From the First of August to the 30th
of September 1962, a Congress of African Culture took place at the National Gallery of Rhodesia. The magnitude of this meeting of Museum leaders from the continent and around the globe; royalty from around the continent, artists, critics and cultural experts- the Who’s Who of the art world met under one roof to discuss the considerably homogeneous topic of African Culture.
That Congress has taken a new form in the present age, reinventing itself to appeal to contemporary issues and tackle problems that have arisen in present- day Culture. This format is the International Conference on African Cultures, appreciative to the fact that in 1962, Africa was considered, by the West, to be a generic homunculus- without diversity and majuscule matter contained within it.
As diverse as this plenitude of Cultures is; the reclamation of identity will be at the fore of the discussion. The Historical dimensions of Art on the continent are to be interrogated; the cradle of Civilization, Egypt, has through time been separated from the Art History of the Continent. This was perpetuated by the West to a point where the ancient civilization became an entirely different entity from the remainder of Africa; claims which historians of great repute such as Cheikh Anta Diop disputed this view to the extent of propositioning the founders of the civilization to be Black Africans. His works are well received by the contemporary Afropolitan stratum, all appreciating the axiom that Art has been rooted in developments on the continent from concepts such as contrapposto, evident in the sculptural and illustrative representations of Egyptian art.
The drive behind this year’s International Conference on African Cultures touches base on the development of Contemporary Art on the Continent. The Historical aspect has been constantly a battle of contextual presentations between Western and African schools of thought; room for misinterpretation emerged as the grasp of concepts may have been lost to the former. An example of Bantu Cultures having a unifying factor through Ubuntu- Unhu
may serve as an example, where in Western institutions, Faculties of African Studies largely appraise Greek philosophy as the bedrock on which philosophy is developed to their students. Instruction of Fine Art in African Institutions is no different, especially where Fine Art is concerned.
Pin pointing the emergence of the Contemporary Movement in a majority of African countries becomes arduous as the alternate timelines of the “Developed” world are utilized to delimit artistic and creative direction on the continent. This would require a convening of African practitioners to formulate and fix the disengaged timeline which has been drawn from a Western perspective. Identification of antiquated movements shifting to the Modern are, perhaps, identifiable due to the disruptive Imperialist events that took place in the previous century. Consensus on the dawn of the Contemporary, however, is a matter that has been left underneath collective histories and its development shall be interrogated circumspectly.
Unaffectedly, the nature of realizing the matters of Contemporary Art development would culminate in the advancement which this constitution has made. Art on the continent has existed and been produced, mainly, for exhibition in essentially colonial entrenched Museums and Gallery that were in the times of their inception, brutally designed to intimidate the indigenous populations of the continent. The purpose served therein was the brutal monolithic symbol of colonial tastes; which in the post- Independence environment of African countries, became an albatross for administrators of these institutions. The Gallery and the Museum evolved into a sanctum reserved for the former colonial masters and exclusivity was inbred in the structure’s literal and metaphorical narrative.
Collections seemingly reflected the tastes of the former dispensation and with the emergence of African curators, changes to these bodies of work stridently included the local content of almost every African country; arguably to the bane of the structural association of the four white walls with Imperial tastes. This headway is part of the International Conference on African Cultures agenda, as content and context become energetically infused with what is genuinely reflective of a wide array of African Cultures, a need to have the public uneducated of the preceding associations of Cultural institutions in order to reconstruct in inalienable African identities.
Alternatively, the manifestation of new institutions that are highly interactive with Publics across continent; examples such as Art at Work and RAW Materials Company have thrust engagement to a new high. Taking art to the people who have largely been educated against developing taste for it is based in nurturing conceptions of Publics in a manner that opens new spaces for the Contemporary and setting foundations for Afropolitan discourse in a means that potentially unearths interest and talent progressively.
ICAC will also dwell on the Tradition and Heritage conversation as these factors are inscriptive to identity. Design, Art and other means of representational creative activities are driven by influences from Cultural background, amid neoliberal capitalist agendas that have largely appropriated said Cultural backgrounds for exploitative gains of the artistic class that rightfully owns these traditional and inherited capacities. The ownership question is at the core of ICAC agenda, in effect, de-colonial discourse, at any scale; is bound to experience the globalized capitalist machinery that retains archaic notions of African Cultures as the generic homunculus stated earlier. Appropriation has profited multinational corporations at the expense of Africa, in the name of appreciation to say the least, however, the artist, art administrator and intellectual have largely discounted from this convention. The discussion thus shifts to these individuals, creators and purveyors of identity and taste- to draw a line in this shameless corporate plunder of Tradition and Heritage.
The International Conference on African Cultures will commence on the 11th
of September. Local speakers to grace the Conference include; Doreen Sibanda the Executive Director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe; Raphael Chikukwa the Chief Curator of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe; Stephen Chifunyise an arts, culture and education consultant and Principal of the Zimbabwe Academy of Arts Education for Development (ZAAED), Phebion Kangai a Lecturer in Art and Design as well as the Coordinator of the Visual Arts Programme at the University of Zimbabwe; Ancila Nhamo, a lecturer of Archaeology at the History Department of the University of Zimbabwe; Tapfuma Gutsa, an Artist of Great Repute; Dana Whabira, artist, curator and Gallery founder; Berry Bickle, an Artist of Great Repute; Admire Kamudzengerere, a Mature Artist; Gareth Nyandoro, a Mature Artist; Christopher Till, Director of the Javett Museum and former Director of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, and Helen Teede, Young Artist and Gallery founder.
The Conference is made possible by the endowment of Africalia; Anglo American Corporation, the British Council, Chapungu Sculpture Park Doon Estate, e-Learning Solutions Zimbabwe, the German Embassy in Zimbabwe, Merchant Bank of Central Africa, Monomotapa Hotel Harare and Titan Law. The Conference will take place at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and booking is available online. Limited places available.