Shifting the gaze:
As highlighted in this article by Tsoku Maela, with the gaze fixed on South African art, indeed on the continent, there are blunders of appropriation and fetishisation taking place the world. This article is a conscious nod to this trend in art.
“Colonisation has played a huge role in the socio-economic and geo-political landscape of South Africa – as it has for any country to ever experience it.
Cape Town, aptly named ‘the colony’ by some of its residents, is a clear and horrifying example of the disparities in wealth distribution and the remnants of apartheid in post-colonial South Africa. While living conditions, education and job opportunities are limited for the person of colour – both due to the quality offered or affordability – many African creatives have found a way to tap into the monetising of their culture as seen through the European gaze.
One doesn’t need to wander too far to see this dynamic in play. A walk through the bustling V&A Waterfront or the serene Green Market Square in Cape Town paints a vivid portrait of abnormal normality. Tourists with their cellphones and video cameras out, capturing the ‘true essence’ of Africa – traditional dancers in loin cloth and animal skin thumping on their drums and on the ground. It’s all very entertaining. But, on the receiving end of that gaze are fathers, mothers, sons and daughters who use their craft to make a living. A craft that draws inspiration, in style and aesthetic, from their sacred traditions.
The day before the crew from CNN’s ‘African Voices’ came down to shoot their episode on my work I stood in full view of this and it was scratching that part of my mind again. You know, the part that usually frowns on Africans viewed as a form of entertainment. A young white boy asks his mother what the dancers are doing and she says, “That’s what they do here in Africa. It’s everywhere”. In her defence, today this looked pretty normal to me too. Had I grown so used to it that I’d become completely desensitised and compliant? Was I entertained for the same reasons the Europeans were? Are we all just clapping for the wrong reasons?
There’s a very thin line between appreciation and appropriation.”