PAINTING ACROSS CULTURES By Professor Wole Soyinka
Posted under Views on 07 December, 2010
Usually, African art turns its face towards Europe, occasionally also towards the United States but, mostly towards Europe. This is not surprising, once we recall that what most of what we know as modern Africa is a creation of Europe, through colonialism. Consequently, any external exposure, or dialogue between artistic forms and motifs follows the same path of exchange and influence as other forms of creativity – literature, music, dance and drama, and indeed, architecture.
The colonial cords remain as effective as ever – Francophone, Lusophone, Anglophone or Hispanophone. And yet a powerful ‘external’ creative language exists on the continent itself – the Arab/Islamic, beckoning towards the larger Arab world.
One of the very few statesmen to address this option was, not surprisingly, a poet and intellectual in his own right – Leopold Sedar Senghor. He was the earliest to recognize and articulate the need for a black African linkage to that cultural repository that he named Arabite, and he matched his words by deeds in creating opportunities, as head of state, for the mutual cultural interrogation between both sides through expositions and Festivals, even while committed, a priori, to the founding of such exchanges on the cultural actualities of the African continent itself.
Despite such efforts, the weight of contacts between Africa and Europe still predominates, awaiting the moment when the pendulum would swing the other way and bring the Arab cultural world just as close, if not closer to the African. This exhibition of African art in the Arab world therefore strikes me as a most essential dimension of such creative dialogue between two vibrant cultures. Despite a historic foothold in the African continent, the Arab world still exists in as profound ignorance of the African world, its history and creative vitality, as the African world also does of the Arab. While, all too often alas, politics divides, Art unites. Art has always proved the is interested bridge across world views, a source of illumination as much as inspiration. This is one of the reasons, for instance, that I gladly accepted an invitation to the Dubai International Poetry Festival thattook place this year, under the patronage of Prince Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai who, just like his Senegalese counterpart, the late Leopold Senghor, is a highly considered poet of the Arab world. I was already acquainted with a few established names in Arab poetry, but it was a revelation to encounter the works of the younger generation of poets and engage them in person over a variegated field of existential and creative concerns.
It is my hope that this exhibition (‘As It is!’) will mark a beginning in the construction of such bridges, a mutual opening out between two already interconnected worlds, that will further enrich both, inspire new directions in articulating the realities of both traditional and modernized worlds that such societies – especially their artistes ‐ simultaneously inhabit. This exhibition should travel, evolving eventually in a joint presentation of representative works from both cultures, for the edification of both, and the
rest of the world.
Obafemi Awolowo University,
Nobel Laureate in Literature, 1986