The Art of Emergency: Aesthetics and Aid in African Crises

Cherie Rivers Ndaliko; Samuel Anderson

The Art of Emergency charts the maneuvers of art through conflict zones across the African continent. Advancing diverse models for artistic and humanitarian alliance, the volume urges conscientious deliberation on the role of aesthetics in crisis through intellectual engagement, artistic innovation, and administrative policy. Across Africa, artists increasingly turn to NGO sponsorship in pursuit of greater influence and funding, while simultaneously NGOs-both international and local-commission arts projects to buttress their interventions and achieve greater reach and marketability. The key values of artistic expression thus become "healing" and "sensitization," measured in turn by "impact" and "effectiveness." Such rubrics obscure the aesthetic complexities of the artworks and the power dynamics that inform their production. Clashes arise as foreign NGOs import foreign aesthetic models and preconceptions about their efficacy, alongside foreign interpretations of politics, medicine, psychology, trauma, memorialization, and so on. Meanwhile, each community embraces its own aesthetic precedents, often at odds with the intentions of humanitarian agencies. The arts are a sphere in which different worldviews enter into conflict and conversation. To tackle the consequences of aid agency arts deployment, volume editors Samuel Mark Anderson and Cherie Rivers Ndaliko assemble ten case studies from across the African continent employing multiple media including music, sculpture, photography, drama, storytelling, ritual, and protest marches. Organized under three widespread yet under-analyzed objectives for arts in emergency-demonstration, distribution, and remediation-each case offers a different disciplinary and methodological perspective on a common complication in NGO-sponsored creativity. By shifting the discourse on arts activism away from fixations on message and toward diverse investigations of aesthetics and power negotiations, The Art of Emergency brings into focus the conscious and unconscious configurations of humanitarian activism, the social lives it attempts to engage, and the often-fraught interactions between the two.


The Art of Emergency: Introduction
Conversations from the Field Part I: Diagnoses
Part One: Demonstrate
1. To Set to Work Even with a Broken Heart:
Musical Aesthetics of Collective Protests in South Africa
2. Covering Emergency:
NGO Photographs of Stability in a Space of Ongoing Conflict
3. Making a Difference?:
Musical Strategies Among Malawi's Volun-Tourists
Part Two: Distribute
4. Mobutu's Ghost:
A Case for the Urgency of History in Cultural Aid
5. Sexual Violence and the Politics of Forgiveness in Guinea:
Musical Interventions
6. Sounding the Ethnic, Shaping the Nation:
Music and the Politics of Belonging from Colonial Myth to Cultural Peacekeeping in Mali
Part Three: Remediate
7. Unraveling and Welding Together:
War's Transformative Influence on Contemporary Mozambican Art
8. Humanitarian Theatre in the Great Lakes Region:
In Pursuit of Performativity
9. Times Past Under Fire:
Accounting for the Efficacy of Reconciliation Rituals in Postwar Sierra Leone
10. Mice, Cows, and Real Rwandans
The Folklore of Emergency in a Rwandan Refugee Camp
Conversations from the Field Part II: Proposals


Cherie Rivers Ndaliko is an interdisciplinary scholar, activist, and Director of Research and Education at the Yole!Africa cultural center in the DRC. The focus of her research is art and social justice in warzones. With data gathered through empirical research, ethnography, and community based participatory methods, she advocates for a paradigm shift in the application of arts activism within humanitarian and charitable aid. Her analyses of contemporary sociopolitical artworks draw from the fields of African studies, ethnomusicology, film/media studies, and cultural theory. Samuel Mark Anderson is an ethnographer who researches expressive culture and its encounters with violence, politics, and public health in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in West Africa. His work has been funded by the Social Science Research Council, the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, and the U.S. Fulbright Program.