BY PENIEL OKWUCHUKWU
One thing that has become imperative when amplifying the beauty that is the African culture is that the narrator does well to make the distinction between Africans as a people with a strong sense of aesthetics, and Africans as a form of artwork themselves.x
This is because a failure to do so would only promote another stereotype as the solution to tackling one stereotype.
Particularly in the western media, how Africa has been portrayed over time is remarkably interesting. At the onset, Africa was largely portrayed as impoverished and disconnected from the experiences of the rest of the world.
The only time Africa was on the news station of Western media outlets, was when fly-ridden children were captured on camera, a fundraising attempt to help starving children in Africa was being promoted, or the western world was decrying the political instability in the region.
This constant misrepresentation began to draw criticism from enlightened Africans and supporters from other races who saw the danger of this stereotype.
The danger was that such a stereotype did not comprehensively reflect the everyday experience of Africans in Africa; there were positive experiences that Africans lived out daily, and if the media wanted to do proper coverage on Africa, then they needed to cover those experiences too.
And then there is the second failure- In a bid to compensate for the earlier wrong, the media has tried to focus on the artistry and cultural dynamics of the African people but is now portraying a romanticised image of Africans as being simple-minded beings whose only inclinations are in arts, culture, and aesthetics, and whose sense of wholesomeness can be got solely from creative expressions, even if everything else is going wrong.
This is simply not true.
This overly artistic image of Africa as an alternative to the depleted image of Africa is still in itself a stereotype, and we as Africans should not accept this oversimplified version of ourselves. It is condescending to think that all that Africans are capable of is only creative expression.
Egypt easily comes to mind when making this case. Going through the history of Egypt – a civilization that existed from time immemorial, provides one with a classic depiction of two things: of a people with a strong sense of artistry – all their art inventions prove it -, but also of a people with a strong sense of all the intellectual and mental capacities that was needed to create a formidable civilization that lasted many years.
This is what it is and what should be portrayed; the many dimensions of the African mind – the African that has a strong sense of aesthetics, but also the African that can make complex intellectual decisions.
The African that can aspire to politics and governance, the African that is able to engage in economic activity, and summarily the African whose decision-making process is not oversimplified, and who does not solve all his problems by singing songs, dancing, and doing all things artsy.
Africa has a strong command of artistry, but no, we do not spend our waking up and sleeping days basking in nature and cultural heritage and creating compelling works of arts at every twist and turn of our existence.
We have boring days, uneventful days, we have flaws, but we have existed from prehistoric times in such a way that makes it obvious that we are mentally all-encompassing.
Our strong sense of aesthetics is beautiful, but we are not in ourselves, a work of art placed in a gallery existing solely for the entertainment of the world.