School of Mutants | Research TripSwitzerland | Visual Arts
May 2023 — Visual Arts
The School of Mutants is a research collective founded in Dakar in 2018 by Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro and Hamedine Kane. It develops multidisciplinary inquiries on universities as nation-building infrastructure in Senegal and West Africa.
Known as an important intellectual hub, Dakar has been home to important, architecturally distinct educational institutions since the colonial period. Bringing together pan-African ambition, modernist and post-modernist design, and pedagogical innovation, these projects testify to the postcolonial rethinking of learning spaces in Senegal, but also to the country’s post-independence emerging diplomatic alliances and cultural affinities across the Global South.
The School of Mutants’ current comparative inquiry focuses on the unfinished University of African Future, and the recently opened Museum of Black Civilizations.
The University of African Future was a higher educational project undertaken during the Abdoulaye Wade administration in the 2000s that took the form of a trans-African partnership project promoted by NEPAD. Funded by a number of African states as well as Taiwan as part of its race for diplomatic efforts on the continent, the project was designed by Senegalese architect Pierre Goudiaby Atepa, who currently practices in Dakar and is the author of many other state projects in West Africa. It featured an eloquent postmodern architecture mixing Brutalism and Neo-Sudanese style. Construction was suspended in 2005 after Senegal ended its partnership with Taiwan and began new diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China.
The Museum of Black Civilizations is another grand public infrastructure for cultural education, announced following the country’s independence and finally realised in 2018 with substantial financial support from the Chinese government. From Senghor’s vision of a new kind of museum in Africa, elaborated with the support of Swiss museologists, the museum has finally settled into a form designed by the Beijing Institute of Architecture. Officially referencing the circular huts of Casamance region as its architectural inspiration, the project raises questions about the appropriation of vernacular architecture to legitimate the China’s expanding presence in the urban landscape.
From the middle of the twentieth century to now, Africa has seen many changes in international geopolitics from Bandung-inspired Third-World Solidarity, the Cold War to China’s increasingly imposing presence on the Continent. The School of Mutants’ current research project aims to compare and contrast how these long-term projects of public infrastructure, nature and utopian aspirations are developed against a metamorphosing backdrop and a continuous negotiation of ideals and identity for the future.
Building on their previous work and encounters with key actors related to both infrastructure projects, The School of Mutants will conduct research in Switzerland in the Jean Gabus archives at Musée d’Ethnographie de Neuchâtel during May 2023. They hope to mobilise a large and multi-lingual network of resources to map this complex constellation of information from the past into the present.
ABOUT & BIOGRAPHIES
School of Mutants‘ starting point is an inquiry into the role of universities, public school projects, and academic utopia in post-independence processes of nation-building in Senegal and West Africa; it is informed by wider transnational networks such as the Non-Aligned Movement, Afro-Asianism, and Third-Worldism. A nomadic project that aims to mobilize spaces for the production, transmission, and pluralization of knowledge, School of Mutants engages with sociocultural, ecological, and aesthetic mutations of the real. It produces video works, exhibitions, assemblies, publications and collective learning situations. The project borrows its name from the University of Mutants that was founded in Gorée, Senegal, in 1977 with an emphasis on non-hierarchical teaching and epistemic decolonization. It connects this short-lived experience with the archives of other pedagogical utopias of that decade as well as literary and theoretical reflections, from Octavia Butler to Édouard Glissant. Works by School of Mutants have been presented at Centre Pompidou Metz; 12th Berlin Biennale; 14th Dakar Biennale; RAW Material Company, Dakar; Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam; 12th Taipei Biennial; 7th Oslo Triennale; Fondation Luma; Le Lieu Unique, Nantes; CIAP Vassivière; Sheffield DocFest. School of Mutants has had residencies at RAW Material Company, Kër Thiossane, Art Explora–Cité Internationale des Arts, Bamboo Curtain Studio. It has received fellowships, awards and grants by Norval Sovereign African Art Prize, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Point Sud, Fondation pour la mémoire de l’esclavage, Wallonie-Bruxelles International.
Hamedine Kane, Senegalese and Mauritanian artist and film director, lives and works between Brussels and Dakar. Through his practice, Hamedine frequents borders, not as signs and factors of impossibility, but as places of passage and transformation, as a central element in the conception of itinerant identity. After ten years of exile in Europe, his practice now focuses on the themes of memory and heritage. This aspect of his work is taking shape with the research project The School of Mutants. In Hamedine’s works, these themes intermingle with the past and the future, transgressing and irrigating the limits of space and time. In 2020, he participated to the Taipei Biennial, the Casablanca Biennale, and various exhibitions as part of the Africa2020 season in France. Hamedine’s film The Blue House, which had its world premiere at IDFA in Amsterdam in November 2020, received a special mention from the jury.
Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro is an artist, environmental engineer, and curator. His work develops land-based strategies that explore communizing and ecologies of care. In 2018 he co-initiated The School of Mutants, an artistic investigation into land struggles and political utopia in Dakar, with exhibitions and programmes in Dakar, Oslo, Taipei, Nantes. He is lecturer at École Centrale Paris, curator at NA Project, associate researcher for the European program “From Conflict to Conviviality” at Ensad Paris, and researcher at Unbewitch Finance Lab. He has had curatorial collaborations with Inland (Madrid), Institut Kunst (Basel), Technê Institute (Buffalo), Science Museum (London), and Documenta (13) (Kassel).