The Sunday News
“OUR imagination is our only limitation”. A phrase that has been commonly used as a motivation for one to stretch their view of the world and step out of the “box” and see the world from another perspective. “Imagination” has always been the driving force behind that which we cannot explain and that which we desire to be. Africa is a place filled with rich history that has been diluted and disguised to suit the purpose of those that visited this continent and proceeded to attempt to rule through all methods possible. There was the use of the “missionary” and then there was the use of the gun or military to dominate the African way of life.
The colonialists methods were very strategic in execution as they knew that if the missionaries achieved their goals of learning our languages, spiritual beliefs and traditional habits it would simplify their agenda. If one takes away the belief system and the “gods” of a people then they have taken away that which makes them whole and complete. The missionary aided in the discrediting of African creations as “pagan” and “of primitive nature”. The existence of African people was seen as in need of “saving” and thus they were given new “gods” to look towards for salvation.
This brings us back to the issue of an Africa that never was given that chance to flourish. Africa’s natural growth was interrupted buy “traders” who became greedy and wanted it all instead. Trade with Africa and other continents had existed long before the advent of slavery. Trade routes with Africa can be traced like maps that existed with Asia, Brazil, the Americas and Europe long before the “grab for Africa” where Africa was partitioned for financial and colonial gain. The substitution of our African “gods” and traditional methods with their (Eurocentric) ways of life was the beginning of the absolute colonisation of Africa. The creations that were revered by the Africans were taken from them and replaced with new symbols.
One can argue the fact that as much as the Europeans looked down upon Africa, African creations and Africans themselves, as much as their creations were labelled as being of primitive nature with pagan agendas, it is these same artefacts that they say were meaningless that they defend with all their strength. An Africa imagined is all that we have to keep the dream of what was once a reality alive. Africa’s heritage is locked up for anthropological studies and research in galleries and museums across the world. Anthropologists and art historians came to realise that non-Western cultures should not be judged according to the values of the West, leading to a re-evaluation of the nature “art.” However, it was modern Western artists who brought non-Western objects into the popular imagination as works of art worthy of aesthetic consideration.
Today, many contemporary African artists are influenced by tradition-based African art. African arts played a central role in their communities, whether to communicate royalty, sacrality, inner virtues, aesthetic interests, genealogy, or other concerns. It is this challenge that we see artists have in these times where their voices as painters, actors, musicians, sculptors and poets. As much as the “stolen” artefacts tell a solid story of their purpose in anthropological terms, tells their geographic origins, period and purpose for whom it was created so does the modern artist of today. Artists have always been at the forefront of representing “their” people and what “their” people are all about culturally and spiritually. Zimbabwe has joined the rest of the African continent in the mission to reaffirm themselves as a people of a new generation that is in control of their destiny.
We can only imagine the spiritual strength that was taken away from Africa through the stolen artefacts that left Africa displaced with no roots to keep us grounded. Africa was cut at the root and the aim was for Africa to never flourish on its own terms. Africa is left with a lot of “What if” situations and this only motivates the artistic mind to “imagine” an Africa. It is how ever interesting how the colonial agenda saw fit to strategise by acquiring art forms that they saw to be more dangerous to them than any weapon the African people could have. A “spiritual” warfare was initiated and art was in the background of all the looting of minerals, men and women. The displaced art from Africa was taken initially as trinkets but the coloniser realised that their art carried messages and stories of the origin of mankind, stories of past rulers, stories of nature and stories of traditional beliefs. Our artists of today strive to establish their own artistic footprint to the world while at the same time aiming to re-establish Africa’s lost power. Repatriation is a must.