blog art

blog art

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

CHANGING THE AFRICAN STORY: THE ROLE OF THE ARTIST IN INSPIRING THE FUTURE


It all begins with a story.
A story that Mother Culture hums in our ears from birth.
The story a people tell themselves is the manual for how they live their lives in this world and direct their destinies. This story is whispered in your ear from birth to death, and your every action in life is geared towards fitting the story, playing your role in the story.
As Daniel Quinn says, writer of the philosophical novel Ishmael, “There is no something else. To step out of this story is to fall off the edge of the world.”
Thus, the story is the all important narrative here, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves holds our past, present, and our destiny.
Africa’s story was of a great diversity of brilliant minds, a powerful people who had learnt to understand their world, the earth, the universe so remarkably that leaders of the subsequent Greek and Roman empires came to learn at our feet. The first doctor was an African called Imhotep. He is considered by some to be the earliest known architect, engineer and physician in early history. Greek philosophers came across the deserts and the seas to come and study in Africa. In tracing the course of Greek philosophy, historians have found that many obtained their education from Egyptian priests. Ancient Egypt is prior to Greece as Greece is prior to Rome, and Greece is credited with spreading civilisation in Europe. You can draw the linkage to Africa here.
 Anthropological studies show that the people of Egypt at the time were not who inhabit the country now but people who looked like West Africans today, before the end of empires and migration thus movement. But no one tells this story of Africans as the first scientists, first discoverers, first thinkers, depicting complex thoughts and belief and knowledge systems in the sciences and philosophy and much else.
Instead, the pied piper played us a stealthy tune and that story was erased. A new story emerged, and according to that story, Africa was born with colonialism. And we know where the story goes from there: a ‘primitive’ people who were shown the light, and ever since have had to hold on to their colonial masters shirt-ends to survive; because without our colonial masters, we are nothing but a jumble of fumbling economies, resident presidents, poverty, war and disease.
This is the pervasive narrative that a very malevolent storyteller pumps into our brains from birth to death. Everywhere we look, it is the subtle story being infused into our brains, our very beings, deceiving us into enacting a story that ultimately benefits the malevolent storyteller. This storyteller, malicious or good, is the artist.
Thus the ultimate power lies not with the story but the storyteller, the artist. A malicious storyteller can lead to destruction. A good storyteller can uplift with the truth and inspire a people to move mountains.
In the past, amongst many ethnic groups in Africa, when there was war, the warriors never left without their drummer. It wasn’t for entertainment. The drums, brought to roaring life by the skill of the drummer filled them with power, the music of the drums told them they were invincible and they became invincible on the war field. This is the power of the artist; the power to inspire, to paint a dream and make you turn that dream into reality, and even the power to break spirits to desolation.
It is for no flimsy reason every time you watch a Hollywood movie about the end of the world, or impending destruction of the earth, it is not an African you see in saving the world from destruction. This includes science fiction, a medium by which the world dreams of its future. Most times, their depiction of the world in the future has no Africans in it at all. That is the power of art, it can erase a whole continent. The more movies you watch of a white savior (Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Star wars, etc.), the more your subconscious registers that as fact. The more movies you watch, more news headlines, more skewed photography you see of how poor, corrupt, and war ridden your people are, the more you subconsciously come to believe that this is your truth. Art is the most subtle yet incredibly powerful medium by which a people’s story can be told, it could be a false story, it could be a true story, but art makes sure it hits home, consciously or subconsciously. 
When there is a single-sided reportage of Africa’s calamities, that is a false story of Africa being hummed into our ears. When Ebola hit only three West African countries and there were calls for ALL Africans travelling to the west to be curtailed, 9 west African medical students were barred from starting medical school in the Caribbean and sent back after a 22hour flight; two African boys were beaten up in a high school in NYC and subsequently hospitalized, all the while their attackers called them ‘Ebola’ - That is the kind of destruction a single warped story of a people can cause.
When we still buy white Barbie dolls with blue eyes and blonde hair for our very black, dark-eyed daughters, it is a subtle, very subtle way of teaching our daughters to aspire to another kind of beauty, humming a false story into their young impressionable ears, when our music artistes who win BET awards are given their awards long before the main show starts with no crowd, and no celebration, it is yet another pervasive story of Africa, telling Africans we are not the mainstream. [It started with being backstage, so we’ve made some progress.] Even in colour; when black is associated with evil, white with good, yet people’s phenotypes are also labeled as black and white,  that is another pervasive story being quietly hummed.
When African literature is not considered ‘African enough’ by international judging bodies because they do not tell a tale of war, poverty or disease, that is the pervasive story being hummed.
It is time for a new storyteller, our own storytellers who will tell our stories and sing the songs of our greatness and sorrows, successes and failures. And these storytellers are our artists.
POINT IS, if you want to change the self, you have got to change the story. And how do you change the story? Change the storyteller. And that is what makes the African artist of today important; that they battle the hegemonic, degrading narrative of Africa, and they are re-telling our stories with our various truths.
And in this lies our hope for the future. If we want to dream a splendid Africa in 2050, look to the African artist.

Somewhere in August,
2015

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

we create as we go along
because we do as comes to us
and in that lies the truth
that there is no truth
the Truth that THERE IS NO TRUTH
since the universalization of truth tastes all soils

But one truth transcends all variations and differences and that truth is LOVE,
Love which sits on your shoulders 
a content Eagle at her mistress's bidding
Love that suckled your nipples to a world of reciprocal ecstasy that imitates universe imitates life imitates creation
and that is the one truth
my slippery soul will leave this earth knowing,
that Truth is Love

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Soulmate


Night rises
He smiles
He turns away
I watch
Fingers sing a lovers note
Kiss on a collarbone
I lead with instinct
The love bird sings to me and only me
He smiles, but turns away

My tongue knows what his lips will taste like
salty
sweet
thirsty
needy
but not in need of me. Yet. 

I circle 
His space my universe
my space his place
for the time being.
Need is a desperate log in the wide blue sea
the tears
his words
his fingers
I tremble
I watch time...I watch time

Full moon tides
Deja vu sparkles on the horizon
palms graze
lips taste
cheeks remember
one heart flutters

One night is a lifetime
Drawing circles of memories that never lived but lived
whispered conversations
ancient kingdoms, art, fire
The Moment When
Guilt dies a fast death in his electric space
Love is an oak tree
In just one night

'How far are we going to let this go?'
Breathing his question against my neck
How do I tell him the truth?
That I've lived centuries by his side as wife, as life, as mate, as soul
will he remember our ancient love in one night?

How do I tell him that I already have a favourite place on his body
Already have him deep inside of me
enjoying his breath on my tongue
How many times I held him against my breasts as he shuddered his ectsasy...his love on me
charged bubbles of a space we used to understand in an ancient place in an ancient century

Time speeds then stops. 
I live millenniums in a moment
He lives this one electric moment
same space, same traces in the same places
words burst into tiny sparkles in the vast universe
He fits just right inside of me
missing puzzle found
violent waters rising
direction is a servant to intuition
Full moon in all her glory
I give to him to give to me. He gives I take. Life is a continuum of charged bliss
reaching reaching reaching hard for a past that is present that is future

He's mine. He's me. I'm his.

Time stops.
He doesn't remember

Does he remember?


Sunday, 26 June 2016

DEFINING DEVELOPMENT: WHO SETS THE STANDARDS?

Hi everyone!

I haven’t blogged in forever, due to a creative bloc, plus a whole lot of school work, sitting down to write something for myself and just myself and not for a lecturer’s yay or nay!

Amazingly, I was selected this year as a Mandela Washington Fellow in President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative and I’m currently serving my tenure on the civic leadership track at the University of Illinois. Thus, the other fellows and I are deeply immersed in topics such as civic engagement, democracy and what it looks like, and of course, development and its measurement. In these discussions, one finds that inevitably, there are constant comparisons made of Africa, and its various countries, to America. A persistent question that has surfaced throughout our 1st week has been the question posed above: Which should come first: Democracy or development? Bracketed in this question has been a lot of despair raised against developmental and ‘democratic’ spaces in Africa; my colleagues bemoaning the state of fiasco in Zimbabwe, the violent instability of South Sudan, the corruption across all democracies in Africa.



To begin to even answer this question, we need to start with a context, with the context of Africa’s history and all the elements that have shaped Africa into what it has become now. Starting from the surface premise of comparing Africa and America would lead to a long diatribe of complaints against Africa and ‘why can’t Africa be as ‘developed’ as America is?’ and frankly, that is a very problematic premise to start with.

So let’s start with the context: who defines development?

It’s like a game of catch between a mistress and her dog. The dog will solely be focused on the competition that has been laid out for it: to get the bone that its mistress is about to throw. The dog’s mistress, on the other hand, who is the ‘bone-thrower’ however is not concerned about the competition, because she operates in a totally different sphere, a sphere of power where the dog’s competition is not relevant to her reality. Because she throws the bone, she is not a part of the competition. She has a higher realm of operation and preoccupation. I use ‘higher’ because whereas the dog whose only focus is to meet the standard its mistress has set for it by catching the bone, the mistress, on the other hand, is the one setting the standards.

It is in this context that I place the discussion of development and democracy. The concert of ‘development’ is a neo-colonial tool. The concept of development as it has been universalized now is one deeply rooted in a Eurocentric worldview. Rooted in 19th century evolutionism and 19th century social technology (processes of western change not African change), development theory and its standards as defined today for Africa is one that does not originate from Africa. Evolutionism is a western concept that implicitly implies a certain process and succession of events that a society must go through to reach a certain stage of wellbeing; this stage of wellbeing is inherently decided by the lens of who defines it. Thus, in Eurocentric development lingo, we have ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ (essentially ‘Third World’, but someone thought to change it not to flare up African sensibilities). Implicit in the designation of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ is the notion that to reach the higher stage of ‘developed’, an African country must look, feel and act like a western state. It assumes a singular Eurocentric discourse in the language of development, totally disregarding the reality that European processes of social change will not be the same as the processes of social change which have defined what Africa looks like and feels like today.


Mali Empire


In short, if the concept of development is defined from this Eurocentric view of the world, lensed in a European history and European evolution, Africa would never match up. This is because there is a crucial missing perspective: Africa’s. Africa’s processes of social change have not been factored, recognized or respected in this universalized Eurocentric concept of development. It is why in these criteria, we would be and would remain for a long time ‘developing’ countries. Proof of this is evident in the young and fledgling democracies in Africa: Zimbabwe and its current cash crisis (amongst others), Nigeria and Ghana and the almost systemic state of corruption, South Sudan and its prism of violence. The list goes on. Why are these countries defined as ‘young’ though? Because we start counting from a Western development calendar where Ghana was only born 59 years ago, South Sudan a mere 6 years old. What if we looked further than that? In fact, why do we consistently ignore a past further than that in a continent which housed the oldest civilizations if the world?

Worse in this conceptualization of development is the tendency to set western development and democracy as the ‘ideal’. This ‘ideal’ stage of development for instance in American democracy is one that carries with the heavy baggage of racism, where police brutality, racial stratification, and its accompanying counterparts socially, economically, politically, and in Britain with the current surge of ill-feeling against immigrants, are part and parcel of the Eurocentric ideal of ‘developed’. I cannot fathom where Africa would have a place in this ‘ideal’ of democracy and development.   
What are the African processes of social change that have been imperially ignored in this Eurocentric definition of development?

1. The destruction of many African civilizations by Arab and European invasions - empires such as the ancient Egyptian civilization of the pyramids(Kemet), the Mali empire, the Songai empire and the many highbrow cultures in Africa that operated on complex philosophies and social systems (Yoruba, Ibo, Ashanti, Masai) that were evidence of  what will be by today’s standards highly ‘developed.’ Many of these systems were at a point in time slapped with the tag ‘primitive’ in this Eurocentric concept of development.

2. The systemic institutions of Arab and European occupation, colonialism and slavery and the disruption of African processes of social change thereafter

3. The schizophrenic state of Africa as a consequence and what I will call a ‘reeling’ from a past characterized in the last 1000 years (if I may hastily measure) by systemic interference and disruption of African processes of social change

If these factors were considered in a definition and criteria of development, Development as defined today would look and sound very different.

Ashanti Empire


I would not argue for an inclusion of Africa’s historical processes of change in the current criteria for development. To do so would be a futile attempt at fitting square pegs in round holes.We must re-construct the language of development. We need to re-define development solely from an African perspective, with an examination of the various African processes of social change, a study of African social systems, carefully taking into consideration the stages of disruption, studying its repetitive consequences across the continent, and not through, as Ziai put it, the lens of the ‘colonizer’s model of the world’. Only from this lens of development would Africa set its own standards and from there, begin to forge the much needed social change we all crave to see in our societies.