential publics, however, there is still chronic under-engagement and a lack of visibility and reproducibility of thought.

Back cover of DECOLONIZING ART BOOK FAIRS: PUBLISHING PRACTICES FROM THE SOUTH(S), Ed: Yaiza Camps, Moritz Grünke, Pascale Obolo, Michalis Pichler, Parfait Tabapsi, Co-Ed: Nkule Mabaso, Berlin: Miss Read, Paris: AFRIKADAA, Yaoundé: Mosaiques, 2021.

To summarize, the critical propositions in Decolonising Art Book Fairs aim to disturb epistemic arrogance and support pluralities in knowledge production. They call upon us to:

1. Acknowledge and cite diverse perspectives. Citing only the works of scholars from one background or perspective perpetuates systems of inequality and exclusion. As a praxis, critical citational politics involves actively seeking out and citing works by scholars from diverse backgrounds, particularly those who have been historically marginalized or excluded.

2. Consider the impact of citation. A critical citational politics involves considering the implications of citation patterns. Citing the work of a particular scholar or group of thinkers repeatedly reinforces and perpetuates existing power structures. A critical praxis involves intentionally diversifying one’s sources of information and being mindful of the potential impact of one’s references.

3. Contextualize citations within larger debates. Citations should be used as a means of situating one’s work within larger debates and conversations. As a critical praxis, this involves being aware of the larger intellectual landscape and how one’s work fits within it.

4. Challenge citation bias. Parts of the canon are overwhelmingly dominated by works from certain cultural, gender, and other identities. A critical citational politics involves consciously challenging this bias by citing, reviewing, or teaching work from underrepresented people and positions.

5. Collaborate with authors whose research we have cited. Critical citational politics involves recognizing the value of collaboration and actively seeking opportunities to work with authors whose research we cite. This helps build and promote a more inclusive and collaborative publishing culture.
These propositions may sound simple, but as acts of “presencing” they are difficult. Working with different people and approaches can be unsettling, challenging, and unpredictable. As McKittrick cautions, “once stabilised on the page […], our ideas might appear like we have arrived there on our own, as the sole owners of our own ideas, not taking into consideration the non-linearity of inspirations and conversations.”


Decolonising Art Book Fairs, published by Miss Read, Afrikadaa and Mosaïques, presented at Bergen Art Book Fair 2023 by artist and publisher Moritz Grünke (Gloria Glitzer) and artist and curator Nkule Mabaso, is a workbook that attempts to introduce new narratives and help deconstruct the frontiers between north(s) and south(s), putting an emphasis on practitioners and initiatives from the African continent and Diaspora.


Nkule Mabaso is a curator, editor, and researcher, and the director of Natal Collective, an independent production company active internationally in the research and presentation of creative and cultural Africana contemporary art and politics. She is currently a PhD candidate at HDK-Valand (Academy of Art & Design, Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts), University of Gothenburg, Sweden.



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