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Title: Nyau philosophy : contemporary art and the problematic of the gift : a panegyric
Author: Kambalu, Samson
ISNI:       0000 0004 7226 307X
Awarding Body: University of the Arts London
Current Institution: University of the Arts London
Date of Award: 2016
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Societies in Southern Africa remain largely gift economies, their art conceived as an infrastructure within everyday life, and yet art from the region continues to be read within the values of mimetic art where art is conceived as part of the superstructure of restricted Western economic and social thinking. My research on how the problematic of the gift and Bataille’s theory of the gift, the ‘general economy’, animates various aspects of my art praxis has set out to correct this discrepancy. It includes a re-examination of the general economy of the modern African society, which Achille Mbembe has described as the ‘postcolony’, and how it has impacted on the development of my work as an artist. My research is reflexive and practice-led. The specific praxis considered has included a body of work – published novels, films, installations, multimedia artwork and personal experiences – stretching back to 2000, when I made my first conceptual work of art, as a professional artist in Malawi. The problematic of the gift within my work has been explored alongside contemporary African art with a focus on Meschac Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art, and contemporary art at large with a focus on Situationist theory and praxis. I grew up in Malawi, a Chewa, and my research identifies the aesthetic sensibility in my art praxis as being directly influenced by the Nyau gift giving tradition which manifests in Chewa everyday life through play and a robust masquerading tradition, Gule Wamkulu, now a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This thesis compares aspects of the animastic and all-encompassing Chewa Nyau philosophy to Situationism as rooted in Dada and Surrealism. In light of the recent marginalisation of Gule Wamkulu in modern Chewa society, my research identifies the contemporary artist after Situationism as the new creative elite, Gule, akin to Gule Wamkulu in the heyday of Chewa prestation society. In my praxis, Nyau philosophy identifies the ‘cinema of attractions’ (manifest in the Malawi of my childoood as ‘Nyau Cinema’), the internet and the internet bureau, as new bwalo, arenas, to orchestrate play and invariably gift giving within the liminal spaces of modern spectacular cultures and commercial networks in what Negri and Hardt have described as the age of Empire. My thesis is presented as a ‘general writing’, a form of gift giving described by Derrida, and is communicated through an intellectual panegyric with an extensive appendix documenting the nature of my art and research as praxis. The appendix includes a detourned Facebook timeline (2011-16) and legal documents from a Venetian court regarding my installation Sanguinetti Breakout Area at the Venice Biennale 2015. The panegyric is what has united the theoretical and practice components of my research into one on-going inquiry into the problematic of the gift within everyday life.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: African Society and Culture studies ; History of Art