bedford’s metamorphosis

hotbeds of creativity — the appropriation of the truck in Sudan
SifinjaGabriel Kläger has produced a substantial update to his website Africars, a subpage of the website of the Institute for Sociocultural Anthropology, Munich. As I still am a tremendously generous and forthcoming webmaster, I immediately set the update online. Kläger transformed Prof. Kurt Beck‘s article “Bedfords Metamorphose” (Beck 2004) into html, ‘hyper-augmented’ with a load of exclusive, illustrative and commented photographies, stemming from Beck’s recent fieldwork in Sudan. The pictures document the technological process of appropriation and make the latter comprehensible. Since ‘globalization’ and ‘glocalization’ became issues in anthropology, cultural appropriation has been discussed, too. But the focus mainly was on ‘symbolic ascription’, ‘redefinition of meaning’, ‘rededication’, and the like — or ‘artistic achievements’. The hands-on side, the technological aspect of appropriation has been widely neglected. Hotbeds of creativity highlights exactly these aspects:

Everybody who has travelled in Asia, Latin America, or Africa knows those ingeniously converted and richly decorated trucks. They shape the scenery of the city-streets as well as the traffic on hinterland’s most remote dirt tracks. Exceptionally aesthetically impressive specimens are on the road in Nigeria, Mexico, the Philippines, and Pakistan. They tower above the traffic like extra-purfled ceremonial elephants, or dinosaurs in wedding gowns. The better part of freight haulage and passenger transportation is done with those trucks. Anthropologists naturally use them on their expeditions as means of conveyance, too. However, until now they have not been legitimate objects of research. But that does not at all mean that there is nothing to discover. Quite to the contrary, as those trucks lead our gaze to what anthropologists think to be among the most wonderful things in the world: human creativity.

In Sudan trucks — mostly Bedfords and Nissans — are not merely externally decorated. They are reconstructed from the bottom up. Small workshops meanwhile are specialized on deconstructing imported trucks, only to rebuild them according to own patterns. This workshops belong to the econonomy’s informal sector and are located far away from any development aid or formal training. The final product of their craft is a completely new truck hardly resembling the original one. Surprising technological innovations have found their way into its unorthodox construction. A local creativity of dealing with and advancing global goods manifests itself. This seems all the more astonishing, as it directly contradicts every common-sense assumption concerning Africa. [my translation]

Hotbeds of creativity is at the moment only available in German, but we are working on an English version (the pictures themselves already are available in English, though).