International symposium
Paul Robeson

With Jared Ball, Lisenne Delgado, Mohammed Elnaiem, Gerald Horne, Tania Christina Monteiro, Anne Wetsi Mpoma, Shana L. Redmond, Machiri, Mireille Tsheusi Robert, Louna Sbou & Sylvana Simons
21.10.2022 & 22.10.2022

Friday 21 October 2022
Fame, movements and political transformation

Paul Robeson’s life exemplifies how the struggles for Black emancipation and for peace and justice in the world are still urgent today. Robeson did not set out to be a world-renowned artist. If it weren’t for his wife Eslanda Goode Robeson, he might have worked as a lawyer for most of his adult years. In retrospect, it seems certain, however, that at one point he would have emerged as an important political figure. Through acting and singing, Robeson was catapulted onto the world’s stage attracting massive followings of fans, and access to the world's elite. But for Robeson, fame was not an aim but a method to amass the stature and following which would resonate with the demands of his people. His was a bold and unapologetic call for full equal rights and status for Black people, an end to lynching and for world peace and friendship between nations.

As the title of the book edited by Freedomways Magazine calls him, Paul Robeson can be seen as a great Forerunner of the successful militancy of the civil rights struggle, led by figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Fred Hampton. This tradition which fused political action at home with international commitments to Pan-Africanism, anticolonialism and anti-imperialism is powerfully represented in Robeson’s career. On this day, we discuss to what extent fame and recognition can be instrumentalised to help serve political ends, and examine practices of activism within and without the institutions of arts, academia and government.


Art & Black Liberation in Brussels: Anne Wetsi Mpoma
Anne Wetsi Mpoma will take events in the life of Paul Robeson that resemble events of her own life or the life of other contemporary people around her (famous or not) and show the continuity of structural oppression. She will extend this to reflect on the necessity to act for Black liberation in today's European/globalised context, and to explain how she acts to achieve emancipatory objectives within the arts with her projects in Brussels.

Black Feminist Decolonialism: Mireille Tsheusi Robert
Mireille-Tsheusi Robert is a former singer and model, and she is well known in Belgian media today for her articulate and critical analyses of persistent racism in Belgium. She will recount her own personal journey which today finds her the president of BAMKO Feminist Center for the Reflection and Action on Anti-Black Racism. Robert will discuss her vision of the center, the role of arts and protests and how she uses her visibility as a media figure to militate for improved conditions for Black people living in Belgium.

Using Fame for Change: Sylvana Simons
Sylvana Simons' career has taken similar trajectories as that of Paul Robeson. Descendent of enslaved Africans working on the Surinamese plantations, Simons came to national attention in The Netherlands as a TV entertainer. At the height of her publicity, she elected to dedicate her life to social and economic justice forming the radically inclusive grassroots party BIJ1 (former Artikel1). In this session, Simons will examine the tradeoffs and challenges she is facing as she instrumentalises her notoriety for a better world.

Louna Sbou: The promise for tomorrow - on how to imagine braver space
With a sense of urgency, Louna Sbou will share some insights into their experience setting up Oyoun, a Berlin-space hub centering queer*feminist, class-critical and migrant perspectives. They will engage in an open dialogue highlighting some of the challenges sourced in potentially contradicting practices by public administrations while demanding a more diverse landscape across arts and cultural institutions.

Machiri: PUNGWE
An interdisciplinary project circling sound in Africa with related contemporary arts discourses and spaces.