The last 50 years have seen an increased interest in performance and performativity in non-theatre/stage associated research fields, such as linguistics, anthropology, ethnography, sociology, art, and architecture. Representing a paradigm shift in humanities and social sciences, the so-called “performative turn” took performance-inspired methods and situations as both the subject of research and methodology – focusing on grounded, intimate, and embodied practices as a source for understanding society. The modes of research employed stemmed principally from first-person and everyday interactions, observations, and analyses; thus stepping away from representational and symbolic models to engage with the “real” world (Austin, Domańska, Gennep, Goffman, Turner).
The exploration of methodologies and sites of analysis rooted in bodily actions – rituals, play, games, sports, individual and performative practices of society – and a foregrounding of performance as key to understanding these actions, makes the performative turn unique. This mode of research – engaging with, observing and analyzing the uses of performance in rituals (Schechner), in speech, such as the transformative impact of pronounced phrases (Austin), or the negotiation and flux of public identity (Goffman) – produced forms of knowledge anchored in action, in field work, and in everyday human drama.
The research on traditional and contemporary art in Kenya within the TPAAE project is conducted by 3 experienced researchers from NMS for two months each year. This multidisciplinary research draws also on the experience of Third Country Partners: Pwani University and Kenyatta University scientists (Departments of Fine Art and Design, Theater Arts and Film Technology, Sociology, Music and Dance, Philosophy and Religious Studies) and is conducted from multidisciplinary perspectives with the aim of producing critical and artistic analyses.
The primary methodology are field studies, including: interviews with local inhabitants, artists, members of theater groups, members of associations, observation/participation in performances, analysis of scenarios; meetings with representatives of cultural institutions, non-governmental organizations, as well as informal artistic groups, art curators, and cultural activists. Photographic and film documentation are collected.
The selected questions that are investigated:
- how has European culture visualized (and in a sense invented) the East African world in the artistic production between the 19th and 20th century? – in order to understand the history of the intercultural exchanges during the colonial period
- how has East African culture visualized (and is still visualizing) the western world during the postcolonial period? – analyzing the “academic art” that is produced in East Africa since the foundation of the first Academy of Art (on the model of European ones), and the so-called “tourist art” produced by East African artists for western clients and commissioners
- what are the specifics of traditional Kenyan theater, e.g. the Kinyago funeral tradition as practiced by the Giriama people (Głowacka, 2011)?
- how may puppet performances play a role in new forms of education and socialization (Głowacka, 2009; Riccio, 2004)?
- how to understand the notion of performance and performativity in contemporary art practices in Kenya and East Africa? – its manifestation in consideration of the “performative turn”
- what is the background of the increasing female involvement in traditional performances in Kenya?
- what are the changes in tangible and intangible cultural heritage on the coast of Kenya, and in their perception and interpretation?
- what characterizes contemporary Kenyan art?
- what might transcultural art education in the Kenyan context look like?