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“Africa, the Great War, and William Kentridge’s “The Head & the Load”: Theatrical Collage and the Color of Memory”

April 6, 2022 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

In-person at 206 Ingraham Hall or via Zoom

Speaker: Catherine Cole

Presentation Description

From left to right, Xolani Dlamini, Gregory Maqoma, and Tulani Chauke in “The Head & the Load” by William Kentridge. Photo: Stella Olivier.

An estimated four million people of color were involved in WWI, including more than two million Africans and a million Indians who served in the British army. Africans, often serving as porters, literally carried the war—its weaponry, provisions, and necessary implements. Many of them died. Some violently, others by accident. The story of Africans in the Great War has been largely absent from European historiography and from public consciousness. “The color of first World War memory remains largely white,” says historian Santanu Das. As a corrective to this historic erasure and to mark the Great War’s centennial in the years 2014-2018, several artists created new works by engaging archival sources that documented the role of Africans, Indians, and other non-Europeans in the war. South African artist William Kentridge created a monumental performance entitled “The Head & the Load”– part epic theatre, part opera, part living collage. A guiding question for Kentridge was whether we can think about history as collage rather than narrative. This lecture poses a different set of questions: Why use collage to represent a formerly hidden, culturally entangled, and racialized history, and to what end? What does this method accomplish? What might be its boundaries? And what implications might collage as a method have for the writing of hidden histories entangled in race? 


Catherine M. Cole is Divisional Dean of the Arts and Professor of Dance and English at the University of Washington. Her most recent book “Performance and the Afterlives of Injustice” (2020), on dance and live art in contemporary South Africa and beyond, was awarded the 2021 Special Citation for the Dance Studies Association’s de la Torre Bueno Prize. Previous books include “Performing South Africa’s Truth Commission: Stages of Transition” (2010), the co-edited book “Africa After Gender?”, and her monograph “Ghana’s Concert Party Theatre” (2001), which was a finalist for African Studies Association’s Herskovits Prize and ASTR’s Barnard Hewitt book award. Cole has published dozens of articles in Africa, Boom: A Journal of California, Critical Inquiry, Disability Studies Quarterly, Research in African Literatures, Theatre, Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, and TDR, as well as numerous chapters in edited volumes. Her disability dance theater piece “Five Foot Feat,” created in collaboration with Christopher Pilafian, toured North America in 2002-2005. Cole chaired the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and has served as Vice President for Publications for the American Society for Theater Research; senior editor of the journal Theatre Survey; and Associate Director for Special Projects at the UCSB Interdisciplinary Humanities Center. She received the UCSB Distinguished Teaching Award, fellowships from the National Humanities Center Fellowship, Harvard Theatre Collection, and AAUW, as well as grants from the Mellon Foundation, Freie Universität Berlin, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Fund for U.S. Artists. 


April 6, 2022
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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