Archive Fever: Repetition And History In The Works Of Kudzanai Chiurai

by Khanya Mashabela

Kudzanai Chiurai’s practice visualises history and its tendency for repetition. The cyclical nature of history is as much a subject as Colonial and Post-Colonial southern Africa and its governance. He shows us history outside of the limitations of linearity and its related belief of progression or digression. This representation is particularly potent within the African context, largely because its position as ‘inferior’ within the binaries of First World and Third world — and White and Black — relies upon the belief that Africa and Africans are connected to the ancient past, while the West has been portrayed as having a monopoly on modernity and postmodernity.

Africa is the West’s foil. While Chiurai’s practice is not necessarily Afro-Futuristic, it does share a desire with Afro-Futurism to resist this narrative. However, Afro-Futurism still conceives of time through the Western notions of evolution and devolution, predicated by the connotations of the word ‘Futurism’. The cyclical nature of history offer us an out from a mode of thinking that increasingly appears, at turns, idealistic and reductive as we move deeper into the turbulence of the 21stcentury. We are able to conceive of history as a series of events and phases which, though they are affected by geographical and historical context, are seemingly endless repetitions of events that have happened and will happen. Chiurai creates an archive of violence within the context of Colonial and Post-Colonial southern Africa. In doing so, the work shows the varied potential of perceiving history as a series of repetitions.

Derrida, in the text Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (1995), pathologizes the tendency to archive: “It is to have a compulsive, repetitive, and nostalgic desire for the archive, an irrepressible desire to return to the origin, a homesickness, a nostalgia for the return to the most archaic place of absolute commencement.” He frames repetition as a conservative gesture that preferences the past over the present. While this is part of the potential of repetition, it has more radical capabilities. Rather than a conservative gesture of ‘homesickness’, Chiurai’s archive fever serves to reconstruct the past to insert the viewer into the emotional and psychological inner workings of the oppressors and the oppressed. The works reveal some of the nature of systematic violence and power, both in the wider context and specifically as it relates to southern Africa’s colonial era.

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We Live in Silence XIIII

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