Spectres of Bandung

Spectres of Bandung


Spectres of Bandung
A Political Imagination of Asia-Africa

De Appel is thrilled to host and welcome Vera Mey and Philippe Pirotte for the second time this year. Their first visit to de Appel was to give a seminar to the Curatorial Programme participants in March. This time they present to the public the research-based exhibition Spectres of Bandung which looks at the artistic imagination spurred by the spirit of self-determination that reverberated in the lead-up to the 1955 Bandung Conference and lingers long after. The exhibition Spectres of Bandung will open at Gropius-Bau in Berlin, on 6 October 2023, and is curated by Zippora Elders, Philippe Pirotte, and Vera Mey, with Elizabeth Asafo-Adjei, Suman Gopinath, Grace Samboh and Grant Watson.

From 17 to 24 April 1955, delegates from a total of 29 independent African and Asian states came together in Bandung, Indonesia, to express their will to resist imperialism and racism, and imagine a new world after colonialism. The conference is regarded as the moment that decolonisation accelerated in the 20th century, and is potently remembered as the event which reclaimed for these continents “the audacity to produce its own image.” All means were mobilised to make this endeavour possible, as from the outset the mythologising potential was part of the organisers cognizance, and, as the myth is closely connected to the realm of stories and images, this is what interests the researchers and curators of this project particularly in making the exhibition.

African American journalist and writer Richard Wright travelled to Bandung to witness, record and report on this historic Asia-Africa Conference. His subsequent travelogue The Colour Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference (1956) details a world where the image of political power shifted through the highly mythologised "Bandung Spirit": a collective political project against colonialism and imperialism, and for self-determination and racial equality.1

Rather than dismissing the mythical proportions of the Bandung conference as “a story of disappointment”, by using the Bandung Spirit as an agent, we are able to see “poetics of relations,” responding to a “conjoined aesthetic and political ambition” in images, that display a “political possibility”.

Collaboratively conceived and combining various artistic, architectural and performative interventions, Spectres of Bandung brings together historical and contemporary artworks, documents, archives and films, in re-invented referential architectural configurations. This exhibition seeks to recount and re-evaluate the imagination of this watershed moment that was part of a climate of thought focused on a shifting image of global power.

Uniquely assembling Asian and African political powers, historians have cautioned against being “blinded by Bandung” for its romantic but impotent political promises. Regardless, it is clear that the Spectres of Bandung not only created an imagination of possibilities for historically subordinated parts of the world to connect laterally but also revealed complexities and ambivalences beyond bipartisan dialectics entrenched through the colonial period.

The exhibition seeks to unpack the spectral imagination and potency, prompted by the conference, around which a certain form of aesthetics was produced that is still present today. While the Bandung Spirit is continually resuscitated as a challenge to existing racial biases and capitalist injustices, this exhibition seeks to convey the storylines of a burgeoning (geo-)political imagination taking shape, rather than blithely recanting the Bandung Spirit as a forgotten and unique memory of an unlikely political couplet between Asia and Africa.

Additional information

Everyone is welcome to join this presentation, there is no need to subscribe in advance. Please note that on the 4th of May it is Remembrance of the Dead in the Netherlands. This means that at 8 p.m. we all keep 2 minutes of silence to remember all victims of the Second World War and all war situations and peace operations since. De Appel will make it possible for all visitors to keep 2 minutes of silence that evening.

About the curators 

Vera Mey is an independent curator and final year PhD candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Her doctoral research unpacks modern Southeast Asian art during the Cold War eras in Cambodia, Indonesia and Singapore, paying particular attention to intersections of racial plurality within regionalism. Part of this research feeds the co-curatorial framework of Spectres of Bandung: A Political Imagination of Asia-Africa, an upcoming exhibition at Gropius-Bau, Berlin, starting October 2023.

Prior to this, she worked as a curator both institutionally and independently, predominantly with artists with a revisionist approach to history. She was part of the founding curatorial team of NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, led by Prof. Ute Meta Bauer (2014 - 2016), worked on the exhibition Anywhere but here (2016) at Bétonsalon - centre d'art et de recherche, Paris, and within the curatorial team of SUNSHOWER: Contemporary art from Southeast Asia 1980s to now, the largest survey of Southeast Asian contemporary art to be exhibited, at the Mori Art Museum and National Art Centre Tokyo (2017).

Philippe Pirotte is an associate curator at Gropius-Bau Berlin and Adjunct Senior Curator at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. He is also affiliated with the Städelschule Frankfurt as Professor Art History and Curatorial Studies. He served on the Documenta-Commission (2019-2022), which selected ruangrupa as the artistic direction of documenta fifteen (2022). He curated the monographic exhibition of Melati Suryodarmo for the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht (2022), and he is preparing the major group exhibition Spectres of Bandung: A Political Imagination of Asia-Africa for the Gropius-Bau Berlin (2023).

In this context he convened the series of online roundtables The Color Curtain and the Promise of Bandung (2021) focusing on cultural and artistic developments in relation to the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung, Indonesia. He was member of the curatorial team of the Jakarta Biennale in Indonesia in 2017, and was artistic director of the 2016 edition of La Biennale de Montréal, Canada. He edited an anthology of writings by artist Hassan Khan (2019), and contributed texts to a.o. Àsìkò: On the Future of Artistic and Curatorial Pedagogies in Africa published by the Center of Contemporary Art Lagos (2017) and Climates. Habitats, Environments published by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and MIT Press (2021).

1   Heloise Weber, “The ‘Bandung spirit’ and solidarist internationalism,” in: Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 17 issue 4: Beyond Bandung: The 1955 Asian-African Conference and Its Legacies for the International Order. footnote