Art, Sciences, and Growing Narratives

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This month, Arenberg will host CURIOUS, a festival that brings together collaborations between arts and sciences to the wider public. The festival is a fertile space that offers artists and scientists the opportunity to create performances that address the knowledge gap that exists between the scientific world and the people whose lives are impacted by sciences. These performances are experimental in nature and will be shown as a series of unique Augmented lectures that are simultaneously artistic and scholarly. To capture the essence of this festival, we sat down with Youniss Ahamad and Prisca Agnes Nishimwe to discuss their unique collaborations.

Prisca, can you share with us your artistic practice and role in this collaboration? 

As a singer and performer, I’m driven by the intangibility and absence of sound. Mostly through spoken word, I muse on philosophical questions between beauty and tragedy. In this project, I’m collaborating with a social scientist, Baudouin Mena Sebu, who is currently a PhD candidate in Development studies at the University of Antwerp. We are revisiting the history of the Congolese looted artefact in Antwerp. I will be using my expertise as a performer to make visible the silent voices that were lost during that time.

The presentation of Belgian colonial history is heavily critiqued, specifically how it’s concealed or not extensively talked about in history books in school. I can see why shining a light on it from different disciplines is very timely. 

Prisca: Yes indeed, that is why approaching this topic from different disciplines is important. I see arts and sciences not as separated by a heavy barrier but by a fluid line instead. Both fields are always in dialogue with one another. This dialogue and exchange are important because it brings together different vision and approaches towards a particular issue since artists and scientists expose one another to different ways of thinking and looking at the world. Racism, for example, can be looked at historically, socially and economically…. But also emotionally.

I see arts and sciences not as separated by a heavy barrier but by a fluid line instead

Can you share with us the particular story you are interested in highlighting through your collaboration? 

Prisca: We are looking into the human zoo exposition that was organized in Antwerp in 1894. Black people were exhibited behind bars and portrayed as objects to be looked at. They were dehumanized and condemned. Due to being subjected to various ill-treatments, many of them became sick and specifically, seven of them died. Those seven people who died in Antwerp were never acknowledged nor memorialized. In a way, their voices were lost because their story was lost. Our collaboration delves into this detail. While there is constant discussion about looted artefacts, such as whether they should be returned or kept, no one talks about the fact that they can never bring back the people who died because they were used as exhibits.

We attempt to bring back the seven young people who died during the human zoo exposition by creating a parallel performance that uses seven masks to make visible their presence and voice their stories through us.

We could say your performance is a way to expand the singular story of the human zoo exposition as told, or perhaps, untold. 

Prisca: That's correct, a story can be and should be told many times in different ways. Because every time we tell a story we unravel new dimensions of it and therefore people understand the same story in different ways, more holistically. In our collaboration, we focus on particular details that have not been made transparent before. 

Opening this dialogue will indeed entail discomfort, but that’s what happens when you aim to tell part of the story that hasn’t been told before.

We focus on particular details that have not been made transparent before

How has your experience been collaborating with a social scientist? 

Prisca: It’s challenging. I tend to speak in sound and rhythm together with words, Baudouin is more accurate in his commentary. Although together, we make a nice synthesis and hopefully this will enrich our performance.

Youniss, can you share with us how you got involved in CURIOUS? 

I was invited by Arenberg to apply for this project and it immediately caught my interest because of its structure. The project matches artists with scientific partners to create experimental augmented lectures that address different topics. I was really interested in this multi-disciplinary approach and even more curious to look at my own practice from a scientific perspective. For me, it was enriching to start thinking about the different ways I can grow my own practice with the addition of the scientific lens. After being chosen, I was matched with Dr. Maya Van Leemput, who is a full-time futurist combining research with a co-creative multi-media practice.

What core themes does your artistic practice revolve around? 

Youniss: I explore my identity as an artist through various art forms, mainly in music and visual arts. My practice is a space where I explore the boundaries of my own identity in this world. I reflect on my identity a lot and I often think about what it means to be a person of colour living in Western European and carrying traces of different parts of the world in me (I’m quarter Iraqi, quarter Belgian and half Ivorian). My research interests often return to imagining what a diaspora in Europe would sound like. This forms the core of my research that culminates in records, visual arts, and wider performances. For example, a recent project of mine delved into the ways music production software, such as Ableton, only allows creation from a Western musical framework, which makes it challenging to melodically compose with Arabic, African, and traditional South American basis.

My practice is a space where I explore the boundaries of my own identity in this world

Are these themes present in the project you are working on with Maya? 

Youniss: Yes, this linear and limiting way of music production made me and Maya reflect on racial bias inherent in technology and culture and how it permeates every art form including music production. Together we had a long discussion on the future of limitation or future standardization. We started to wonder what art and culture would look like in a future where we measure everything to the same standard. This question is the baseline of our research. We ask what the alternatives are to a singular standard.


It must be quite an experience to think together with someone from a different field. What has the process of co-creating with a scientist been like? 

Youniss: It’s interesting! We had multiple conversations where we talk about our individual practices and how to synergize them. We thought about how powerful these conversations were and how we can use the same structure in our performances. We went through many iterations of the idea, but we finally settled on a performance conversation that includes a third party. The third party is the visual representation of our conversation or what Maya refers to as a ‘future object’.

What outcome do you envisage with this project? 

Youniss: As I try to position myself as an artist in this global debate, I believe that my role is to expose those biases, as well as help further the conversation and deliver it to the right people. In a way, my practice serves as a place to develop and experiment with different possibilities and solutions.



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