What is the use of a map for an African body? How can we map against our own epistemic displacements while most of the maps we know are devices of that displacement? When can this practice of mapping be of ceremonial use? We have recognized the map in its complicity in the colonization of our land and bodies. It is especially complicit in the division of this world into countries, regions, cities, towns and streets, in orienting us in particular ways towards space. It became the documentation and the realization of what Fanon describes as “world divided into compartments.”
Existing territorial frameworks fail to understand autochthonous/African modality; Africa as a “place” and Africa as a “territory” - according to Mbembe - are two distinct existences, “a place is the order according to which elements are distributed in relationships of coexistence...as for a territory, it is fundamentally an intersection of moving bodies.” Territory becomes the object of an appropriation, proof of the exercise of power or jurisdiction. As Brenna Bhandar has shown us, this has much to do with the workings of racial capitalism and the formation of property as always-already tied to histories of enslavement, expropriation and colonialism. And, if territory is space plus power - as Stuart Elden posits - what are then the autochthonous powers we recognise, and how did they move with our diasporic bodies? And if territory is place plus labour - as Raffestin claims - what kinds of political, emotional, and spiritual labour have produced territories that are now disembodied and destitute. But then what can the map do for the territory?
We mistook the map for the territory, as Sylvia Wynter understood. We maintained an understanding of a territory that operated “within the terms of our present order of knowledge and its biologically absolute conception of the human.” Therefore the map looked to be as material as we had believed our own existence to be - or were epistemically displaced to believe our existence is. But we come back to the question, what is the use of a map for an African body? We might think of Sara Ahmed here when she asks: what is the queer possibility inherent in mapping, can we re-use/re-map? Maps and mapmaking - according to Nishat Awan - could bring together disparate knowledge and claims, and ways of seeing the world.
We no longer mistake the map for a territory and we no longer read the map as truth, but we refuse to cede the territory, its body or its ontology, its means of production and its production of meaning. Our ancestors never stopped emotional and spiritual territorial performances despite displacement and diaspora, in and out of the continent. We see Africa emerging despite. What might it mean, then, to refuse to cede the map? Maps are not unattainable technologies to Africans; Epifania Amoo-Adare, for example, teaches us how Asante women exercise mapping as spatial literacy against a neolibral city, and Dionne Brand shows us how to reject the senses of spatial universality while walking us into cartographies of a place of otherwise. Moreover, map making is no longer bound to its custodial techniques of representation; works by Australian Aboriginal artist Vernon Ah Kee emancipates a map for our black and brown bodies, by isolating the projection from the seen. Thinking with Trouillot, how might we trouble, imagine, create and dream of what has always been thinkable to us?
Our project, here, is to map the ways in which the African continent keeps reinventing, resummoning, or unbounding itself from dominant frames of place-making, as well as how diasporic and displaced Africans deploy critical ideas of space as a way of imagining an otherwise and an elsewhere. The map here is the question, not the answer, one we take the time to ask at the intersection of a world on fire. However, the answer to that question cannot be that we are/were colonised, it cannot be a reiteration of the violence and destruction of colonialism. There is always another story that we might want to tell. We share Katherine McKittrick’s belief that description is not liberation, and that we must analyse and create. How does moving away from dominant orderings make us free to re-imagine, re-create and re-map? How can our recognition of spatial performances of the otherwise recalibrate our understanding of our right to African place altogether?
We use the idea of disembodied territories to understand sites of African resistance where marginalized epistemes outlast erasure, centering place-making as a vital and ever-changing way of being in the world. Disembodied here gestures towards a break from dominant and Eurocentric notions of bio-determined place and time, centring instead place-making as imaginings of what an African space can feel, look, smell, sound, and be like. Working against the coloniality of maps as methods and means of dispossession, ordering, extraction, enslavement, and war-making, against our own epistemic displacement. we ask how we might subvert or transcend this violent past and present to instead centre ideas of space imagined otherwise.
This undertaking appears in the lights and shadows of projects such Chimurenga, the Archive of Forgetfulness, African Mobilities, Palestine Open Maps, The Funambulist and many more who represent a growing exploration of African, diasporic, and Global South world-making, space-making, sense-making, and care-taking projects. We are immensely grateful to these incredible projects and what they have opened up and made imaginable, through asking questions on the basis of African political, epistemic, and moral grounds. We want to move towards abolitionist geographies, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore teaches us. We want to look through a lens of Pan Africanism that moves from the temporal to the spatial, as we learned from Denise Ferreira Da Silva. We want to rebuild our atrophied habits of assembly as Stephano Harney and Fred Moten implore us to do. And we want to free ourselves from the compulsive pursuit of mastery, as Julietta Singh urges us to do.
In short, this is a collective, fugitive, messy, and incomplete sense-making exercise. And we do it because we want to do it.
Ahmed, S., 2019. What's the Use?: On the Uses of Use. Duke University Press.
Amoo-Adare, E.A., 2013. Spatial Literacy: Contemporary Asante Women's Place-making (p. 173). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Awan, N., 2017. ‘Mapping Otherwise’ in, Schalk, M., Kristiansson, T. and Mazé, R., Feminist futures of spatial practice: Materialisms, activisms, dialogues, pedagogies, projections. AADR/Spurbuchverlag, pp. 33-41.
Bhandar, B., 2018. Colonial lives of property: Law, land, and racial regimes of ownership. Duke University Press.
Brand, D., 2012. A map to the door of no return: Notes to belonging. Vintage Canada.
Elden, S., 2013. The birth of territory. University of Chicago Press.
Fanon, F., 2007. The wretched of the earth. Grove Press.
Mbembe, A., 2001. At the edge of the world: Boundaries, territoriality, and sovereignty in Africa. In Globalization (pp. 22-51). Duke University Press.
Moten, F. and Harney, S., 2021. All incomplete. AK Press.
Raffestin, C., 2012. Space, territory, and territoriality. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 30(1), pp.121-141.
Singh, J., 2017. Unthinking mastery: Dehumanism and decolonial entanglements. Duke University Press.
Trouillot, M.R., 1995. Silencing the past: Power and the production of history. Beacon Press.
Wynter, S., 2006. On how we mistook the map for the territory, and reimprisoned ourselves in our unbearable wrongness of being, of Desêtre: Black studies toward the human project. A Companion to African‐American Studies, pp.107-118.