Africa Day: Celebrating the art of a continent

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AT the second pan-African Cultural Congress of 2009, it was discussed that: “The development and cultural heritage of Africa should no longer be viewed as a non-economic sector, but as a modern science, a thriving creative industry and a dynamic professional and intellectual sector, vital for the socio-economic development of the continent.”
As the cradle of humanity and the origin of universal civilisation and wisdom, Africa today is still striving to re-vitalise its shared values, its identity and cultural riches.
Rock-art paintings depicting a fertile Sahara and large populations discovered in Tassili n’Ajjer dating back perhaps 10 millennia, attest to this.
Archaeological heritage of African countries, and Zimbabwe in particular, is immense.
Zimbabwe’s artistic legacy began with the cave paintings of our artistic ancestors.
Zimbabwe is known to have the largest collection of rock art in sub-Saharan Africa, which was known to the Portuguese early in the 18th Century; stretching in caves from the Zambezi to the Cunene Rivers, dating back 40 000 years ago.
Today, Africa boasts some of the world’s most creative visual artists.
Africa has 54 fully recognised sovereign nations covering an area of
30 300 000km2 with an estimated population of 1,2 billion in 2015, covering a diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages.
Some ancient African Kingdoms (circa 1400 – circa 1800) were known as Songhay, Kongo, Benin, Oyo and Dahomey.
In the late 19th Century, during the Scramble for Africa, European powers colonised most of these kingdoms and the rest of Africa.
Modern independent states in Africa today originate from a process of decolonisation in the 20th Century, which began with Ghana in early 1960.
Africa Day is the annual commemoration of the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), presently recognised as the African Union (AU).
The AU, comprised of 54 member-states, has brought together the continent of Africa to collectively address the challenges it faced, such as armed conflict, climate change and poverty.
Africa Day is a celebration of African unity, solidarity and African culture.
At the United Nations’ Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) convention on the protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage of 1972, it was said that parts of Africa’s cultural and natural heritage are of outstanding interest and therefore need to be preserved as part of the World’s heritage for mankind as a whole.
Since then, 191 sovereign states have endorsed the convention, Zimbabwe included, making it one of the most adhered to international instruments.
At the 2006 Charter for African Cultural Renaissance, it was reiterated that African states should commit themselves to working for an African Renaissance.
The Charter for African Cultural Renaissance states that: “Any human community is governed by rules and principles based on culture; that culture should be recognised as the set of distinctive linguistic, spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of a society; that it includes in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, African value systems, traditions and beliefs.”
Building on this, it affirms that: “All cultures emanate from specific societies, communities, groups, individuals and any African cultural policy should of necessity enable peoples to assume an increased responsibility in their cultural development.”
African nations agreed on the need for reconstruction of their historical memory.
However, despite its cultural richness and creative potential, Africa still lags behind and represents less than one percent of the world’s exports of creative artistic goods, according to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s Creative Economy Report of 2008.
Visual and performing artistes have often been able to express well ahead of the rest of us a nation’s hopes, expectations and transformations.
The European colonisers attacked and looted the culture of the people of Africa and in so doing nearly destroyed the personal and collective identity of many African indigenous people.
Denying the African his right to create, to reflect, remember or dream is to deny us the right to progress.
In the mid-20th Century, Western artistes looked to Africa for their inspiration.
In Europe, the school of Paris artistes were highly influenced by African art; most notably Braque and Picasso’s cubism, Matisse’s fauvism and Henry Moore’s organic sculptures.
Beginning in the 1870s, thousands of African sculptures arrived in Europe, more notably in the aftermath of the colonial conquest and exploratory expeditions of Europeans to Africa.
These works were seized from the indigenes and placed on view in museums such as the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadero in Paris and its counterparts in cities which included Berlin, Munich and London.
In these contemporary post-colonial times, the influence of traditional African art and aesthetics is so profoundly imbedded in Western artistic practice that it is only rarely evoked as having African roots.
Over the years, African art and culture has questioned its own achievements and continues to seek, untiringly, for new meanings and create works through which Africa transcends its limitations.
Africa Day should remind African artistes about their highly coveted creative ingenuity, which should be celebrated on the continent.
Some legendary African artistes who have stormed the international art world include Twins-Seven-Seven, El Anatsui, Aina Onabolu, Bruce Onabrakpeya and Ben Okri of Nigeria; Ibrahim Ell Slahi of Sudan; Alexander Skunder Boghossian of Ethiopia; Vincent Kofi of Ghana; Zoulou Mbaye and El Hadji Mussa Babaca Sy, Amadou Sow, Babarca Traore, Fode Camara, Viye Dibe of Senegal; Valente Ngwenya Malangatana of Mozambique; Magdelene Odundo of Kenya; Congolese artistes Samuel Fosso and Cheri Samba; Evelyn Nicodemus and Elias Jengo of Tanzania; Mary Sibande, Tracy Rose, David Koloane, Norman Catherine, Jackson Hlungwani, Walter Battis, William Kentridge, Marlene Dumas, Caroline Sebunya, Martine Jackson all of South Africa; John Muafangelo of Namibia; world famous architect-artist Sir David Adjaye, Nigerian legend Sir Yinka Shonibare (MBE), famous for his seminal work ‘Scramble for Africa’, Pascal Tayou of Cameroon whose work ‘Colonial Erection’ is an installation of flying flags of the AU which questions Africa’s dependence on its former colonies.
Our own world-renowned artistes include Nicholas Mukomberanwa, Henry Munyaradzi, Thomas Mukarobgwa, Bernard Matemera, Joseph Ndandarika, Sylvester Mubayi, the Takawira Brothers, Albert Mamvura, Thakor Patel, Agnes Nyanhongo, Joram Mariga, Charles Fernando, Colleen Madamombe, Semina Mpofu, Dominic Benhura, Marjorie Wallace, Kate Raath and Berry Bickle, amongst others.
Art brings alive the riches of the continent and engenders pride in the African.
Africa Day should inspire a concerted and organised approach on greater communication and familiarity within Africa between practicing artistes, writers and cultural workers.
Certainly, a pan-Africanist art and cultural biennale on African soil, in Zimbabwe, is long overdue!
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practising artist and Corporate Image Consultant.

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