Culturescapes 2023 Sahara: Exploring Boundaries, Resilience, and Utopias in Basel

On October 1, 2023, the Swiss biennial, Culturescapes, will unveil its 17th edition, “Culturescapes 2023 Sahara,” in the picturesque city of Basel. This year’s event carries added significance as Culturescapes celebrates its 20th anniversary, promising a captivating exploration of art and ideas.

The Sahara, once a labyrinth of interconnected pathways and travel routes, served as a conduit for the exchange of peoples and cultures across continents and oceans. In a quest to unravel the contemporary meaning of this vast desert, Culturescapes has assembled a cadre of artists and curators, both from within and around the Sahara.

The ambitious program of Culturescapes 2023 Sahara unfolds over two months, from October 1 to November 30, showcasing the works of nearly 80 visual artists, performers, dancers, theater companies, musicians, filmmakers, writers, and thinkers across more than 40 cultural venues. The event extends its reach beyond Switzerland, with partner festivals in Belgium, Germany, and France joining in the celebration.

The grand opening will be marked by “C La Vie,” a compelling performance by Serge Aimé Coulibaly & Faso Danse Théâtre. Subsequent highlights include the unveiling of new works by Nolan Oswald Dennis at Kunsthalle Basel and Yasmine El Meleegy at For, Basel. Basel Colonial offers city tours that delve into the city’s colonial legacies, while the Institute Art Gender Nature HGK Basel FHNW hosts a two-day symposium titled “Shores of Sahara-Sahel: Waves, Forms, Futures.”

The artists featured in Culturescapes 2023 Sahara hail from Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the Sahara itself. Together, they weave a multi-layered narrative that explores the themes of borders, resilience, and futures.

Is the Sahara an impassable barrier, an arid wasteland, or a thriving habitat for diverse communities and non-human life forms? Do the political borders etched onto the Sahara bear witness to the colonial era, or can they be reimagined and redrawn to foster a more inclusive world?

For those residing in the greater Sahara-Sahel region, resistance, struggle, and survival are integral aspects of daily life. Culturescapes challenges us to reconsider the concept of “resilience” and contemplate what non-resilient yet sustainable lives in the Sahara might entail.

Culturescapes 2023 Sahara beckons us to envision a cultural revolution, a reevaluation of power dynamics, a humanistic renaissance, and the free exchange of people and ideas. The program weaves together these diverse elements into a multidimensional network with a utopian underpinning. The Sahara’s expansive canvas offers a canvas for imagining plural, non-linear futures, rooted in justice, equity, compassion, and humanity. In the words of Senegalese philosopher Felwine Sarr, “From this day forward, as in the time of the first rising suns, Africa will once again become the spiritual lungs of the world.”

These profound questions, raised by Culturescapes 2023 Sahara, resonate in the anthology titled “Sahara: A Thousand Paths Into the Future,” co-edited by Kateryna Botanova, Yarri Kamara, and Quinn Latimer, and published by Sternberg Press. The anthology features contributions from a diverse array of thinkers, including Felwine Sarr, Achille Mbembe, and more.

As Culturescapes 2023 Sahara unfolds, audiences will have the opportunity to engage with a rich tapestry of art, ideas, and reflections on the Sahara’s past, present, and boundless potential for the future.

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