A few months ago, I came across what I now consider my favourite magazine of all time, Art Africa. Before we go any further, I have a disclaimer to make: I am obsessed with Africa. In what my friend has termed my ‘falling in love with Africa for REAL’, I have been diligent in searching for any and everything that keeps me updated on all progress in the art scene of our continent. Art Africa in that regard has proven golden for me.
It is not everyday that you find a WHOLE magazine dedicated to the celebration of Africa in its entirety. My new obsession has even led to some of my loved ones serving as ‘blessers’ to aid my ailing student budget in my quest to afford this newfound necessity. Without giving too many spoilers (go buy the magazine for yourself. You’re welcome!), I would like to share a few lessons I have learnt from these magazines.
The global South sorely needs to develop its own art scene
Previously, African and Asian art has been at the mercy of the global North. When Europe and America decide that our art is good and trendy enough, art from the global South suddenly experiences a boom. While this has been appreciated by the artists who get international exposure, this model has proven unsustainable for a number of reasons. For starters, this has meant that artists from the global South are at the mercy of their global Northern managers. Should the managers deem their art ‘unpalatable’ to the audience in their countries, the artist has had to alter their art to make it more appealing in those respective countries. As you can imagine, this forces artist to cheapen their art so as to appeal to this audience, thereby corrupting the authenticity of their work. Furthermore, leaving artists from the global South to be at the mercy of the global North has also meant an unpredictability in the ability of artists to actually make a living from their work. In a continent like Africa for instance, with a rich history of art serving as a tool in our quest for liberation, this degradation of the value of art is both heartbreaking and unwise.
Whose art is it anyways?
For the longest time, art- particularly paintings- has been designated to belong to the ‘elite’ in our society. To reopen dialogue and take back its place in society, art needs to reclaim the position of belonging to everyone and to no one. It needs to confront us, be part of our everyday and not merely be relegated to galleries.
While galleries have a huge role in our society, art in Africa desperately needs to come alive once again, be it in the form of street art, public displays etc., art needs to become one with the people again.
The crucial role of storytelling is one Africa desperately needs as we confront what it means to be African and part of the global community. African artists have the unique & important opportunity of engaging all people from different walks of life on issues that while already defined in other parts of the world, we are still grappling with. Artists can shape and direct conversations in a progressive and challenging manner. This however, all begins with asking who the art is made for and who the artist is actually reaching and engaging.
One of the biggest challenges for African artists is the lack of support from the continent. A development of world-class stories coming from our continent is not merely the responsibility of artist, it is everyone’s problem. It affects us all because it is our stories that the artists are telling and it is in our interest to ensure that these stories are told well. Furthermore, a yearning for authenticity in storytelling from the public will encourage artists not to merely mimic foreign artists but to tell their local stories. To enable them to do this, an intentional and long-term investment in African art is necessary. This is where businesses and government come in. It is imperative that these parties support art initiatives that enable artists to produce decent work. The role of the rest of us will be to support and engage with these initiatives in whatever manner possible. This group collective is the only way I foresee us winning in art.
Recently, while walking to work, I was struck by a few graffiti paintings that I had always seen but never really engaged with. So I took the time to pause and really engage with the work in front of me. In a startling manner, the weight of this art both moved & challenged me. It is not just the talent of the artists & the time and effort I imagine it took them to make their work that struck me but also how the art pieces force you to confront the realities of the country we live in. This one picture in particular, plastered at an entrance to town forces everyone who actually pauses and looks at it to think about the reality of black women in a country and a world that does not celebrate them.
The picture of a woman with a baby on her back, pointing you to a certain direction is big and intrusive; you cannot escape it. It forces you to think about the struggles of black women in a world that refuses to recognize them and their resolve to overcome.
This picture has come to be a daily disturbance on my way to work. Everyday, it commands my attention to the plight of black women. It has taught me that everywhere you look, if you look hard enough, chances are that you will find art and beauty.
By Frank(ie) Talk
Frank(ie) Talk is a Development Finance Masters student at the University of Cape Town. When she is not making bracelets at Relate, you’ll find her at some coffee shop in Cape Town reading or theorizing about the World.
Photos: Frank(ie) Talk