Cycles of expression

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Folks with age and experience claim that trends tend to come and go in cycles. Reflecting on events of the last half century, it seems like there is some truth in this notion. If one likens the range of trends likely to take hold of public attention to suitcases on an airport conveyor belt, maybe someone adds or subtracts features each time the trend resurfaces, so it looks like something new is happening. At the heart of the matter however, the essence of the suitcase’s contents are the same.

Seeing a city such as London as a global hub, or as a shop front window where various cultures get chances to display their wares in order to buy, sell and disseminate information, it seems like it has taken a long while for African cultural expression to emerge once more as a focal point.

There was a moment in the 1950s which was fronted by Kwame Nkrumah, who was undoubtedly the leading voice of the generation of African politicians who successfully persuaded Britain to loosen its grip on its colonial domains on the continent. Some artists emerged from this era, several of whom are still with us today, regarded as the progenitors of post colonial African arts on the world stage.

In the 1980s the Anti Apartheid movement had an iconic figure in Nelson Mandela (though I think the spotlight should have been shared more with his ex wife – Winnie, Oliver Tambo and several other activists). Another phase of African artist expression was given attention in the global popular culture. Having lived through that era as an emerging artist myself, it was clear that the artists didn’t have the agency to really speak their truths to the rest of the world.

Now that the issue of African self determination has been broadly negotiated, is it possible that the next era that brings the continent to the world’s attention could be led by artists instead of activists and politicians? Is it time for artists of African descent to be more assertive in making their voices heard as independent thinkers? The jury is still out.