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Camden Arts Centre exhibits new film commission by Rwandan-born Dutch artist Christian Nyampeta
Installation view of Christian Nyampeta: Words after the World at Camden Arts Centre, 2017. Photo: Damian Griffiths.

LONDON.- Camden Arts Centre presents Words after the World, an exhibition and new film commission by Rwandan-born Dutch artist Christian Nyampeta. The exhibition follows Nyampeta’s residency at Camden Arts Centre from May – September 2017.

Nyampeta’s work draws from African/a philosophy and the fugitive Western ascetic practices developed in the deserts of Egypt amidst the spiritual experimentation of Late Antiquity. One such practice is idiorrhythmy, which proposes a way of living in common with others while having one’s own rhythm: being in the world on one’s own terms. Nyampeta emigrated from Rwanda to the Netherlands in 1999. When he returned to his country of birth, he noticed that many words that exist in the Dutch and English languages do not have equivalents in Kinyarwanda, including terms such as ‘philosophy‘, ‘rhythm’ and ‘genocide’. He began a dialogue with the Rwandan philosopher Isaïe Nzeyimana which revealed a shared uncertainty about how to describe key terms that are relevant to their mutual lives.

At the core of the exhibition is a new film reflecting on the boundaries of language and the possibilities of articulation outside inhospitable restraints. It follows the solitary endeavour of a writer attempting to complete a novella at a time when existing words are subject to copyright. Scenes from the fictional novella, filmed on location in Nyanza, are interspersed throughout the primary narrative. Nyampeta collaborated with a boarding school established to accommodate orphans of the Rwandan genocide to produce these scenes. The students enacted a sequence of events in which the early morning routine of an ‘elite’ sports group sends ripples out from the school into the wider community. Through the film, Nyampeta asks: what remains when one’s own words and sense of meaning become invalid? In what ways can meaning be given to life when its expression is subjected to prohibition?

During his residency at Camden Arts Centre, Nyampeta convened a group of multilingual participants to form a scriptorium – a space for a working group to read, translate and write – in which key African Francophone texts were translated into English for the first time. Focusing on texts by Alexis Kagame and Maniragaba Balibutsa, the dialogue between the translations and the original works informed the script of the film. Kagame’s influential but also controversial book puts forward a specific, Rwandan philosophy of ‘being’. He contends that the structure of Kinyarwanda reveals a distinct meaning of ‘being’ that differs from that in the West. Contentiously, it asserts that ‘being human’ only becomes a possibility when we attend to the needs of our fellow beings.

Words after the World is presented within an installation which Nyampeta describes as a ‘hosting structure’, encompassing murals, furniture constructions and a dossier documenting the process of the exhibition and scriptorium. Throughout the exhibition, the scriptorium will continue to convene, opening to new members including those from refugee support groups around London. The dossier will be updated with the new translations as they become available, and readings will be broadcast on Nyampeta’s online platform Radius.

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