PLATFORM: Unlearning Part III, Multiple SAH Members Participate

Mar 8, 2022 by PLATFORM

This contains the third and concluding segment of the conversation from the Unlearning Workshop organized by the Central New York Urban Humanities Working Group, Dec 9, 2020. Follows these links for Parts I and Part II.


Unlearning Institutions

Samia Henni: Thank you very, very much for accepting our invitation. I know that you are both facing institutional challenges at the moment and appreciate your generosity and friendship in joining us. I rejected framing this panel because that's what institutions usually do. I asked our panelists to share whatever they needed, whatever they wanted, whatever they wished to share with us.

Lesley Lokko: Much of what I'm going to be talking about tonight will come across as rather fragmented, from multiple positions, rather than a single, coherent one. I’ll be speaking in multiple voices — as a designer, design tutor, educational entrepreneur, and as an administrator. What's really important for me to state upfront, is that I don't come from an academic tradition that sees such distinctions between many of the separations that are intrinsic to the US model of architectural education; between studio and seminar, for example, or between design and research; between the profession and academia; between intuition and methodology, and between history and theory, to be honest. The absence — and perhaps poverty — of having not had a structured, “proper,” and traditional upbringing in architecture has turned out for me to be the most important, liberating tool available in thinking, designing, and implementing a de-colonizing or transformative pedagogy. I'm going to do two things this evening. The first is to share the thinking of Cameroonian philosopher, Achille Mbembe. I quote,

When we say access, we are also talking about the creation of those conditions that will allow black staff and students to say of the university: “This is my home. I am not an outsider here. I do not have to beg or apologize to be here. I belong here.”

Such a right to belong, such a rightful sense of ownership has nothing to do with charity or hospitality.

It has nothing to do the liberal notion of “tolerance.”

It has nothing to do with me having to assimilate into a culture that is not mine as a precondition of participation in the public life of the institution.

It has all to do with the ownership of the space that is a public common good.

It has to do with an expansive sense of citizenship which itself is indispensable for the project of democracy, which means nothing without a deep commitment to some idea of the public.” For Black faculty and students, this has as much to do with creating a sense of mental dispositions as it does the making of physical spaces.[1]

For Black faculty and students, this has as much to do with creating a sense of mental dispositions as it does the making of physical spaces.

We need to reconcile the logics of indictment and the logics of self-affirmation, and occupation. This requires a substantial amount of mental capital, and the development of a set of pedagogies that we could call, “pedagogies of presence.” Black faculty, staff, and students have to invent a set of creative practices that ultimately make it impossible for official structures to ignore them, to not recognize them, to pretend that they are not there, to pretend that they do not see them, or to pretend that their voices do not count.

The second thing I'm going to show is a video that was put together with my teaching partner at the Graduate School of Architecture in Johannesburg, a couple of years ago, which I slightly reworked and will be using next semester. I chose it because watching it in 2020, after both the pandemic and the protests, gave me a different reading and appreciation of it. But it also brought up the question — which for me is the only question — of curriculum. What sort of course is a “special topics” course? Is it two credits? Four credits? Is it six? What is a credit? Is it a studio? If it's not a studio, is it a seminar? What's the difference? How many contact hours will I have? What is the output? What are the learning objectives? Those questions which have to be answered ahead of time, threatened to undo its possibilities. That remains a troubling hurdle to what I call decolonizing, de-racing, and demystifying the canon.

Reade the full article, including photos and video here

Multiple SAH Members participated in this Workshop.  

Samia Henni joined SAH in 2015. Victoria Young became a member in 1994, is now a Life member, and serves as SAH President.  Ana María León first joined SAH in 2009. Charles Davis II also first joined SAH in 2009 and is a founder of the SAH Race and Architectural History Affiliate Group. Lawrence Chua joined SAH in 2006. Peter Christensen first joined SAH in 2008. Mabel O. Wilson joined SAH in 2012 and served as the Sekler Talk speaker at the 2020 Virtual Conference. Swati Chattopadhyay joined SAH in 1998, and is now a Life member; she served as JSAH Editor from 2012 to 2014 and gave the Sekler Talk at the 2021 Virtual Conference.