Representation and choices

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In a radio interview last weekend with DJ Freestyle of Feferity Radio, one of the matters I talked about was representation of African expression in the global arena.

I reflected about an art exhibition that was presented by a consortium of galleries that are connected to some of the world’s leading art centres. The exhibition claimed to be making a statement about contemporary African art. I was invited to compose a creative response to the exhibition.

The show featured works by artists of African descent, but the range of approaches used by these practitioners was not sufficiently evocative of African symbolic expression, in my opinion. I decided to compose a piece that would delve in African traditions (from various heritages across the continent) with some depth.

We speculated about the reasons why choices were made to present such a high profile representation of African art that was somehow throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I gave the example of the difference between eating Indian cuisine that had been adapted to suit Eurocentric palates and having the same meal in an Indian city or village. Freestyle understood exactly what I meant.

It has been said in some quarters that authenticity is an overrated quality, but consistency is something to be valued. Afrocentric expression is fluid and dynamic, but I know what it feels like for me. It could feel different for other people, of course.