Siyabulela Lethuxolo Xuza was born in Mthatha in 1989. He is a 32-year-old South African energy-engineering expert and entrepreneur with a passion for clean affordable energy. Siyabulela is the founder and managing director of Galactic Energy Ventures, an investment company focused on the energy needs of emerging markets. He is the youngest member of the Africa 2.0 Energy Advisory Panel.
He had the prestigious honour of having a minor planet named after him by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration-affiliated Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, in recognition of his innovation in homemade rocket fuel.
The minor planet in the main asteroid belt near Jupiter, with an orbital period of four years, was discovered in 2000 and renamed “23182 Siyaxuza” in recognition of Xuza’s achievements at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in the United States.
Xuza began experimenting with rocket fuels in his mother’s kitchen. This passion turned into a serious science project that culminated in him developing a cheaper and safer rocket fuel, which culminated in the successful launch of a real home-built rocket, The Phoenix. His rocket achieved a final height of over a kilometre and earned him the junior South African amateur high-powered altitude record.
In his own words:
“I may not be able to predict what the future holds. But I am excited at how my engineering education will enable me to achieve my aspirations for Africa. My mother told me that even if a planet is named after you…you should always remain down to earth.
People don’t realise that all my work with the rocket fuel was done in South Africa. There are opportunities here, as long as you are bold and brave enough to take them.”
The rocket was propelled by Xuza’s own invention: a cheaper, safer type of rocket fuel, which became the subject of a project titled “African Space: Fuelling Africa’s quest to space”. Xuza’s science project won gold at the National Science Expo and the Dr Derek Gray Memorial Award for the most prestigious project in South Africa.
This led to an invitation to the International Youth Science Fair in Sweden in 2006, where he presented his project to the King and Queen of Sweden and attended a Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm.
His project was then entered into the world’s biggest student science event, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, attracting about 1 500 students from 52 countries.
He won the two grand awards, earning him global recognition and a scholarship to Harvard University.
In 2010 he was elected as a fellow of the African Leadership Network, a premier network ofindividuals poised to shape Africa’s future over the next 10-20 years, consisting of the most dynamic, influential and successful leaders and entrepreneurs in Africa and its Diaspora.
He travelled to the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to engage in discussions on creating prosperity for Africa. In 2011 he became a fellow of the Kairos Society, a global network of top students and global leaders using entrepreneurship and innovation to solve the world’s greatest challenges.
He was invited to the United Nations and the New York Stock Exchange, in recognition for being one of the world’s emerging business leaders, to offer strategies for solving the world’s energy crisis.
Xuza recently became the youngest member of the AU-affiliated Africa 2.0 Energy Advisory Panel. He was invited to Mombasa, Kenya, to assist in finding sustainable solutions to some of the most pressing economic and social issues facing Africans today.
He is also an accomplished Xhosa praise singer and in 2003 he had the honour of performing a praise song for former President Nelson Mandela.
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“Adire: the Art of Tie and Dye
Among the people of Egbaland in Ogun State, Nigeria Adire is commonThe term Adire” translates as tie and dye”. A material that is designed with methods that are wax resistant and that produces patterned designs in a multitude of colours.
Egba Women design these intricate patterns and process the materials. They wear these for special occasions as well as everyday wrapping garments.
The Yoruba tribe , rich in culture use these textile patterns to display to the world, their values and heritage of which they are deep,y proud.
A qualified Adire decorator is known referred to as an “Aladire”.
Traditionally, the Adire is made, designed, dyed by the Yoruba Women and they teach these skills to the next generation,
Traditional “Adire Eleko” refers to designs created by the application of starch paste made from cassava flour. This starch resists the dye from penetrating through the cloth.
African Marvels: The Walls of Benin
The Benin Empire was one of the oldest and most highly developed states in west Africa, dating back to the 11th century. The walls of Benin City and its surrounding kingdom were a man-made marvel described as “the world’s largest earthworks prior to the mechanical era”
The Walls of Benin, one of Africa’s ancient architectural marvels, were destroyed by the British in 1897 during what has become known as the Punitive Expedition. This shocking act destroyed more than a thousand years of Benin history and some of the earliest evidence of rich African civilisations.
The astounding city was a series of earthworks made up of banks and ditches, called “Iya” in the Edo language, in the area around present-day Benin City. They consist of 15 kilometers of city Iya and an estimated 16 000 kilometers in the rural area around Benin. The walls stood for over 400 years, protecting the inhabitants of the kingdom, as well as the traditions and civilisation of the Edo people.
Fred Pearce wrote the following about the city in the science magazine New Scientist: “In all, they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet.”
The Guinness Book of Records (1974 edition) described the walls of Benin City and its surrounding kingdom as “the world’s largest earthworks carried out prior to the mechanical era”. It was one of the first cities to have a semblance of street lighting with huge metal lamps, many feet high, built and placed around the city.
In 1691, the Portuguese ship captain Lourenco Pinto observed: “Great Benin, where the king resides, is larger than Lisbon. All the streets run straight and as far as the eye can see. The houses are large, especially that of the king, which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is wealthy and industrious. It is so well governed that theft is unknown, and the people live in such security that they have no doors to their houses.”
In his personal account, 17th-century Dutch visitor Olfert Dapper wrote, “Houses are built alongside the streets in good order, the one close to the other. Adorned with gables and steps … they are usually broad with long galleries inside, especially so in the case of the houses of the nobility, and divided into many rooms which are separated by walls made of red clay, very well erected.”
“[The walls are] as shiny and smooth by washing and rubbing as any wall in Holland can be made with chalk, and they are like mirrors. The upper storeys are made of the same sort of clay. Moreover, every house is provided with a well for the supply of fresh water,” he continued.
A mathematical quandary
Benin City’s planning and design was done according to careful rules of symmetry, proportionality and repetition now known as “fractal design”.
Ethnomathematician (the study of the relationship between mathematics and culture) Ron Eglash has discussed the planned layout of the city, commenting that “When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture disorganised and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn’t even discovered yet.”
“When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture disorganised and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics they hadn’t even discovered yet.” – Ron Eglash
A lost city
The great Benin City is lost to history after its decline began in the 15th century. This decline was sparked by internal conflicts linked to the increasing European intrusion and slavery trade at the borders of the Benin empire. It was then completely ruined in the British Punitive expedition in the 1890s, when the city was looted, blown up and razed to the ground by British troops.
Furthermore, the remaining ruins have not been preserved or restored. The only remaining vestige is a house consisting of a courtyard in Obasagbon, known as Chief Enogie Aikoriogie’s house. The house possesses features that match the horizontally fluted walls, pillars, central impluvium and carved decorations observed in the architecture of ancient Benin. It is rumoured, however, that a section of the great city wall, one of the world’s largest man-made monuments ever, may be lying neglected and forgotten in the Nigerian bush.
SIMON MUZAMBA is a wooden sculptor in Siachilaba in Binga, he has produced theBaTonga cultural art and wood figurines ranging from dolls, stools, doors, snakes, fish, the Nyaminyami snake and animal carvings of hippos, elephants, buffalo, rhinoceros and giraffes, among others.
He sells his sculptures by the roadside to tourists and other locals who care to stop and buy his wares.
Muzamba’s art is unique because he depicts the BaTonga way of life through art. His works are in demand from some Western and European art collectors and he also has orders from international galleries and museums around the world.
He is proud of his work despite barely making enough to sustain his seven children and two wives.
The origins ofbrt lie long before recorded history, preserved in the obscurity of time.
The buyers, on the other hand, have made lots of money selling his work abroad and are still coming back for more.
The country and Africa’s cultural heritage is particularly vulnerable in times of hardship, economic transition and abject poverty which invite speculators and criminals to attack our cultural heritage.
Big money is being made from African people’s hardships.
Most of those persuading local communities to pillage caves and other sacred places are well aware of what they are doing. They do it for the huge profits they make selling these artefacts on the international market.
African and Zimbabwean art history has played a significant role in shaping the culture and history of the world.
The belief that Africa is the cradle of the history of mankind is virtually unshakeable.
The origins of African art lie long before recorded history, preserved in the obscurity of time.
In Zimbabwe, several works of art have been discovered, notably the Zimbabwe Birds (now part of our national symbols), clay pots, wooden plates and stools now safely stored in our museums. Others that have been shipped by colonialists and missionaries are now decorating foreign galleries across the globe.
Notable artefacts include the Mkwati walking stick and stools among other artefacts stolen and displayed in museums and galleries in Western countries.
However, although items such as the Zimbabwe Bird and other artefacts were subsequently returned to Zimbabwe, researchers and museum curators say a huge assortment of other artefacts remain unaccounted for and remain holed up in Western galleries and homes where they are used as a sad reminder of colonialism and exploitation of our cultural heritage while portraying us as an inferior people.
Up to this day, the country remains under threat from cultural artefacts piracy as hordes of European tourists continue to buy cultural artefacts that are important to our communities and culture.
In the Zambezi Valley, there has been a scramble for the BaTonga’s indigenous art: mostly doors used on stilted huts, traditional fishing baskets, the ngoma buntimbe ceremonial drums used during special ceremonies and funerals, the ndombonda smoking gourds, decorated herbal gourds, spears and the nyele musical pipes.
Elsewhere in the country, headrests, walking sticks and other assortments of artefacts are still being sought after by art and gallery owners whose insatiable appetite for tribal art continues to grow.
Sadly, these objects have not been aesthetically considered by the indigenous communities who created them and no real effort has been made to preserve them.
Often, their value was negligible once their function was performed.
There has been a huge emphasis on Central African art history for two reasons; one being that the communities who resided there were the most sedentary of the tribes in Africa and secondly, that they produced figurative sculptures that Western collectors could most easily identify as ‘art’, as they defined it.
The surge in interest in collecting African art, both tribal and contemporary, has forced scholars, investors, governments and institutions to re-examine the very essence of African art. Collections that have been inhabiting deep, dark depths of museum vaults have been moved to the forefront of African art history museums, galleries and auction houses to be observed and celebrated.
Despite successes achieved over the past four decades by the United Nations Education and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) through legal instruments to protect cultural art from theft, illicit trade and returning stolen properties to their countries of origin, it has not been possible to end illicit trafficking which is responsible for serious damage to cultural heritage worldwide.
As long as people turn a blind eye to the origins of the artefacts they buy and sell, there will be individuals ready to seek profit from the fact that poverty, conflict and economic recession in many parts of Africa provide them with opportunities to lay their hands on collectables which they can sell for a large profit abroad. Much work needs to be done at international level to sensitise governments, public opinions, art collectors and dealers about the needs to respect the original context of cultural property.
Scholars and practitioners of the arts all across the continent are transforming the ways their histories, past and present, are toldAruna D’Souza, April 10, 2019
Africa is a continent of 54 nation states, more than 1,500 languages, and roughly 3,000 ethnic groups, making it the most diverse and culturally rich place on earth. It is impossible to speak of it as a singularity. This is why many scholars on the continent refer not to African art, but to the arts of Africa when speaking of the visual and material cultures produced across a vast range of eras, spaces, and traditions.
While much writing on the arts of Africa is produced outside of the continent, especially in the U.S. — African Arts, the most important journal in the field, is published by UCLA with MIT Press, for example — there is a growing network of Africa-based scholars who are working to develop an African-centric approach to understanding the arts produced there, both historical and contemporary.
For some, this means challenging and transforming long-entrenched art historical curricula in the academy. Others are delving deep into histories of gender, race, inequality, colonial power, material culture, sociopolitical economy, and more to deepen their own art work. And yet others are developing and supporting new generations of scholars who will join in the efforts to rewrite the history of the arts in Africa — in Africa itself.
Here are some of those researchers, scholars, and artists, all alumni of the African Humanities Program (AHP), a partnership of the American Council of Learned Societies and Carnegie Corporation of New York that, since 2008, has been working to reinvigorate the humanities in Africa through fellowship competitions and related activities. These thinkers and makers are telling new stories about some of the myriad cultural forms, past and present, that are shaping — and reshaping — the lived experience of contemporary Africa. As the Art POWA network puts it, they are “producing our words in Africa.” ■
7 AFRICAN THINKERS & MAKERS
• Eyitayo Tolulope Ijisakin — Nigerian printmaker/art historian is helping to define new perspectives on national identity
• Nomusa Makhubu — South African artist uses colonial-era photographs to confront repressive structures and the “terror of dispossession”
• Nkiruka Nwafor — Nigerian art historian writes about women artists, whose work she sees as forms of “visual activism”
• Okechukwu Nwafor — Visual historian uses contemporary wedding practices in his native Nigeria to show that art history must “embrace the political and economic and social networks that circulate around things”
• Freeborn Odiboh — Nigerian researcher and educator is challenging the legacy of colonialism through a new curriculum that “looks at African art from a genuinely African point of view”
• Ruth Simbao — South African art historian and curator is the founder of Art POWA (“Producing Our Words in Africa”), a network for Africa-based scholars in the visual arts
• Evassy Amanda Tumusiime — Ugandan artist/scholar interrogates the role of gender in art and is now looking at about other marginalized communities, including people with disabilities and the elderly
Eyitayo Tolulope Ijisakin
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria
2015 and 2018 African Humanities Program Fellow
A Nigerian artist and art historian offers the first comprehensive study of printmaking in his country
“I benefited from two fellowships from the AHP (one predoctoral fellowship, the other postdoctoral): an AHP Manuscript Development Workshop in Ghana and an AHP residency at the International Institute for the Advanced Study of Cultures, Institutions, and Economic Enterprises at the University of Ghana in Accra. I am presently using my postdoctoral fellowship to rework my PhD dissertation into a book on the evolution and development of printmaking in Nigeria, with a view to extending the frontiers of knowledge on art history in my country. As a printmaker myself, this knowledge also deepens my own work in the medium, and allows me to place my practice in a larger context.
“Compared to sculpture and painting traditions, printmaking practices in Nigeria have been grossly neglected, with very little available literature to draw on — a few exhibition catalogues, scanty newspaper reviews, and autobiographical sketches here and there. No single text exists to tell the story of how printmaking evolved in the country, to note the landmark events, to identify printmakers and their techniques, and to assess their significant contributions to the development of contemporary art praxis in Nigeria.
“Collecting data for my study was almost overwhelming. Literature was scarce, and I had to track down individual printmakers all across the country — in the end, I identified 220 practitioners! Many of these … well, I met and interviewed some of them one on one — at the Harmattan Workshop (a meeting point for visual artists from across Nigeria and abroad). I met others in their homes or studios, or I spoke with them by phone. My work argues that Nigerian printmaking artists — appropriating cultural heritage, aesthetics, and sociopolitical thoughts from their environment — are defining new perspectives of national identity.”
Eyitayo Tolulope Ijisakin’s ongoing study of the history of Nigerian printmaking was born of and continues to shape his own work as an artist. His collagraph print African Bride (2007) incorporates a complex symbolic and coloristic language to represent Yoruba conceptions of the role women are expected to play in marriage.
University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
2016 African Humanities Program Fellow
A South African artist and researcher uses colonial photographs to highlight the deep history of South Africa’s ethnic divisions
“Often when one presents oneself as an African artist, the question of ethnic background arises — are you a Zulu artist or a Xhosa artist? But we live in such a complex time, and ethnic identities are complicated and fluid — they don’t necessarily define you. My creative research focuses on the representation of ethnic identities in colonial photographs and in museums. My work is a response to the ways in which ethnic divisions in South Africa were constructed under colonialism through British Indirect Rule, and later through Apartheid policies established to create Bantustans (homelands) that separated races and ethnic groups.
“The colonial photographs I used in the Self-Portrait Project series were presented as scientific evidence, documenting different ‘tribes’ of the Zulu people or Xhosa people and so on. They are often labeled with the titles of the ethnic group that’s being represented or they have classification numbers. Many of them were made in photographic studios, with people posed in front of painted backdrops. These so-called documentary photographs are actually factitious works, rooted in the colonial imagination — fantastic fictions of the colonial archives that were presented as truth.
“During that research, I was also interested in how museums are organized. I focused specifically on a museum in Grahamstown, where I used to live, that was divided into two sections — it had a Xhosa side and a British settler side. On the British side, objects were associated with specific names. But on the Xhosa side, things were only identified by ethnicity — ‘Xhosa beaded skirt,’ for example. By locking people into ethnic categories, museums tend to reduce complex sociopolitical identities into these static, ethnic identities. In the museum, we cease to be human. How is it possible to subvert and rewrite the political implications of these photographs, which are part of our history and our collective memory? Of what use are they to contemporary politics? Of what use are the tools of memory if they serve a denigrating history?
“Even though it is my body depicted in these works, rather than being explorations of the self, the project explores the representation of African women. Colonial photography is the documentation of violation and the terror of dispossession. Reenacting these scenes brought me closer to this terror. For me, the past is living memory — this work is a way of coming to terms with the persistence of the same repressive structures.”
The research pursued by Nomusa Makhubu informs her own artistic practice. In “Umasifanisane I” and “Umasifanisane II” (Comparison I and Comparison II; both 2013), she explores the way colonial photographs “reduce human beings to specimens.” By projecting historical images over her own living body, the artist is commenting on how living subjects are informed by and can resist such modes of representation and classification.
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
2014 African Humanities Program Fellow
A Nigerian art historian changes the narrative by writing about women artists
“When I was deciding on my dissertation, someone said to me ‘You are a woman, and most women artists in Nigeria have not been researched at all. Who will do that? Who will change that narrative if not other women?’ And so I decided to write on two artists, Nnenna Okore and Lucy Azubuike. What interested me was that they had diverse themes in their art — while Okore was interested in repurposing waste into valuable works of art, Azubuike was using photography to talk about female degradation and other subjects. But at the same time, there was a connection between their practices: I see their works as forms of visual activism.
“Okore uses discarded materials like jute, paper, plastic, and fired clay to create works that talk about consumerism. And there is another dimension, too, because these materials degenerate over time, so the artwork goes through a process that is sort of like the life of a person: it’s created, it ages, and eventually it ‘dies.’ In that sense, the work reflects an African concept of ancestral existence, which connects the past with the present, and the living with the dead.
“In fact, some of Okore’s works use the concept of the ancestral emissary or messenger — an entity that links the ancestors, and communicates between the dead and the living in many African cultures. My writing on Okore tries to connect the materials she uses with these traditional notions. Usually these ideas are the purview of men in Nigeria — it’s men who create, produce, and practice these roles. But now, she’s able to claim this aesthetic in her art, and create her own vision of it. Art gives her the opportunity to delve into a space she wouldn’t normally be able to enter in everyday African life.”
Nkiruka Nwafor is seeking to write new histories of the art of Nigeria in part by highlighting the work of women artists, including that of Nnenna Okore. Okore’s installation Emissaries (2011), made from handmade paper, dye, yarn, and burlap, engages questions of environmentalism and the fragile quality of earthly existence by recycling the detritus of everyday life through labor-intensive processes.
Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
2013 African Humanities Program Fellow
A visual historian trains his eye on contemporary wedding practices in Nigeria
“I studied aso ebi textiles — fabrics that are distributed by brides to wedding guests, and used to make outfits for the event — in western and southeastern Nigeria. The idea behind this long-standing practice is that by dressing in matching textiles, your guests are defining themselves as part of your community. In return, the bride gives gifts to those wearing the special clothing. Aso ebi is the name for the fabric, but it’s also a practice in which people dress in similar uniforms and then attend social ceremonies, such as weddings, parties, and funerals. It’s one of the ways in which Nigerian society constructs and reconstructs things like friendship.
“I wasn’t just looking at the textiles themselves — I was thinking about the political and visual economies that surround them, too.
“Over the past 20 years, new ways of using aso ebi have emerged. The altruistic intention of the original transaction, where textiles were given freely to family members, has been complicated by commercialization. Brides now sell the fabric to wedding guests, even those she doesn’t know well. It’s become a sign of social status — the number of people that attend a wedding in aso ebi tells you how successful the wedding has been. But this has also caused friction among friends, instead of creating feelings of inclusion and belonging. The use of aso ebi plays into the visual hype of contemporary Nigerian society, and a culture of conspicuous consumption. I’m interested in how the intersection of aso ebi, popular photography, and fashion magazines have actually transformed the local visual cultural landscape in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria.
“When it comes to art history, the first question you need to ask is ‘what do we really need to study when it comes to material culture or visual history?’ Art history should not revolve only around paintings, sculpture, graphic arts, and so on — a limited range of objects. It should embrace the political and economic and social networks that circulate around things, too. You can’t study objects in a vacuum. Art history should go much, much deeper than the way it is often studied — when I teach my students, I go beyond that to teach them what they need to know to understand their own world.”
One strategy for resisting the colonialist assumptions and biases of the art historical discipline is to expand its purview to encompass not just traditional media (such as painting and sculpture), but much broader swaths of visual culture. This goal animates Okechukwu Nwafor’s study of the ways a particular textile — the aso ebi cloth — is used to define community in new and disruptive ways when it is gifted by brides to her wedding guests.
University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria
2010 African Humanities Program Fellow
Through the lens of what he calls “critical citizenship,” a researcher and educator decolonizes the African art history curriculum
“Art history is taught in Africa largely from Eurocentric points of view, with an emphasis on anthropological methods rather than art historical ones — a legacy of colonialism. My work focuses on creating a new curriculum for the study of African art, one that is situated within the larger discourse of global art historical studies, but that looks at African art from a genuinely African point of view.
“For our students, many of whom arrive at university with no understanding of the history of art, it is necessary to start with what is known and to then move on to the unknown. Our art history curriculum starts with the question of geography, and how it determines the art that arises in a place — both in terms of, say, the kinds of materials available to an artist (the types of wood or stone they might choose), as well as economic, political, linguistic, and other factors.
“When it comes to contemporary art, much of what is recognized in international exhibitions and biennials as ‘African art’ (or even ‘Nigerian art’) is work that fits into certain frameworks that make it legible to non-Africans. Because the West still largely orchestrated the tempo and character of art in postcolonial Africa, many artists here continued to adopt western, modernist ideas of the grotesque, the naïve, or the primitive in their work. But if colonialism brought abstraction and modernism to African colonies, it also brought realist and naturalist art — a fact that is often overlooked. Abayomi Barber, for example, one of Nigeria’s foremost artists and the founder of an influential art school in the country, was committed to depicting African subject matter, but rejected primitivism in favor of pictorial naturalism and a focus on technical excellence.
“For me, the goal of creating an African approach to the history of art is both to get students to understand their own place — their history — and to get them to understand how they are situated in a global context. I’m interested in the idea of critical citizenship — understanding what it is to be Nigerian, for example, but knowing that you exist in a larger context.”
Freeborn Odiboh is interested in the way that global perspectives on the art histories of African nations often focus on abstraction and modernist “primitivism,” resulting in significant omissions. One of these “disappearances” in the global narrative of contemporary art is the Nigerian painter Abayomi Barber, one of his country’s most influential artists, whose naturalist style — demonstrated in shimmering, monumental, naturalistic landscapes — has shaped a generation of Nigerian painters who have studied at his art academy.
Rhodes University, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa
2010 African Humanities Program Fellow
Embracing what she calls “strategic southernness,” a South African art historian rethinks the study of the arts of Africa
“My AHP fellowship project was about representations of Africa-China relations in the visual arts, which was still a fairly new theme for many artists at the time. That led me to curate an exhibition in 2012 called Making Way, which included art being produced in China and South Africa that connected the ideas of movement and crossing borders. The exhibition challenged simplistic valorization of fast-paced movement and celebratory approaches to globalization that tend to ignore its underbelly and negative aspects. I focused on artists who represented slower and often painful ways of moving — such as walking, crawling, and scraping their bodies along the ground.
“Drawing from this research, I am now thinking about ways we can resituate the study of Africa and its epistemologies within the Global South. Collaborating with various Africa-based scholars, I am asking how we can rewrite art history on the African continent in a way that embraces ‘strategic southernness.’ What are other ways of looking at the arts of Africa — not ‘African art,’ which is a largely European and American-produced category? How do our Africa-based art histories reflect what the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o refers to as a ‘quest for relevance’?
“I was recently invited to be part of the consortium that publishes African Arts, an influential journal based at the UCLA African Studies Center and published by MIT Press, and in 2017 I came on board as the Rhodes University editor. I edit one issue a year of the journal, and I decided to make it my goal to include as many Africa-based authors as possible. (Up until that point only about 12 percent of the journal’s contributors were based on the African continent, and only 1.5 percent were based in Africa outside of South Africa.) To achieve this, I founded the Art POWA network that offers publishing workshops that are similar to the AHP manuscript development workshops. I managed to obtain funding from the Mellon Foundation to run this program, and in the first issue I edited, the vast majority of the authors are indeed Africa-based.”
In her curatorial project Making Way, Ruth Simbao brought together works that complicated the idea of globalization’s effect on African nations, especially the idea that the new phase would usher in an almost frictionless movement of labor and capital across borders. Works by artists like Athi-Patra Ruga reflected on questions of how bodies moved through settler colonialist spaces. Ruga’s performance Obscura, Grahamstown (2014), in which official art viewers missed the most spectacular part of the performance, involved the artist walking through the countryside covered with balloons.
Evassy Amanda Tumusiime
Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
2013 African Humanities Program Fellow
A Ugandan artist-scholar is empowering marginalized communities in her homeland
“Before 2003 I was creating images that were not different from the mass-circulated images which subtly — but purposely — reinforced the silence and subordination of women in Uganda. My images tapped into the narrative of what an ideal woman should be in a patriarchal order. Clearly, I contradicted the position of woman enshrined in the 1995 Uganda Constitution, which was hailed for having given voice to women.
“But laws, however progressive, are not enough to build a woman’s capacity to challenge deep-seated stereotypes that are circulated through art. The right education and research are very essential to nurture the kind of woman who can unmask layers of control perpetuated through traditions.
“After 2003 I pursued graduate studies at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of South Africa in Pretoria. I gained the knowledge I needed to interrogate the issues of gender in art, and to make paintings that would advocate for women’s advancement. My themes and symbolism changed.
“This is the context in which in 2016 I mounted Another Place, Another Time: Million-Dollar Masterpieces from Uganda and America, 2003–2016, an exhibition showcasing work I made during my sojourn in the U.S. as a Fulbright Scholar the previous year. This was the first time a painting would be sold at that price in Uganda. In 2016 I also presented the million-dollar painting titled Another Place, Another Time in Uganda. This canvas took me 13 years to complete. My goal was two-pronged: first, to raise funds, and second, to achieve my dream of supporting girls’ education in Kabale, the district where I grew up.
“My work has now taken me into the realm of thinking about empowering other marginalized communities — the deaf and other people with disabilities, the elderly, and so on. I am finding ways to use the power of art to empower people.”
Evassy Amanda Tumusiime’s practice combines art and activism. Her oil painting Another Place, Another Time (2002–16) is believed to be the most expensive artwork ever sold in Uganda, and the proceeds are destined toward funding a hostel for female students to support them in successfully completing their education.
The African decorating theme is gaining in popularity. This is due to its neutrality and versatility, as well as its warm and natural beauty. You can get in on the trend with African art. Art with African themes is a great option for anyone looking to start small with the African decorating theme or anyone who wants to add to an already Africa-themed room. Read on for tips on getting and using African art.
African art works well in almost any room. Hang a lovely large piece over the fireplace in your living room to bring a certain ambiance to every gathering. Or use several smaller pieces in a bathroom with warm, desert colors to create an intimate and welcoming atmosphere. You might even choose to display your pieces in a hallway. Add a vintage bench and you’ve got another room to enjoy in your home.
Getting your hands on African art can be a little tricky. If you want authentic African pieces, you should consider heading to your local auction. Items at an auction are most likely to be authentic and in good condition. Often at auctions, you can even consult an antique professional to find out if the art really is from Africa. Other options for finding authentic African art include visiting local art galleries and searching on the internet.
If you’re looking for African art on a budget, you do have options. If you aren’t terribly concerned about finding art that is necessarily from Africa or African artists, you can find items that are relatively cheap in many cases. Your local antique stores, flea markets, and thrift shops are a great place to look for affordable African art. You might also consider purchasing reproductions at mall art stores and department stores.
Find authentic African masks [http://www.masksofafrica.net/], art and artifacts – use these beautiful pieces of African culture to decorate your home, garden or office. The African home decor [http://www.masksofafrica.net/african_art.html] theme is gaining in popularity. This is due to its neutrality and versatility, as well as its warm and natural beauty. You can get in on the trend with African art. Art with African themes is a great option for anyone looking to start small with the African decorating theme or anyone who wants to add to an already Africa-themed room. For more on cultural and traditional art of the world visit Japanese artwork [http://www.asian-furniture.net/japanesefurniture.html].
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The cultural and artistic productions of Africa have various dimensions that emphasize the pivotal role art plays in the development of societies. This justifies why art and societal living and progression are intertwined. This article explains the influence of art in the social, political, and economic development in African societies.
African art is related to the development of the total life of Africans. This includes the dressing styles, eating habits, values and the norms in the African society. It also embraces the use of art and our cultural heritage in addressing the social problems faced by the ethnic societies in the African continent. Many modern societies in Africa are faced with the challenge of teenage pregnancy, environmental pollution and other forms of social vices. Strategies and solutions to these staggering problems can be found in the sound values, norms, belief systems and practices in Africa. For instance, many scholars in African studies and cultures are calling for a re-visitation and revival of the indigenous practices of initiation rites for the youth that ensured that moral chasteness was maintained by the youth, including the abstinence from pre-marital sex and all other forms of social vices associated with the youth today. It was the measure put in place by the elderly members of the societies in introducing the mantle of leadership to the youth. The initiation rites were platforms for keeping the youth abreast with their social duties as responsible adults.
In addition, the African cosmological belief systems also call for living in harmony with nature while sustainable using nature’s resources. Finding ways of implementing these precepts in modern African societies could bolster their social development. Moreover, African art and culture unearth the language diversities of Africa. It traces the historical development of languages, which is the first step in understanding the cultures of a people. The study of the various forms of art, including the attire, colour choice, design elements, shapes and so forth, helps in understanding the social classes and personalities in the African society.
Politically, African art and culture play quintessential roles in the political lives of the African people. The political artefacts serve as a means of identifying and defining the political roles of rulers such as traditional chiefs, spokespersons, traditional priests and so forth. The political arts empower the ruling class in Africa in performing their priestly duties; exercise their administrative, executive, judicial and military duties.
Economically, the various forms of African art improve the standard of living of the African people. The production and use of the arts satisfy the needs of the people in the society either directly or indirectly. The direct means of producing the artworks in addressing the needs of the people are through the selling of the art pieces and the use of them in carrying out their daily activities. It also involves the use of art forms as incentives for increasing the production of other goods and services in the community to improve the general well being of the people. The study of African art and culture highlights the role of art in providing vocations and job avenues for the members of the society. These vocations in the arts will equip the youth with food providing pursuit skills so that they will have a means of livelihood for themselves and their families. The great wealth from artworks is an asset for the society. In times of economic strains, the artworks can be sold to improve the conditions of living of the people. Court artists who produce the general regalia of the state such as stools, palanquins, spokesmen staff, textiles and others generate economic revenue from them. Counterfeit copies of some of the chief’s regalia are produced as souvenir items and exchanged for foreign currencies. During festivals and other cultural events in Africa, these regalia souvenir items are sold to the general public, especially tourists, generating monetary revenue. This greatly improves the tourism industry of countries in Africa.
The article highlights the great benefits that African societies can gain from the arts and culture practised by the people. African governments, ministries and NGO’s in charge of the development of art, culture and tourism must ensure the development of this field. Funding in the form of scholarships, research grants and awards must be offered to young scholars, researchers and artists to enhance the study of African art and culture because it is a pinnacle of the social, political and economic development of Africa.
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