The Sunday News
IN the art world we constantly hear about artists talking about “identity”. Identity is always at the centre of most artists explorations. Identity is basically the sum of who one is and the circumstances of where they come from and what they experienced built up and contributed to who they are. We all have a history that has an impact on who we become as individuals. Positive encounters and negative experiences all add up to the final and current self. The psychology of many people is based on their past and the psyche of people can determine how damaged or affected by a past they really are.
People are institutionalised and diagnosed with conditions that reveal a past that psychiatrists attribute to trauma or some form of negative experience. This also proves to be true in the reverse situation where the psyche of those with a happy and untainted past usually have a calm and confident aura about their personality. Art has always been a channel through which thoughts, emotions, feelings are expressed. Through these forms of expression an identity is created. Identity goes beyond the basic name of a person and their identity paperwork and documents.
The human body is central to how we understand facets of identity such as gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity. People alter their bodies, hair, and clothing to align with or rebel against social conventions and to express messages to others around them. Many artists explore gender through representations of the body and by using their own bodies in their creative process.
The body took on another important role as a medium with which artists created their work. In performance art, a term coined in the early 1960s as the genre was starting to take hold, the actions an artist performs are central to the work of art. For many artists, using their bodies in performances became a way to both claim control over their own bodies and to question issues of origins of life, issues of gender and citizenship.
Artists have for years documented the state of mind of their community, the state of political affairs, the psychological state of individuals and the state of mind of the artist who is creating. Our identity is constantly changing and who we are is an ever constantly evolving people. Through art one can trace the history of a nation and the lives of a people.
What does identity mean in art? Identity is the way we understand, express ourselves. Factors and conditions that an individual is born with such as ethnic heritage, sex, or one’s body often play a role in defining one’s identity. Many artists use their work to express, explore, and question ideas about identity. Cultural identity in art taps into our ethnic heritage and is the one remaining link to our ancestral identity. Exploring cultural identities through art. These practices help contribute to an individual and collective sense of identity and citizenship. Zimbabwean artists have always strived to preserve an indigenous element to their creations with the aim of raising our flag high.
However, there have been concerns about artists from Africa that our cultural heritage is slowly slipping away. Either it is slipping away or is it getting redefined. The fact is that African Identity has been “compromised”. Artists’ creations can tell the story leading up to the point where the African identity began to be compromised. Compromised by colonial encounter and agenda, compromised by new religions and spirituality from across oceans and compromised by absorbing foreign ideals. This however, is the natural process of life and identity as identity is dynamic, from the African perspective we need to take more caution and place more emphasis in preserving our cultural/ heritage as the “colonial agenda” initiated the process of loss of identity”. For centuries Africa has been on a downhill fall for the most part terms of reclaiming her stolen and distorted identity. We are at a stage where Africa is currently “trending”. Africa is reclaiming her identity through tapping into our cultural heritage and it is reborn and redefined in our modern era. Our current African or Zimbabwean identity is cumulation of good times, traumatic times, celebratory times and new expressive times. Our African identity is finally regaining its strength in a redefined positive nature. For Africa by Africa.
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