This PSi #21 Fluid States activity was postponed due issues on the ground at their location.

The organizers presented the event from 25 to 27 September 2015.



Crossing Boundaries:  Global Humanities, East African “Homes”
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

September 24-27, 2015
Crossing Boundaries, Rivers, Deserts, Epistemic Universe, Orality, Practice/Performance, ‘Security’, ‘Home’, Life and Death



The Reflexive: Addis Ababa and Cities in Greater East Africa

Being part of the global intellectual and artistic events that will take place under the rubric PSI # 21 Fluid States: Performances of Unknowing, and as a cluster of PSi East Africa, “Crossing Boundaries” is an event which brings various performances, workshops, exhibitions, and conversations together.

This multifaceted event will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia between Sep. 24-27, 2015.  Valorized as the “capital” of Africa, Addis Ababa as a city has evolved along a memory scape where collective forgetting and re-membering have happened.  In this festival, we chose to begin by theorizing the very city in which this festival takes place since the selection of this town for the staging of the festival should not escape critical scrutiny.  In so doing, we are not just invoking the positionality of our festival but inviting critical conversations on cities and production of subjectivities in our region.

 For instance, we may ask, what insights would reading “cities in Africa” from Addis Ababa would invoke?  By unsettling the binary division of the colonial and non-colonial city, how can we complicate Addis Ababa’s urbanism in view of pre-colonial notions of urbanity, questions of empire and expansionism, and postcolonial life forms?  Regionally speaking, we need also to enquire into urbanisms of the region through a relational lens.  This overarching question invites multiple engagements.  It is in this regard that we ask the most important question: How would our understanding and construction of subjectivities in city spaces change if we attend to the regional, geopolitical, economic, cultural and historical contexts as well as particularities of a given urbanisms? 

Border Constructions and Crossings: Greater Eastern Africa

While Addis Ababa is chosen as the site where Crossing Boundaries will be staged, our conversation/performance includes engagement with countries of the Horn and the historically designated East Africa and treats all as mentioned above as part of a  “Greater” Eastern Africa, namely—Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt.  This project is not just about the nation states in this region, though.  It is also about boundary crossings.  The fact that the festival focuses on the Eastern African region calls for interrogation of the traditional ways of territorializing the region with names like East Africa, the Horn or Greater Horn.  This begets discussion of colonial and postcolonial logics and practices of border constructions and certain types of boundary crossings.  Who did and is doing the conceptual as well as physical cartography of the region that we will refer as Eastern Africa? What does it mean to construct a border so as to dis/allow border crossing?  These questions call for reconceptualization of geo-politics and the political history of the region.  Crossing Boundaries, therefore, presents an opportunity for us to rethink the traditional territorialization by attending to historico-political and socio-economic processes that unfolded in the Eastern African region. 

River Systems and Deserts as Epistemic Universes    

We use River Nile, the main river that has multiple origins and connects most of the states of Greater East Africa as a literal and figurative mode of thought through which we ask myriads of questions about the life forms, epistemes and practices of the region.  As a literal and figurative arena where shared epistemes and life forms coalesce, the River Nile allows us to think with and through the Deleuzian and Guattarian notion of “rhizomatic” entry points and exits in terms of theory and performance to go beyond binaristic, linear, state-bounded and hierarchical conceptualizations of socio-economic and political life in the region. The Nile as a river system allows us to see multiplicity of ideas, practices, contestations, rifts/fissures, confrontations and negotiations – various kinds of boundary crossings as well as border constructions in the region.  Though such mode of thought provides possibilities, it needs to be noted that both the entry and exit points are not given but informed by tensions, which have had their own moments of emergences.  

However, when we talk of crossings in this region, we need also to re-center deserts and the attendant life forms, and should go beyond conceptualizing deserts as “absence”.  Such a prism allows us to see River and Deseret as ‘alternative’ life worlds in the region – one representing ‘sedentary agriculture’ the other ‘pastoral’ life. The desert will be conceptualized here as an epistemic universe which makes possible and emits its own way of life and sensibilities.   In this regard, perhaps one of the most important things that make our Eastern African region boundary crossing particularly noteworthy is that both imperial and colonial borders have historically traversed the desert and “the lowlands”.  What is interesting is the process of de/subjectification performed by the modern nation state, which imposed itself upon pastoral communities.  Amidst such relations how does the latter negotiate its collective identity by assuming a performative mode? In what ways do the dominated attempt to circumvent the vicissitude of colonial and imperial borders by assuming multiple identities? What is the value of performance in the quotidian pastoral life and how does that performance resonate with the economic and the political concerns animating pastoral communities in this region?   

Embodied Power

In the main, since we invoked spatiality and temporality as points of critical engagement, we would also like to think of subjectivities as lived along river basins, the rift valley, mountains and low land areas, oceanic bodies and urban and rural spaces.  In these spaces bodies do not wonder alone but move relationally.  And this includes relationships that bodies have with “power/s”. Crossing Boundaries presents the avenue that would enable us to see how power is inscribed on bodies and how bodies could be archives/repertoires, mediums, battle-fields, pens and weapons.  In so far as the movement of bodies in the region is concerned, the meta-narrative of ‘migration from north to south’ preoccupies the scholarship.  The Hametic and Semitic theses are cases in point that show the focus of North-South migration in our region. Whereas such kind of myth making and narratives of migration is not uncommon, the ideological foundations of such myth making and the attendant mundane lived experiences should be given serious attention in having a historiographic understanding of the region. Thus, we must ask: what about other kinds of movements of bodies in the region? What possibilities would this attendance to ‘other movements’ offer to African studies?

Security and Home, Life and Death

Crossing boundaries and migration in the Eastern African region is also related to “security” and has political, economic and environmental reasons.  In this conference we are interested more in the “political” reasons of “security” and “home”. Since notions of the “global” and “local” are mutually constitutive, Crossing Boundaries allows us to grapple with questions of global “security” and “home” by taking Eastern Africa as its locale.  Informed by interdisciplinarity, the festival invites intellectuals/performers to engage with the notions of ‘security’ and ‘home’ by attending to the metamorphosis of the logic of governance from (post)coloniality which was “independent first” to the new reason of biopolitics and necropolitics – “security first”.  Given that the global/local discourse and practice of anti-terrorism has accorded the modern nation state with the power to construct state of exception, one can engage with the idea of “security” from various perspectives.  Some of the technologies of the global imperial power include ‘war on terror’. These techniques allow the nation state to go beyond management of life and to consider necropolitics as part of its governmentality.  Aside from the positive and normative discussion of ‘security,’ this festival would like us to see the historical and material conditions that make the invention of in/security and the disposal of bodies as logics of governance possible.  The new logic has been entangled with multilayered global/local projects of neo-liberalism.  The notion of “security” also takes into account notions of intersectionality and assemblages by making an attempt to experiences of ethnicity, race, class, gender, religion, disability, sexuality and race in post-colonial or other contexts in the region.  

Crossing Boundaries: Questions that Matter

Here we will list the major questions and issues that the festival aims to raise in connection to the above discussed themes.

  • Given that the region is a productive site in terms of heterogeneity of urban life forms, it is imperative to ask: What is the ‘nature’ of urbanism in the region? What kind of subjectivities were borne out of cities?  What generalizations and /or particularities can we draw from a critical comparative study of urbanisms in the region?
  • By conceptualizing River Nile and Deserts as epistemic universes and heterogeneous sites of life forms, we can ask: What forms of ‘cultures’ and ‘civilizations’ have sprung in the Greater East African region? How do they speak to today’s tensions and hopes in Greater Horn?  How does the specter of coloniality haunt the postcolonial moment? What possibilities can these episetimic universes and practices present to the peoples of Eastern-Africa to envision new political structures?
  • Who invents and circulates cartographies? How does the (post)colonial border construction resonate with body/soul dismemberment? Does boundary crossing offer possibilities of decolonization/re-membering? Who forgets what? Why?
  • How does language help us articulate questions of desire, memory, knowledge and power? How did notions of un/translatability inform the formation of (post)colonial identities and subjectivities?
  • In contexts of empire and political domination by hegemonic powers both at the global and regional/local level, where is the archeological site of the ‘ordinary’ knowledge situated?  What made certain epistemologies/aesthetics/praxis visible and others invisible? How do we dispel the hierarchy of the written text over orality and embodied historiography without loosing sight of power that cuts bodies? How does the movement of bodies – dance, rituals, story telling – serve as important avenues for the concretization of identities and formation of subjectivities?
  • What kind of promise does performance studies present in terms of re-centering the human? Which word performs illocutionary power in multiple ways? Who is citing what/ who to what effect? What kind of dramatic technique is used to stage a certain kind of politics? How do theatricalities of events lend power to act? What do bodies do to each other in their unequal relations? Where lies the political in the performative?
  • How do we imagine human security? How does political violence in the region impact the meaning of security?  How are bodies disciplined and the life managed? What made it possible for the modern nation state to invent moments of exceptions and naturalize its re/ordering? How does the logic of violence speak to administration of life and death? What are the conditions that produce the homely, unhomely, homeless, refugee, immigrant, and diaspora?

Crossing Boundaries Festival and Conference Partners

Organizing Institutions

1. Ethiopian Theater Professionals’ association

2. Addis Ababa University College of Performing and Visual Arts

3. Sundance Institute East Africa Theater Program Alumni

4. Performance Studies International /PSi/


Supporting government organizations

  1. Addis Ababa City Administration Culture and Tourism
  2. Ethiopian Federal Democratic Republic (EFDR) Ministry of Culture and Tourism
  3. Ethiopian National Theater
  4. EFDR Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Supporting Private Organizations

  1. Michelle Promotion
  2. Kiba Multimedia Production
  3. Care Events and Communications
  4. Aesop Communication


  1. BGI Ethiopia
  2. Ambo Mineral Water
  3. Alliance Francaise Ethiopia

Festival and Conference Venues

Performance venues

  1.  Ethiopian National Theater
  2. Addis Ababa Culture and Theater Hall (City Hall)
  3. Hager Fikir Theater

Conference Venues

  1. Addis Ababa University Mekonnen Hall
  2. Gebrekirstos Desta Modern Art Museum Hall
  3. Addis Ababa University Eshetu Chole Hall
  4. Ale School of Fine Art and Design

Contact persons

  1. Surafel Wondimu (International Relations)
  2. Meaza Worku (Program Director)
  3. Azeb Worku (Artistic Director)
  4. Simeneh Ayalew

Organization Committee Address

Ethiopian Theater Professionals’ Association’s Office

Sahlesilassie Building 1st floor room no. 112/15 (In front of Addis Ababa Stadium)

Telephone- +251118106081

E-mail – crossingboundariesethiopia@gmail.com



Tags: Daily Life Daily Rituals and Performance   History Tradition and Performance  Performance Studies in Africa   Performance Studies in Languages Other Than English  Terrorism Security and Performance   

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