"The Weekend Read": Visual Arts and the Transformation of the African Narrative

By: Deonta Wortham 

The visual arts. The medium by which so many try to decipher, expose and describe the context of their culture’s psyche. But can these societal attributes can accurately illustrate the vast complexities that is "reality"? Well, that the visual artist steps in - and “shakes” things up.

Mary Sibande,  I decline. I refuse to decline.  (2010) Image Credit: Gallery Momo

Mary Sibande, I decline. I refuse to decline. (2010) Image Credit: Gallery Momo

Like so many before them, contemporary African artists have attempted to answer and expose societal questions and beliefs through the guise of creative visual work. Works that inspire, highlight, and even anger their audience. Their works transform, and unmask the very nature of one's existence - and often the visual artist dares their audience to dream and aspire - in effect to be more.

When one looks at the cosmopolitan inspired works of Angola's Edson Changas, we witness the integrated simplicity of the urban space meddled with the perplexing facets of contemporary cosmopolitan life. Spurring questions regarding the cultural reality of contemporary Africa with that of the world’s growing consumerist society.

Edson Changas, 'Oikonomos' (2011) Image Credit: http://www.contemporaryand.com/

Through photography, videography and the medium of sculpture, Tanzanian visual artist Rehema Chachage explores the topics of gender, alienation, poverty, and loneliness. Each piece seeks to "spotlight" areas of modern life that are perpetually overlooked, or marginalized. In particular, Chachage seeks to note the changing existence of the African woman in societies that are consistently transforming.

Rehema Chachage, Mizizi/Nasaba (Kinship/Roots) Image Credit: http://rehemachachage.com/

At Gallery Momo in Johannesburg, Thandi Sibisi - the first South African black woman to open a major art gallery in South Africa - is "setting the atmosphere" for artists that actively explore issues such as power dynamics and disregarded facets of contemporary South African life.

Thandi Sibisi, Owner Gallery Momo Image Credit: The Guardian 

These artists' stringent efforts to expose the "underbellies" of African life illustrate the vast nature of contemporary existences across the continent. In the efforts of Changas, Chavhage, and those exhibiting their work at Sibisi's gallery, we are able to note that the African "narrative" is steadily being transformed. 

Andrew Tshabang, Sheme members on the way to Nhlangakazi holy mountain, Natal (2007) Imange Credit: Gallery Momo

Every day brings with it a "new" transformed African reality. Our ability to see these changes are due to the creative efforts of visual artist like those aforementioned. The visual arts tell of life in its  most natural form, they expose the dark realities that we are so often presuppose to overlook, and finally they give a physical, creative, and intellectual illustration of the society in which we find ourselves beholden to.

African visual arts does all these things and more, ensuring that Africa both notices its shortcomings and embraces the tenacity of those willing to perpetually question their existence.