Africa has long been a source of fascination for people from the West. From Cy Endfield’s 1964 classic film Zulu starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker, to Disney’s The Lion King, from Elton John crooning The Circle of Life, to Shakira’s foot-tapping World Cup anthem This Time for Africa*, the land of our origins still maintains a deep hold over our thoughts and is firmly embedded into our culture.
When we look at Africa, we see a myriad of possibilities, destinations, languages, cultures, politics, wildlife, levels of wealth and poverty, violence and peace, landscapes, and geography. The fame of Nelson Mandela, the infamy of Robert Mugabe, the grace of Iman, the beauty of Charlize Theron, the power of Djimon Hounsou, and the speed of 2012 Olympic gold medallists David Rudisha and Ezekiel Kemboi. These are a handful of the personages who have been thrust into the limelight of the West, and therefore whom we fixate on. Even amongst the diversity of the continent’s geography, what we are drawn to is the African savannah and the romanticised ‘safari treks’ that may there be embarked on. Or, we ponder on the Sahara, and imagine ourselves as the new Lawrence of Arabia. Quite frankly, we forget about the swamp forests of the Congo, and the deforestation issue which is plaguing Madagascar.
Fierce beauty, wild mystique, and exotic unfamiliarity are what draw our attention again and again to this fascinating continent. Whilst we may have familiarised ourselves with certain aspects of Africa (both the good and the bad), what we have yet to pay closer attention to is the art which is produced from within its borders. Beautiful, mystical, tribally exotic, and utterly beguiling, the art, textiles, and adornments which artisans painstakingly create, and have perfected their craft of over thousands of years; this is what we ought to be taking our inspiration from. We should see this as a model to emulate and to work towards – the passion and fire that is undisputedly African, why can we not direct the same emotion into our own work, lives, and art? The highest compliment we should strive for: “Is this African?”
* Re-discover Shakira’s This Time for Africa here:
To discover more about extraordinary African artisanry and a celebration of African textiles, you need look no further than the High Museum of Art Atlanta. The exhibition Symmetry/Asymmetry: African Textiles, Dress, and Adornment will be running until the 25th August. Be sure not to let this opportunity pass you by! For those of you unable to get to Atlanta in time, grab a copy of African Art by Maurice Delafosse