Passage from the Balkans to the Tropical Congo and Harvard

From
The Battlefield
Where the Moon Says I Love You “I tell you what I will
and don’t ask me why…
I think life is a dream
and what you dream I live”

“Human beings are magical.
Bios and Logos.
Words made flesh, muscle and bone animated by hope and desire, belief materialized in deeds, deeds which crystallize our actualities (…)

And the maps of spring always have to be redrawn again, in undared forms.” (Sylvia Wynter 1995:35, drawing on Aimé Césaire)

I am Eliza, a French Fulbright-Schuman Researcher at Harvard University for the academic year 2017-2018. Born in the Balkans, my big dreams to fly and dive into the vast world and strong desire to break patterns and pursue cross- disciplinary studies and research brought me to Western and Central Europe, Africa and America.

I have always seen education and art as a tool of liberation, as a way to travel across time, space and borders and forge a new thinking and a new future. This worldview is reflected in my cosmopolitan life, choices and carefully theorized scholarly and research-writing approach that do not fall within conventional boundaries and reveal a deep understanding of global history and Black cosmologies pulling together insights from theories in history and anthropology, philosophy, literature, Black studies, arts and aesthetics.

Through my multifaceted background in arts, humanities, global affairs and fellowship at Harvard, I am conducting interdisciplinary research and translate my findings for international academic and professional research work, writing and analysis. In this way, I am able to put theories into motion, not only through the driving forces of my personal dreams, desires and commitments, but also through my activism for humanist international diplomacy, solidarity and cooperation.

I also felt extremely lucky to have the rare chance to become part of the Harvard Dance Center’s various performing arts courses and dance workshops. Through its intentions, creativity and “performed ethnography”, my engagement with dance in Africa and America – as performance and transnational social and education practice for informed transformation – attempts to forge connections across various borders.

The United States and Harvard University’s extremely stimulating environment allowed me to relate my investigations on the iconic and spectral colonial experiment and marking of bodies and imaginations in Congo to a research and art project Ndombe Dance. As Fanon wrote “Africa has the shape of a pistol, and Congo is its trigger.” My previous field research in Congo had already deepened my critical understanding of the complex social process of colonization in Congo and provided a new thinking for the complexities of colonial history. The goal of this investment in research and art is to foster social change and raise important questions about Black dance, with roots in Africanist aesthetics, as an intellectual, art and social activity, especially within an African and Congolese context.

As “the matriarch of black dance” Katherine Dunham demonstrated that “dance was far more than a mere aesthetic expression or form of entertainment; it was an important meaning-making activity with the rich potential to affect broad social change (…) She insisted that the dancing body could archive history, retain memory, and produce knowledge”1

My academic background and research opened doors to intellectual worlds in different times, diverse cultures and spaces. This unparalleled Fulbright fellowship in the United States was a major turning point in 2017 as Harvard provided the best possible home for my interest and investment in interdisciplinary methods and investigations.

Harvard University became an ideal site to explore more fully all my ideas and to participate in seminars with Cornel West, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Lawrence D. Bobo, Jean Comaroff, John Comaroff, Sven Beckert, Vincent Brown, Emmanuel Akyeampong, Ousmane Oumar Kane, Jacob Olupona and Glenda Carpio which inspired me to study how “the weakest and most abject have at times reshaped the world.”

1 Joanna Dee Das, Choreographing a New World: Katherine Dunham and the Politics of Dance, (Columbia University, 2014), 2-3.

 

This article originally appeared as a contribution to Fulbright Bulgaria.

Eliza Nedyalkova is a 2017-2018 Fulbright-Schuman Visiting Student Researcher to Harvard University. A graduate of the College of Europe, Eliza received a Fulbright grant to fund pre-doctoral research in International Relations. Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.