Manifesta purposely strives to keep its distance from what are often seen as the dominant centres of artistic production, instead seeking fresh and fertile terrain for the mapping of a new cultural topography.
The biennial focused on the historical relationship between Europe and Northern Africa through both the colonial and the post-colonial periods, as well as in the context of communist and post-communist history. Echoing Manifesta 3’s thematic focus on the new borders of post-communist Europe, the issues of migration, refugee status and the new geographical and psychological borders once again emerged as the core topics of the biennial; but now with the focus on the Mediterranean region - one of Europe’s most persistent and unstable “frontiers”. This focus was inspired both by the historical location of Murcia and Cartagena and heightened by the Arab Spring.
Three curatorial collectives, tranzit.org, Chamber of Public Secrets, and Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum were selected to curate this edition, reflecting the expansion of Manifesta’s focus to encompass a South-South dialogue between Southern Europe and Northern Africa.
To further highlight and enhance the relationship with Northern Africa, an ongoing project called the Incubator for a Pan-African Roaming Biennial was launched. It consisted of a symposium during the opening weekend of Manifesta 8, a website and a publication released in September 2011. For Hedwig Fijen, Founder and Director of Manifesta, the Incubator served as an example of how a contemporary biennial could extend beyond its limited time frame into a long-term, sustainable project.