This February, David Carlin encountered the remarkable sequential art archive of the Congolese artist, Papa Mfumu’eto as an invited keynote artist and lab workshop leader at the Text Meets Image & Image Meets Text: Sequences and Assemblages, Out of Africa and Congo conference in Gainesville, Florida. The conference, organised by Nancy Hunt and Alioune Sow of the University of Florida’s Center for African Studies, brought together historians, anthropologists, visual studies and Africanist scholars with museum curators, artists and writers. These included Jean Comaroff from Harvard, Phillip Van den Bossche, Director, MuZEE, Ostend, Belgium and Patricia Hayes from Visual Studies at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. The focus was the work of Papa Mfumu’eto, ‘perhaps Africa’s most phenomenal street artist of comic zines’ (Nancy Hunt), whose vast archive of zines written in Lingala and French has been acquired by the University of Florida library. Conference participants were able to immerse themselves in the archive as well as to engage in a ‘critical forum about methods and politics in text-image studies’.
In a keynote evening at the Harn Museum of Art, David read excerpts from his book The Abyssinian Contortionist (2015), alongside an artist talk by French-based Beninois visual artist Didier Viodé and a performed reading (with improvised saxophone accompaniment) by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Congolese novelist and playwright based in Austria and author of the widely acclaimed and award-winning novel, Tram 83. David also led two experimental ‘lab work’ sessions at the conference, inviting some playful, informal approaches, first to sharing knowledge and then to listening for and ‘essaying’ into the stories and questions suggested by the archive.