The exhibition African Mobilities explores how architecture responds to the complexities of migration and the circulation of people, ideas, resources and aesthetics – both in physical space and in spaces of the imagination. The idea of ‘home’ traditionally evokes a sanctuary and a source of power. But ‘home’ is, at times, simultaneously a space of significant vulnerability and precarity which disrupts linear conceptions of time and space, and imagines ruptures between the ‘past’ and the ‘present’. African Mobilities examines the possibilities for creative interventions that emerge when one applies a relational, multi-scalar and multi-sited approach to this exploded space-time, in which the majority of migration occurs on the African continent.

This exhibition also explores how freedom remains a scarce and unequally distributed commodity – and how the freedom to move is increasingly becoming the principal stratifyer in the longue durée of modernity, coloniality and neo-liberal capitalism. Furthermore, it seeks to destabilise northern discussions on African mobility and their preoccupation with the large numbers of people from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe moving to the centres of global capital.

Cities in both Europe and Africa have undergone a significant recalibration of urban space. Large-scale in-migrations from Africa and other parts of the world subtend these recalibrations and, at the same time, the establishment of new regimes of surveillance and spatial control. These are coupled with discourses and regimes of representation that seek to keep Africans im/mobilised in place. African cities, too, have been the focus of speculation about the forms of present and future political upheavals, population dynamics, new architectural typologies, infrastructures and technologies. The modalities of struggle and inventiveness that characterise some of these transformations not only challenge the sovereignty of states, modes of governance and control, but also pose challenges to the forms and expressions that cities will take in Africa and elsewhere. In African cities, we see both the machinations of a predatory global capitalist order and fragmented institutions and practices that make way for creativity to emerge. While the products of these engagements are unlikely to empower the underclass, they are also unlikely to linearly serve the hegemony of the currently powerful.

These ongoing explorations constitute provisional cartographies of power and desire. They raise a number of questions about which narratives Africans choose to tell (since history is itself as contested as the future), how we tell them, and how so much of our ‘knowledge’ about African cities and architecture is circumscribed by a range of political interests rooted in hegemonic colonial discourses. As a counter-cartography of hegemonic social-spatial relations and representational practices, this architecture exhibition begins the work of producing new, alternative practices, knowledges and subjects through a diverse range of spatial practices in the service of a larger emancipatory social agenda.

African Mobilities is a process-driven, future-oriented exhibition, yet it aims to offer a moment of pause. It is a space of delay and an invitation to engage with and archive how Africa-oriented thinkers approach future urban imaginaries and architectural prototypes that were instigated by a world in motion. Rather than focus on moving bodies alone, we are equally concerned with intellectual mobilities – the circulation of ideas across linguistic, territorial and disciplinary divides. To that end, the exhibition has been conceptualised as a physical space, an event, a digital publication and a mobile pedagogical platform. It connects architects and other creative practitioners, theorists and scholars from fourteen different locations, including Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Addis Ababa, Luanda, Abidjan, Lagos, New York, Dakar, Nairobi, Lubumbashi, Praia and Munich. Together, we hope to build a living archive of contemporary African thinking that presents alternative ways to create urban realities.

Mapping how Africans from diverse locations imagine themselves and negotiate spaces of possibility emerged as a form of creative cartography with which to document and produce culture as an archive of and for the future.[1] These preliminary explorations are subversive, dystopian and hopeful, and they challenge the idea of space as a container for social processes by bringing the dynamic, ongoing production of space into a creative conversation about the future of African cities. The diverse offerings here make no claims to being comprehensive, nor do they seek an exhaustive representation of all forms of African mobility. Rather, they investigate the multiple registers through which Africans imagine, analyse and negotiate their place in the world in an open-ended way – despite the limitations imposed on our mobilities. – Mpho Matsipa, curator.

[1] Mhoze Chikowero, African Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe, Indiana University Press, 2015, pp. 7.


The Architekturmuseum der TU München is part of a large ensemble of art museums in the heart of Munich. It is Germany’s most visited architecture museum, presenting a changing roster of exhibitions about historical as well as contemporary topics. Since 2013, the programme has included several shows dealing with the social turn in architecture: Afritecture. Building Social Change (2013), The Good Cause. Architecture of Peace (2014), SÍ / No: The Architecture of Urban-Think Tank (2015) and Francis Kéré. Radically Simple (2016). African Mobilities. This Is Not a Refugee Camp Exhibition continues these explorations and is the third show in a series focusing on Africa. For the first time, the museum has been able to engage a curator from that continent, Dr. Mpho Matsipa from the Wits City Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She will shift the perspective onto migrations in Africa – as seen from within.

The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Architekturmuseum der TU München and the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and is curated by Dr. Mpho Matsipa (Wits City Institute). This initiative is funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation. The project was developed with the support of the Goethe-Institut, which will also aid the exhibition’s planned tour on the African continent.

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