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Sugar Free | Pungwe Nights Research Residency

Switzerland | Multi-Disciplinary

June - July | Geneva, Basel — Multi-Disciplinary

Zen Marie, Memory Biwa, Robert Machiri

The Sugar Free | Pungwe research residency of Zen Marie (artist, lecturer and theorist, South Africa), Robert Machiri (artist and musician, Zimbabwe) and Memory Biwa (historian and artist, Namibia) in Geneva will involve archival work, staged discussions, performances and exhibitions concerned with “critically re-imagining and re-mapping colonial histories through contemporary urgencies”.  The residency will provide an opportunity to work with Swiss collaborators and partners (Nicolas Field, Gilles Furtwanglwer, the Embassy of Foreign Artists, Théâtre de l’Usine et al) in the conceptual development and design of ongoing structures for the international projects ‘Sugar-Free’ and ‘PUNGWE’.

The Sugar-Free project arises out of an ongoing collaboration between Marie and Amsterdam based Dimitri Madimin, and their shared interest in the histories of global commodities. They specifically focus on commodities that act as stimulants, that create desire or heighten the senses, and which are “desirable but also dangerous” – for example, coffee, spices, cocoa, gems, precious metals and of course, sugar. PUNGWE is a collaborative project that works with African music and related contemporary arts discourses and engages with cultural forms as catalysts for social and political change. Together, Sugar-Free and PUNGWE seek to produce moments of critical and creative “push-back”.

The engagement with the Swiss context is partly informed by the reality that Switzerland continues to play a profoundly influential role in international finance and global trade in commodities, and the project seeks to explore the concept of “Colonialism without colonies” (Lüthi, Falk and Purtschert, 2016). With Swiss collaborators, the team intends to critically open up these questions in a series of public, arts based events. The time in Switzerland will also be used to conceptualize and design future events in the global south, particularly in Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa – the home countries of three of the convenors.

Zen Marie is an artist who works in a variety of media. Core to his practice is a concern with how meaning is formed through different media, spaces and processes. While working from a position that begins with photography and filmmaking he increasingly works in performance, sculpture, graphic processes and writing.   While Marie has engaged with many thematic areas of focus, including international sport, identity, nationalism, and public infrastructure, the binding link between these diverse areas has always been the relationship between power and the subversion of power.

Born in 1978 Rob Machiri was raised in Zimbabwe. He is a graduate of Harare Polytechnic College and has been living and working as a designer, artist, DJ and cultural producer in Johannesburg since 2002.  He has held collective and solo exhibitions in Johannesburg and Harare since 1997, including at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, and has produced the Pungwe Nights project in cities across the Southern African region.

Memory Biwa completed her doctoral research and thesis, “Weaving the Past with Threads of Memory”: Narratives and Commemorations of the Colonial War in Southern Namibia, at the University of the Western Cape in 2012.  Biwa is a postdoctoral fellow at the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative (APC) at the University of Cape Town, and is presently conducting research on the sound and photographic collection of Ernst and Ruth Dammann.

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