Petra Ponte (Curator in Residence) about “A Rap on Race Revisited”

studio das weisse haus is pleased to introduce Petra Ponte, who currently resides as Curator in Residence. She is a curator and cultural producer based in Amsterdam. Petra Ponte holds a BA in Theatre Studies and an MA in Contemporary Art History from the University of Amsterdam. Her recent projects include prospects. a recital (Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 2015), I/K (Schloss Ringenberg, 2015), Opening Night Series (OAZO AIR, 2014-2015), FATFORM / FORWARD (2012-2014).


KS: During your stay in Vienna you are working on the project A Rap on Race Revisited, which is a three-part program built around the re-enactment of the 1970s conversation between James Baldwin and Margaret Mead about the crisis of their and our time. How did you come across this conversation?

PP: To be honest I don’t recall when I first came across the conversation, but I returned to it and it is what not only the transcript itself but also the reading of two particular articles, one by actress, playwright and scholar Anna Deavere Smith[1] the other by poet and scholar Edward Kamau Brathwaite[2], that made me want to bring this beautifully complex conversation back to life. For Anna Deavere Smith the conversation is part of her utopian repertoire for verbatim theatre, a form of theatre that is dedicated to “language as utterance” and “long[s] for flesh, blood, and breathing” interested as it is in presence and “modes of communication requiring human beings to be in the same room at the same time” while aiming to “illuminate the words of centuries past” and “shedding a light on what is yet to come.” Edward Kamau Brathwaite aptly points out that Baldwin and Mead could in a sense be seen and heard, perhaps despite of themselves, as “the personae, the media, through which the uncontrollable (because sub-conscious) psycho-intellectual forces that exist within a racially plural society speak.”

KS: The performative reading, which will be done by human rights activist and all-round artist Patrick Bongola and choreographer and performer Krõõt Juurak, will take place in three parts at das weisse haus following the original course of the conversation. In addition, you invite activists, artists, cultural producers, scholars and anyone interested to partake in the program with a text, a performance, or any other form of un/scripted re-action. This because you aim to find out, together with everyone present, what frictions would come into play, what conversations, feelings, thoughts and disputes would be dragged out along with the re-liveness of the conversation. Your undertaking is quite daring, to the extent that you are depending on the audience. Would you agree that this maintains a moment of failure, due to the fact that it’s impossible to organize the outcome?

PP: Perhaps it does have a potential of failure, mostly because I’m depending on people to show up, and be present – it doesn’t work if there is no active ‘audience’. I would also say that it would be fruitless, or at least not very fruitful, if the people present experience that they need to come to a point of consensus. I hope, and expect, that the conversation sparks various understandings, and most likely will generate disputes too. At the same time it’s important to me that it becomes a space of genuine listening, of listening affectively that is, of acknowledging opinions, feelings and experiences that could well be different than your own.

KS: Has it been difficult for you as a curator who’s based in Amsterdam and visits Vienna for the first time, to reach out to a potential audience?

PP: It is of great importance for me that the project has local resonance, so I have done my utmost best to get to know the cultural landscape of Vienna. I was lucky to arrive mid-June, just before the summer break, because of that I have had the chance to visit a lot of interesting programs, such as the (COUNTER)TROPICAL Season Ending at Tanzquartier Wien, Nikita Dhawan’s lecture Can Non-Europeans Theorize? Transnational Literacy and Planetary Ethics in a Global Age in the frame of the lecture series on transculturality at the University of Music and Performing Arts, and the presentations by Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur, Yuderkys Espinosa Miñoso, Tatiana Nascimento, Gonzaga Lorde and Mãe Beth de Oxum at the Academy of Fine Arts, specifically the PCAP study program, as part of Njideka Stephanie Iroh and Marissa Lobo’s project Bodies of Knowledge – Multiplying Marginalized Subjectivities of Utopia through Art and Storytelling. What is more professor Marina Gržinić and Assistant Professor Muzaffer Hasaltay from the PCAP study program gave me the opportunity to present a guest lecture about my practice, and the upcoming project in particular, as part of the June PCAP Program. Of course I hope that the people I have met on these, and other, occasions will partake in the program.

KS: Your aim to create a space of dissent reminds me of Oliver Marchart’s article The Curatorial Function – Organizing the Ex/Position[3], in which he points out, that the curatorial function consists in the organization of a public sphere, and therefore in the organization of a conflict or antagonism. Do you see a parallel in his analysis to your project?

PP: I am not sure, I don’t think that I am aiming for dissent per se, maybe it is more a space with the possibility of difference and/or differing, which could be said to be a discordant space in relation to many of the spaces we move in, in our everyday lives. To create this space or situation I have ‘only’ suggested a beginning, where this will take us I cannot, nor do I want to, control. What appealed to me when reading Marchart’s article, upon your suggestion, is his understanding of a public sphere as emerging from “the breakdown of the consensus that is otherwise always silently presumed” on the one hand, and interpreting the practice of exposition, quoting Jérôme Sans, as “a mutual commitment on the part of all those participating in it.” This appears to relate to the ideas of creating polemical spaces for practices of equality in Rancière’s thinking – or at least my understanding thereof – and this certainly inspires me. Another important position for me in conceptualizing this particular program has been Monika Szewczyk, more specifically her take on the Art of Conversation. In an article with that title she writes, with Blanchot, that conversation “even in its most coherent form must ‘always fragment itself by changing protagonists’ with an ‘interruption for the sake of understanding, understanding in order to speak.” It is in this interrupting, the passing from one to the other that confirmations, developments and contradictions can take shape. Consequently having a conversation with someone means “admitting them into the field where worlds are constructed. And this ultimately runs the risk of redefining not only the “other,” but us as well.”[4]

The interview with Petra Ponte was conducted by Katja Stecher, project coordinator, studio das weisse haus.

– – –

A Rap on Race Revisited will take place at das weisse haus, Hegelgasse 14, 1010 Vienna on
July 18, 6 – 10 pm
July 19, 12 – 4 pm
July 19, 8 pm – midnight

– – –

[1] Deavere Smith, Anna. “A system of Lights.” Theater, Vol. 26, No.1-2 (1995): 50-52. N.B. Nineteen years after writing this article Anna Deavere Smith organized a two-day public forum Talking About Race, Science, Politics, Art 1959-1970-2014 at The Public Theater, New York. This theatre season Anna Deavere Smith joined forces with director/choreographer Donald Byrd to create a dance-theatre project with Spectrum Dance Theater Company and Seattle Repertory Theatre sourcing from the conversation between Baldwin and Mead.
[2] Brathwaite, Edward. “Race and the Divided Self.” Caribbean Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (1974): 129. [Rpt. Brathwaite, Edward. “Race and the Divided Self.” Black World Vol. 21, No. 9 (1972): 54-68.]
[3] Marchart, Oliver. “The Curatorial Function – Organizing the Ex/Position.” Trans. Steven Lindberg, spec. Issue Curating Critique No. 9 (2011): 43-46.
[4] Szewczyk, Monika. “Art of Conversation, Part I”. e-flux journal Vol. 2. No 3. (2009).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s