Posted under Views on February 27th 2011
Africa is a Country' contributing writer Boima Tucker is a DJ and graduate student based in New York City. After visiting the Gulf earlier this year, and in light of the recent talk of divisions between Africa and the Arab World, he though it may be useful to take a glance at ongoing attempts to bridge those perceived gaps.
On a visit to the U.A.E. (this past January) I was able to catch an inspirational exhibit of photos called Africa Uploaded, as well as the second installation of the four part series ‘As it is!’ hosted at Dubai’s Mojo Gallery. The series of art exhibits and workshops curated by Annabelle Nwankwo-Mu’azu, focuses on the works of 21 contemporary artists from Africa and its Diaspora.
With a world class series of art and culture events such as Art Dubai, and the Dubai Film Festival, Dubai is staking its claim as important emerging center for the international creative community. By hosting ‘As it is!’ The Mojo Gallery is making a push to add African voices into the mix. The current exhibit, Statement’s of Intent: A Generation Provoked, looks at how today’s generation of African artists deal with issues of identity, migration, displacement, and marginalization in today’s version of a globally interconnected world. Great stuff! The main event which takes place in March will coincide with Art Dubai.
To be honest, Dubai wasn’t the first place I thought would be an important center for African artistic expression. But after spending some time there, I can see the importance of recognizing and emphasizing the voices of the African diaspora on the Arabian peninsula. Wole Soyinka, the patron of ‘As it is!’, puts this idea into historical perspective and challenges the impulse to connect Africa with former colonial powers in Europe. According to him, Leopold Sedar Senghor was one of the few leaders who recognized a need to redirect those ties:
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.
This idea reminds me of the Arabic calligrapher that I met in Pikine, Senegal, whose work has been at Islamic art institutes around the world. The religious dimension alone should be enough to forge a strong connection between Arabs and sub-Saharan Africans, but as Professor Soyinka recognizes there is still work to be done:
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.
And what better time than now for “black Africa” and Arab countries to forge a relationship of solidarity? When it was clear that Tunisia was headed for a revolution, still disillusioned by the situation in the Ivory Coast, I became hopeful at the possibility for similar waves to spread across the continent. I heard many journalists predict as to where the revolutionary spirit would and wouldn’t spread in the Arab world, but rarely in those early stages did I hear mention of the rest of Africa. The language that we use to suggest that Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and the rest of the Maghreb are not a part of Africa points to a very real and predominant psychological separation between the lands divided by the Sahara.
Read Boima Tucker post in full on Africa is a Country