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Epistemology and the Dance Archive in Colonial Central Kenya

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Scholars, artists, museum curators and sports celebrities have been at work identifying the damaging epistemes deployed to portray dance and body cultures in Africa’s past. Dance within/from Africa has been integral to the construction of ‘theories of otherness’ which unfolded within the framework of what V.Y Mudimbe calls the ‘authority of the truth’ (Mudimbe, 1985). This talk begins with an overview of the bleeding of such constrictive ontologies into colonial texts and iconographies of dance. By listening to the ‘pulse of the archive’(Stoler, 2009) of colonial central Kenya, a settler project fraught with contested ideas about what Africans’ dance cultures and dancers were thought to be, I seek to recast our understanding of dance during colonialism in ways that expand the catalogue of preoccupations with dance within colonial Africa. I explore the nature of meaning and projection to justify certain beliefs and establish criteria for action. I consider notions of space to observe the fragility of colonial power in the face of local dances. I seek to re-evaluate localised somatic histories during this period. Such conversations between dance and colonialism contribute to the ‘affective turn’ in African history.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Michaelmas Seminars series.

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