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Addressing the Demonization of African Art

Man taking a photograph of a black and red artwork with his smartphone.

Addressing the Demonization of African Art

African art has been demonized for centuries, but it’s time to stop underrating these creative works and start celebrating them locally. This demonization has a historical origin: The first African sculptures and paintings were created in form of masks and figures with abnormal features, such as large eyes. In the past, the misrepresentation of the beauty and meaning of African art contrasted starkly against the glorification of art pieces from European artists like Picasso.

 

This has also been due to biased and negative media coverage of African art. For centuries, the history of African art has been reported by people who did not understand the meaning or cultural context of the pieces. Therefore, the whole beauty of local creative works, and their value has not been appreciated as precious pieces of high value.

 

This translates into the local scene too, as artists from underserved communities have never come to grasp the significance of their culture. It is a common belief that “a prophet is not without honour save in his own country”, meaning as an artist in the African continent your art has always taken backstage in recognition and appreciation by the local communities, but stealthily and remotely glorified and celebrated in the foreign lands.

 

In The Guardian article, ‘Stealing Beauty’, author Andrew Meldrum argues that Picasso’s style borrowed much from African art: “Intense and ambitious, the young Spaniard was searching for a new source of inspiration, something that would rock the art world, and vault him to the front of the Avant Garde. He found this in African art.’’

 

In most of his famous paintings that adorn The Picasso Museum, the inspiration he got from African art is highlighted. Moreover, it is known that he never stopped collecting art from African states. Yet, locally, African art is still underappreciated and undervalued.

 

So, what can be done by artists from these underserved societies to raise awareness and promote the value of their art in their local communities? Let’s dig in. The starting point, perhaps would be raising awareness of the value of art in all its forms and mediums. Here are some of the strategies artists as creators and curators can use.

 

What artists and curators can do

A man in a local gallery showing a wooden artefact.

 

  • Awaken the aesthetic appreciation of local artefacts. Engage with local communities to teach them to see artistic objects as valuable assets that can promote and achieve a sustainable lifestyle for both art creators and curators.
  • Leverage community events for marketing opportunities.
  • Take part in collaborations, such as promotional activities like workshops and forums to promote artworks. When possible, engage with local influential figures such as prominent business people.
  • Deliver online or offline classes at schools or colleges, teaching how art is important and increases the cultural value of people’s lives.
  • Explore local markets for face-to-face interaction opportunities with your target audience and art lovers.
  • Open your studio doors for public viewing of your artworks on special days. For example, you can target family audience as a special treat for their weekend outings.
  • Get in touch with your local community, such as community centres, councils, charities and groups where you can provide artwork for charity auctions or other appropriate local events.

 

Art galleries are rarely visited, enquired about or toured by local people. Being an artist with no recognition can be quite hard, especially if that lack support is coming from their local community. Artists can fight this misconception by educating their local communities through informative blogs.

 

Most artists have found themselves hardly recognised in their own communities, meaning their talents, skills and accomplishments are hardly appreciated and celebrated by local people and markets. This is a common experience amongst artists. For instance, I as a fashion designer, have experienced negative comments about my designs and prices.

 

In business, it is believed that starting from the local market is always the best strategy in raising awareness of your product to the world market. Therefore, local recognition and celebration of local artists is key in boosting confidence and creating successful business models. Moreover, when it comes to African art, recognition and celebration can help fund those who want to make a living off traditional crafting, aiding to highlight untold stories about the African continent

 

Our continent is full of amazing artists who deserve more recognition. Artists like Tshepiso Seleke, George Masarira and Denis Mubiru are just a few examples that show us what great culture we can produce when given a chance. However, without their local support, these artists would not be making the impact they are having. So, what can local people do to support talented local artists? What else can local communities do to support the sustenance of the art industry?

 

What the community can do

A young woman looking through displayed paintings at an open air gallery.

  • Learn to appreciate art and its value by attending local art exhibitions and openings in their local galleries.
  • Understand the value of art pieces as investments and assets.
  • Start looking around for unique art pieces in your community to support local creative talent.
  • Join annual membership opportunities in local galleries for prior access to viewing. Take advantage of special offers, free unlimited entries and attendances into exhibitions and galleries as a patron and supporter of the art industry.
  • Engage with art outlets through online support. Visit their websites, sign up to their newsletter and follow their social media channels.
  • Attend workshops and lectures to understand how artwork come to be and why it needs to be appreciated and valued.
  • Make donations to local art charities or contribute to local talent.
  • Encourage outlets like bookstores, libraries and art shops to stock up with local publications and creatives.

 

In order to stop the demonization of African art, local artists, museum curators and the public need to come together to show appreciation for what these pieces represent and how they hold together the cultural significance of their communities and society.

 

Art is an excellent way to help those living in underserved communities connect with the realities of their lives. Art can help to improve the quality of life and broaden perspectives, but often, due to the lack of support and attention, artists do not reach their full potential.   The strategies suggested above will help to ensure that African art appreciation and celebration does not remain sluggish. Opening conversations on what life should be in our communities and societies through art appreciation and through the proactive embracement of our own identity in can help create a sustainable environment for art creators, consumers and curators.

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