What would the political map of Africa look like if the continent had never been colonized by Europeans? Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon seeks to answer this question in his map Alkebu-Lan 1260 AH – an old Arabic name for Africa, which translates to “land of the blacks”. Based on historical research, the map shows African countries, their boundaries, capitals and other important landmarks.
There may be groups of people who identify with certain countries or names, and some of the towns have existed or still exist today. However, in Cyon’s map, the borders and the allocation of population groups to certain territories are largely fictitious; but the accuracy of the map’s content and the authenticity of its presentation deceive every European who grew up looking at a school atlas. Alkebu-Lan 1260 AH raises many questions: is it possible to transfer the European concepts of “nation”, “state”, “people” or “border” to the African reality? Are we doing a disservice to African political entities by trying to reduce them to European standards? Would Africa’s independent history be taken more seriously if it were expressed in a political geography more familiar to a European? Viewers have to find their own answers to these questions. Whatever the conclusions, one thing is clear: Cyon has literally turned the perception of Africa upside down.