Zvikomborero Mandangu Appreciating Art
The First International Congress of African Culture (ICAC) took place on August 1, 1962 at what was then the National Gallery of Rhodesia. The main thrust of the congress was to explore the influence of art and culture from Africa on the world.
As the congress proceeded, leading scholars, nobles and enthusiasts from the continent and beyond, exhaustively discussed the aforementioned thrust; largely in an intellectual ambience. The winds of change were blowing yet, the colonial overlords stood firm in their quaint beliefs that the West was indeed the cradle of civilisation.
What stood at the confluence of the congressional attendance was open minded stoics who, through discourse, experimentation and exhibition; set to draw parallels, or break them to draw out interconnected realms in art and culture.
African influence on the Western art practice was publicly acknowledged; the museums of the West laden with objects from a plenitude of African cultures were viewed and interpreted by many a great sculptor and painter — appropriated for capital gain, yet the practitioner from the continent only fell into either of one categories, Kitsch or anthropological objects.
A leap away from the dispensation of that day, 55 years have created new dialogues which were triggered from the conclusions of the first congress.
Across the continent, other platforms such as festivals on the arts and conferences drove the post-colonial agenda such as Nigeria’s FESTAC — a milestone which influenced a nation and a continent’s ventures to reclaim their identity, creative class augmentation and a trigger for opportunities to develop creative talent with a uniquely African slant.
The stone sculpture movement which emanated from the Workshop School of Zimbabwe is a fine example of coherent marketing strategy which was fuelled by creating a brand for the African artist.
Thus the lucrativeness of this brand continued until the 1990s, marred by the nation’s economic slump. This movement was propelled through congressional dialogues which discussed the African artist’s work as fine art and not a fetishistic object.
That being so, the second edition of ICAC; now a conference as opposed to its former incarnation, takes stock of the progenitor event’s topics.
ICAC in 2017 aims to engage de-colonisation full frontal, with heading to the core issues that challenge creative people on the continent; why is there a continuous market for African art off the continent, when countless African corporations, magnates and emerging buyers are on the continent?
The urge to know Picasso, who pastiched African art to create his form of Cubism (as discussed at the first ICAC) to more acclaim than the African artists who inspired him, is part and parcel of the colonial construct.
It is high time corporations on the continent, invest in African art in order to create inclusive working spaces for Independent African society.
The education of the African created a servile human resource who could not pursue creative activities with their identity aligned to their output; arguably, inroads made through the new National Educational Curriculum are set to do away with the colonial enactment to bring to affect the erasure of African identity.
This identity is highly lucrative, Esther Mahlangu, a veteran South African artist, stands testament to this ethno-artistic capital nexus in the creative spirit.
Her use of Indigenous Knowledge Systems, notably Ndebele geometric mural painting; led to commissions by international corporations such as British Airways and BMW. African aesthetics, to be more precise, Ndebele cosmological design, drew a wider audience and market through this woman’s dexterity!
With the Mahlangu example, matters of remunerative cultural practices are augmented through the infusion of art in all aspects of society.
The African artist must then be focused on in order to develop a progressive counter action to the agenda set forward by the colonial framework, its philosophies on how African cultures were to be marketed, how African artists were largely based on creating ornamental objects in their basic practice and what would best be deemed unsophisticated would be marketed as curiosity for Western art consumers.
The second International Conference of African Cultures is thus challenging the precepts of the past five decades by engaging local, regional and global fundi to take note of the past, greatly disadvantageous to African cultural practice; and create a blueprint for the creative future.
The National Gallery of Zimbabwe, having been key in the creation of Pan African discourse in the first manifestation of a conference of this kind, centres the second ICAC on the basis of debunking archaic colonial concepts through spearheading the African discourse on de-colonial identity.
A new unexplored market is on the horizon, requiring not only the support of the museum structure on which the gallery rests upon, but the partnership of business, the patronage of Africa’s wealthy and the backing of every African on the continent and in the diaspora.
It must be taken to heart that continental artistic talent, and scholars of heritage are important part of the discourse on African cultures in the sense that due to a number of reasons, the greatest being socio-economic; are led to leave their homelands and the continent in search of opportunities in the West.
This has been a coupe de grâce to the continental cultural practice as the brain drain leads to globalised blends in identity which on a larger scale have been perpetrated by the West to claim ownership of this talent; “Kenyan Norwegian”, “Anglo- South African”, “Franco- Congolese” of “Dutch Nigerian” are but a few terms that have contributed to the continuing expunction of pure African identity and creativity!
The beneficiaries of the resulting executions of African culture in cases such as the above are the Western markets, establishing ownership of the creative African genius.
So staking their exploits on the fact that the corporate world from the continent and the wealthy in that space do not invest in the continent’s culture.
A paradigm shift which the second International Conference of African Cultures has set its lens on and intends to cross examine the self- awareness of African Institutions of Culture and how they instil African values to the world.
All things being equal, the conversation at ICAC intends to placate the commercial value of African Cultures and identity with an underlined desire to reclaim ownership of both to the continent.
The International Conference of African Cultures takes place from the 11th to the 13th of September 2017 at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare.
Zvikomborero Mandangu Appreciating Art