No Conciliation is Possible




In a global circulation of ideas and art, there is a tendency to assume that contexts and audiences are interchangeable, and more specifically, that Black knowledge and artworks can become decolonial toolkits, summonable and deployable in whatever geographies (including the eyes of the empires) in a complaisant spectacle of “solidarity.” Nolan Oswald Dennis generously shares with us their reflections on this extractivist process and the possible ways to exit it.

Oswald Dennis Funambulist 1
No Conciliation is Possible (working diagram) by Nolan Oswald Dennis. / Installation view at the ARoS Aarhus Kunst Museum (2018), photo by Anders Sune Berg.

On December 8, 2022, the opening program of a recent exhibition of no conciliation is possible (working diagram) in Berlin featured a conversation between Zoé Samudzi, Edna Bonhomme, and myself, which was framed as a reflection on and inscription of the artwork within the context of German history and memorial violence.

Three black people, one based in North America, one based in  Europe, and one based in Africa sat on a cold winter’s evening in front of a German crowd with vaguely mis/aligned political commitments. They were given the task of providing a voice through which this artwork might speak to German political anxieties, or in which irresolvable German political anxieties might speak through the work—meaningful anxieties no doubt, some of which are, to some extent, latent in the diagrammatic logic of the artwork. Nonetheless the entire scenario unsettled me in ways I have struggled to articulate. It is not the instrumentalization of the work (in many ways this is the point of the artwork, for better or for worse), or the reinstantiation of a geography of power in miniature that unnerved me, but something I’ve later come to understand (through the writing of Vusumzi Nkomo) as the assumption of possibility.

Possibility is a slippery notion, but it is helpful to distinguish between what we can simplify as a performance of politics or a politics of emancipation. In the former, an assumption of possibility allows us to participate in the denial of socio-geo-political antagonisms that structure cultural consumption, which might otherwise make participation impossible. Let me try to explain.

It is not that the artwork cannot be transposed from its locus in South(ah) to the North, but that the transposition of any artwork from one socio-geo-political context to another is also a revision of the meaning of that work.

The difficult task is to mediate that revision without diminishing the structural and conceptual antagonisms that abound when reflecting on, or deploying art as a tool for sociopolitical transformation (something which art is particularly ineffective at). I keep thinking about the passage in Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth where the title of the work comes from. “The zone where the natives live is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the settlers […] No conciliation is possible, for of the two terms, one is superfluous.”