Monday, September 07, 2009

Defining Afri-love

Africa is in my veins … in my thoughts and in my actions. I don’t know how love for a continent is made. How the colours and rhythms from one far-off coast can resonate as loudly on the opposite side. How listening to strangers speaking a language I do not know (understanding is different for it often transcends linguistic boundaries) can bring sudden feelings of homesickness. How the rush of sights, sounds and smells, as I step out of a plane, has my being instantly relax in the knowledge: this is where I belong.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and it also teaches the heart a lesson about its self: about how it is made; about what dictates its pace; and what it requires for beating.

I used to think I was patriotic, I still do, but I believe what I was feeling deserved a different and more appropriate name. It transcends national borders – it goes back before the Scramble. It rises over the barriers of language for communication takes place on several planes.

Meeting people from around the world and sharing our common affinities for the continent has helped, over years, to formulate for me, a way to articulate that feeling I previously could not quite capture. I choose to name it Afri-love. Simple, says what it does on the tin and allows me to signpost the myriad expressions of that feeling that I observe, live and create. Naming is a powerful process – it allows one to lift up a thing, hold it to the light and study it closely. Naming can be dangerous too: it can limit the form and consistency of a thing. However, in this instance, naming is useful to me as an umbrella under which to formulate ideas and mobilize the kind of action that will expand itself. Afri-love breeding Afri-love.

And naming helps to create community. A community already exists but it is not always self-aware. The extensive take up of the Afropolitan idea/identity is proof that Afri-love exists in abundance. Its informal community of agents spread its beauty and energy across the globe, sharing good news about the continent; enlightening people about its diversity and cultural wealth; and destroying the barrage of misperceptions that exist within the minds of ignorant and “worldly” alike.

Perhaps most important is exchange. Bringing language, culture, art, knowledge, belief and music to meet with the language, culture, art, knowledge, belief and music of other continents. Creating something new, powerful and relevant that heralds all of its constituent parts while casting a wider net of inclusion. Respect, fundamentally, running through it all.

Afri-love is about that respect for what came before (to avoid the use of that contentious term “tradition”), learning and taking forward what is still germane and beneficial to growth; leaving behind what is inappropriate and counter-constructive; drawing knowledge and inspiration from whatever other sources are available in our experience; and using our imagination, creativity and passion to make something new.

Something that reflects our individual histories and journies first. When we zoom out and look at the greater tapestry of which we are a tiny but crucial thread, the collective story emerges. In perhaps the most interesting, eclectic and spontaneous fashion yet.

Undoubtedly, the most conspicuous pattern is the energy that connects every person who feels Afri-love. It’s almost irrelevant where you’re from. That yearning to touch the ground, smell the soil and feel the sun’s embrace. To join the dance, both invisible and real. To love your brodas and sistas despite their weaknesses and bad judgement. To be that village that is concerned with the growth of every child. The village that hunts and gathers together and celebrates that collective action with a feast.

It may all sound quite utopian. Perhaps, the one truest sign of the presence of Afri-love is the optimism that we can make our vision a reality: Africa rising to realise its full potential*.

* Borrowing from the vision of African-led UK charity Stand Up for Africa.

Image taken at Kitengela Glass in Kenya, hence the cut-out.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The art of reality

Visiting the Walking in my Mind exhibition at London’s Southbank Centre renewed for me a lot of thoughts around the act of artistic creation and the psyche.

Who is it for?
Just as they say “write what you know”, indeed art is often an interpretation of the artist’s experience. It is a very courageous thing to turn inside out what goes on in your heart and mind. Is it self-indulgent or is it a profound honesty and pure form of communication? Or is it not about the viewer at all?

Yayoi Kusama
created the exhibitions iconic polka dot ’scapes. Explaining her work she states:

“My artwork is an expression of my life, particularly of my mental disease. My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings.”

Rather than hiding her disease from the masses, she has brought her experience of it to them. She has forced them to empathise and be, like her, “a dot lost among a million other dots.” Is there comfort in this anonymity? Is it more about reminding her of her likeness to her viewers rather than highlighting to them where she differs?

What is it for?
I believe that the process of creating art forces the artist to be fully present and self-aware. By confronting what is, here and now (or rather, there and then), one can work through it. “The only way out is through ultimately” sings Alanis Morissette. A significantly therapeutic exercise, it is cathartic in the least and evolutionary at best. Through making something physical or tangible you activate the transformative energy of creation in the psychological realm. In making, you give shape to (your, which is a part of wider) reality.

It brings me back to the idea of constructive selfishness. Only when the work is made for the self, will it be meaningful to others. Only when the artist is honest with him or herself will he or she be able to project truth.

What is it?
It follows that art does not merely replicate what exists but necessarily articulates a perspective or an idea. By doing so, it gives form to the subject in a way that is, and I am making up a word here, metasensory.

What I mean by this is that, the interpretation of a piece often requires more than one sense, even though the medium may indicate otherwise. For example, we assume a painting is for looking at. However a painting also stirs the sense of touch – whether you actually run your fingers across it or not. An installation compels you to consider your physical (and possibly emotional) relationship to it as well as engage your senses of sight, sound and/or smell.

It is subjective interpretation and its metasensory manifestations that enables the artist to move the work from the space of recording to the space of remodeling; reality inspiring new realities.

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.
— Bertolt Brecht