The Freedom to Dream

The Freedom to Dream

IS IT POSSIBLE FOR PUBLIC ART PROJECTS TO ADDRESS ISSUES OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL JUSTICE? YES, ARGUES ZAYD MINTY IN HIS PROFILE OF DOUAL’ART, A CAMEROONIAN PUBLIC ART ORGANISATION 

Ananya Roy’s injunction that a shift in urban planning practices towards a distributive justice that profiles the object of urban planning – the people themselves – forms part of a growing critique of dominant modernist paradigms of planning.1 According to Roy, a comparative urban studies and international development expert at the University of California, Berkeley, this dominant paradigm is founded on an overriding “ideology of space” in which the built environment is given priority over people and their livelihoods. She suggests we need to engage with the so-called developing world more pragmatically and practically – to become involved with the “Politics of Shit”.

Roy’s critique proposes a city that is at once socially and culturally just, wherein citizens are active players in re-imagining and making real their own conception of place (rather than having it planned for them from above without their involvement). Collective or participatory engagements with planning are seen as particularly necessary. Such seemingly utopian approaches, which centre on dreaming better cities, propose that vibrant groupings in civil society can and do create such outcomes – better cities. It is precisely this sort of approach I hope to argue is what makes doual’art’s practice special. This Cameroonian public art organisation’s independently developed practice, which draws heavily on its work with artists, resonates strongly with a critical planning that emphasises the need to ensure a re-imagining of city through collective engagement. Doual’art’s greatest strengths, suggests artist Achille Ka, resides in its ability to allow the residents of a crumbling “pirate city” the freedom to dream new futures.2 Founded in 1991, doual’art’s premises are located in an old cinema behind La Pagode, an exquisite 1905 landmark in Bonanjo, Douala. A small garden cafe leads into espace doual’art where a small bar and stylish gallery – together with mezzanine offices and resource space – are located. The venue is used to host exhibitions, performing art events, conferences, seminars and a residency programme.

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