What is the state of contemporary appreciation for art and culture in Africa? What place does a museum, or art festival have in the post-colonial setting we find ourselves in? How can we appreciate our own unique blend of culture and aesthetics when we have been so brain-washed into idolizing another’s?
How many Africans know Picasso?
These are the questions that run through my mind when I think of where we as Africans stand when it comes to appreciating our creative crafts. And yet, although there are genuine and impactful art showcases, such as Ghana’s Chale Wote, or Swaziland’s Bush Fire Festival:
There is something missing in the assimilation process for the masses. We do not absorb and regurgitate our artists and their work the same way we do for their Western counter-parts. It’s not in our pop culture. It’s not in our film references, or our advertisements. It’s not in our rap punch-lines.
It’s not there you know?
So as part of my re-education, I investigated the state of art appreciation, and my findings were disappointing. Firstly, I discovered the 1:54 initiative, which holds events, celebrating contemporary African Art. Described as the “leading international art fair dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora”. This event, is primarily held in London and New York. A festival celebrating contemporary art from the 54 countries of Africa, initially held in two of the most notable Western cities in the modern era sits so wrong on my tongue. And it must have sat wrongly for the board of directors because next year in March, they are including their first exhibit in Marrakesh, which I am extremely excited about. It saddens me, that the “leading international art fair” on African art, was in anywhere but Africa.
[ I tried to contact the organizers of the event, to ask on their take on the issue but they were unresponsive. ]
Secondly, we have African artists who flourish anywhere but in Africa, they get showcased across the world. Put on show like monkeys in suits, which I am sure they do not see themselves. They abandon their lands, for more comfortable, respectable positions in the West. And can you blame them?
Why would the likes of Mutu and Konaté or Yaw Safori stay in environments where the mainstream view is that their profession is for Rastafarians, witches, and good-for-nothings!? Art in Africa is widely perceived as a pursuit of purely casual interest.
Like a nice girl you meet at a party, but that’s just it.
She just nice fam.
a) Lemme put a ring on this quick, but go slow cause I wanna be sure.
b) I don’t think I’ve ever caught feelings this quick in my life.
c) Let’s go back to mine and you know.
There is also a disheartening lack of art history education in Africa. More of which would undoubtedly promote a more wide spread understanding and assimilation of our art-culture.Why are there not more schools of art, like the UK’s RADA, or the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU-these establishments produce and foster world-class performers. During my time interning in London this past summer I was shocked to find out about RADA’s graduates which include: Tom Hiddleston, Ralph Fiennes and Anthony Hopkins!
The latter institute has lectures that are open to the public, further involving the masses in the art education and appreciation process. Influencing and informing countless individuals
My presumption for this lack of high quality investment into the artistic fields is due to the seizure of my people’s freedom and resources, i.e Colonialism. After countries slowly, and violently gained their independence, the only professions which considerably advanced the lifestyle of anyone were the professions any African child is all too familiar with, doctor, lawyer or engineer. These professions allowed upwards social mobility, which is why, today, they are still considered the only way to be somebody in our society.
For a continent renowned for its titillating stories and legendary historical figures (think Shaka Zulu) there is little to show in the form of educating and creatively developing a proud and rich history which we can be proud to show in our own galleries, and our own museums, en masse. We too must glorify our warriors and our great leaders. We must glorify our pacifists and whores, we must glorify our thieves and our meek. We must immortalize the nuances of our people, to show them more than just slaves, engineering and medicine students. More than the disrespectful step-mother.
I write this article from the past. A past too far gone to be saved.
But I hope the future is brighter, and I shed a little bit of light in the words that I write to make these wrongs, a right.