State of Emergency

The happy days of post-independence are over, says N’Goné Fall, and culture in Africa is at a crossroads

The 1960s is remembered as a time of geopolitical, social and cultural breaking-down. In those busy days, African governments implemented national theatres, national museums, and national performing arts companies. Culture — well funded and privileged — was used as a weapon to fight against western imperialism. It was a halcyon time when it came to thinking about and building a modern Africa. Two decades later, things started to fall apart. National touring exhibitions stopped, museums closed, funds vanished. Culture was no longer the priority. African politicians blamed it all on “structural adjustments”. Meanwhile, in the west, exhibitions and biennials became really international, featuring artists from Latin America, Asia and Africa. Multiculturalism, hybridity and mobility joined the dance of core issues, enlarging the way the world perceived the geographical borders of contemporary art. African identities and specificities, analysed from outside, forced the continent to wake up. African workshops, magazines and biennials were created, slightly rebalancing western artistic hegemony. But are all these African initiatives challenging how we relate to our communities and territories? Are they enough of a catalyst, be it socially, economically, theoretically and artistically? In Africa, many people see culture as an entertainment. As a consequence, many African artists feel misunderstood and, as a result, look to more dynamic venues in the west. But in the west, inclusion of these artists is often based on representation: identity as a social or political weapon, a collective group of artists as a medium for education. Ideas of what is good or bad, what is art or craft, have largely been defined by the west. And the public takes their statements for granted. We need to bear in mind that the African continent is lacking cultural infrastructure, art professionals, information flows and a real political commitment. The happy days of independence are over. A different context needs a different model. It is time to implement new strategies. We need platforms to question and challenge the local and the global, websites and art centres, books and magazines, workshops and networks. We need an in-depth analysis of contemporary African art by Africans because the absence or silence of Africa might lead the world believe that this continent has nothing to say, or that its voice doesn’t count. According to a monitoring report produced by the UN Millennium Development Goals, Africa represents: less than one per cent of the production of books; one per cent of the conception of schoolbooks for Africans; 10 per cent of internet users; and 0,3 per cent of websites.Culture is a vehicle for traditions and ideologies. Today the continent is passively consuming foreign cultural productions. Personally, I am sick and tired of this. We can no longer ignore the fact that African youth are being bombarded with, and stupefied by concepts, ideas and values manufactured elsewhere — all this in the name of a planetary fraternity and cultural diversity. It is time to shake our minds and to consider that we are in a state of emergency.

N’Goné Fall is a Dakar-based curator, art publisher and consultant