Radouan Mriziga, Akal / Photo by Dirk Rose (courtesy Pact Zollverein)
Culturescapes 2023 Sahara
Oct 1 – Nov 30, 2023
Basel, Switzerland

Culturescapes is a multidisciplinary biennial arts festival, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2023. Since 2003, the festival focuses on the cultural landscapes of countries and regions. Based in Basel, Switzerland, it extends its presence far beyond one city or country with the network of more than 40 partner institutions all over Switzerland, in Belgium, and in the three-countries region between Switzerland, Germany, and France.

With each edition the festival aspires to promote cross-border dialogue and mutual learning between cultures, as well as cooperation and networking. Its founders believe that cultural relations and understanding is a gateway to more inclusive, open, and fair societies.

In 2023, the focus for Culturescapes 17th edition will be on the Sahara. By connecting the seas and oceans on the opposite sides of the continent, Sahara used to be a network of pathways, travel routes, carrying and connecting peoples and cultures. Together with artists and curators from within and around Sahara, Culturescapes wants to talk about Sahara today.

We look at the moving borders of the desert and the postcolonial borders of the African countries, question resilience as a key feature of political and socio-environmental reality in Africa, and imagine the possible futures as seen from the vastness of Sahara affected by climate change.

Borders: When we look at the map, the African continent (and Sahara as a part of it) strikes by the straight lines and angles of the borders between the countries. The process of artificially dividing the continent according to the colonial spheres of influence, regardless of historical, social, and cultural ties, overlaps with the image of Sahara as a sea of sand and heat, an ultimate border for people and for life. However, despite the popular image and harsh conditions, Sahara is and has been neither lifeless, nor impermeable. A variety of species, including human beings, made Sahara their home, their travel routing. We want to question the notion of borders and both natural and human-made separations and look into power structures that enable and sustain them, as well as into entanglement of connections and relations that lay underneath and beyond the borders.

Resilience: The notion of desert brings up the visions of extremely severe conditions, of fighting for lives and survival. Sahara is about resilience. Political and cultural history of Africa in general seems to be about resilience. Nowadays, Global North praises resilience as a quality to be admired and learned from. Is it to be admired, however? Perseverance is a part of unequal societies where those in power fight for more power and resilience is left for the underprivileged and powerless ones. We want to scrutinise the virtues of “resilience” in relations to social and environmental relations in Sahara region.

Futures: With the global climate change and raising of average temperature, dry and hot deserted land is what is there to become a future for millions of people and cause mass migration to other millions. While for others, perhaps, more privileged and well-off inhabitants of the Global North, the future might look much like the present in many countries around Sahara: overpopulation, increasing poverty, changing accessibility of food and clean water. What will Saharan future look like? What if Sahara was the future?

The festival brings together almost 80 visual artists, performers, dancers, theater companies, musicians, filmmakers, writers, and thinkers in a two-month program that spreads beyond Basel to other cantons of Switzerland.

Curated by Jurriaan Cooiman and Kateryna Botanova

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