Skype call between Mpho Matsipa and Asha Veal Brisebois
Mpho Matsipa is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Architecture at Columbia GSAPP and Curator at Studio-X Johannesburg. She is also a researcher at the Wits City Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. After completing her professional degree in Architecture at the University of Cape Town, with a distinction in design, Mpho was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and later, a Carnegie Grant as a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley.
Mpho has worked as an architect and she has been shortlisted in two national design competitions. She has curated several exhibitions, including the South Africa Pavilion at the 11th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice Biennale (2008), and she curates Studio-X Johannesburg, an experimental public platform on architecture and the city. Her research interests include globalization and urbanism in African cities, spatial justice, and culture, race, and representation. In 2016, Mpho was co-convener of the first “Other Desires: The African City” conference at Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.
MPHO MATSIPA: One of the things that I’m trying to understand or to explore is the possibility of new languages and different languages for speaking to African experiences of modernity. I think that there’s been a lot of work done by scholars like Edward Said and Valentin Mudimbe around the way in which Africa or ‘the Orient’ has been produced through colonial fantasy and colonial desires, but I think that there is scope, particularly in the field of architecture and planning, to think about the ways in which Africans have actually produced space in African cities, and the forms of desire and the desires that Africans have for themselves about these cities.
Mudimbe would say that when other people write about Africa, what they’re actually writing about is something else. So a lot of conceptual frameworks that emerge out of a kind of European epistemology then get transposed onto Africa, and that makes it difficult to make sense of African experiences, and so Africa and Africans become signs of something else.
What the conference is trying to do is to move beyond this kind of critique of the production of knowledge, and really think through and explore the ways in which Africans are producing space, and the ways that Africans are thinking about histories of modernity, and the role of Africans in actually co-producing the cities and finding ways to navigate the complexities, and the contradictions, and the paradoxes that modernity and modernization brought, including the complexities of the colonial project.
What I also find in my own reading is that very few scholars take radical African thinkers seriously when thinking about modernity in Africa, so we very quickly move from the period of colonization to a discourse of development that is sponsored by the IMF and the World Bank. There’s a whole set of African thinkers. You mentioned Senghor. There’s Julius Nyerere. There’s Kwame Nkrumah, who don’t feature strongly in thinking about modern African history from an architectural point of view, so I’m very interested in what a return to these kinds of desires could mean in the way that we think about the future.
“The future is not inevitably European or American. The future could be something else…”