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close this bookThe Courier N° 126 - March - April 1991 - Dossier: AIDS - The Big Threat / Country Report: Burkina Faso (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
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View the documentExhibition of contemporary Senegalese art
View the documentThe market men of Northern Ghana
View the documentA Mozambican painter in Brussels: Iņacio Matsinhe
View the documentAfrican literature as seen through some African authors
View the documentFilm industry takes off in Southern Africa

Exhibition of contemporary Senegalese art

Current trends in the Senegalese art world are illustrated in the work of more than 60 artists at this exhibition in Brussels’ Central African Museum in Tervuren. The collection, on display here since November, was brought in at the initiative of Belgium’s French-speaking Community and the Ministry of Culture and Communications in Senegal. It follows a similar event at the Arche de la Fraternitn Paris recently and, of course, harks back to the Grand Palais exhibition of 1974.

Every generation of contemporary Senegalese art is represented in these 150 works. There are pictures, from naif paintings through figurative canvases and modern abstracts to arrangements under glass, and there are tapestries, weaving, collages and conventional and junk sculpture.

Djibril Ndiaye’s, ‘Baay Jagal’, for example, is a skilful three-dimensional combination of wood and rope.

The Sahel is present in the motifs and colours of Amadou Snow’s naij’ Coptic memory’, while the influence of Pierre Lods and his Plastic Research Workshop is apparent in the distribution of material, creation of a liberating atmosphere and maintenance of creative tension in ‘Titleless II’, an oil on canvas by self-taught Amedy Krbaye.

The lyrical abstraction of ‘the message of space, of the deep, of plants and of music’ of Souleymane Keita’s ‘Tutsi Massacre’ is also the hallmark of Moussa Baidy Ndiaye’s ‘Tabaski’, while another ‘Titleless’ abstract, by Seydou Barry this time, gives movement and a particularly acute meaning to values in its choice of colour. However, Moussa Tine’s highly expressive ‘Drought’ brings us firmly back to figurative art.

And of course let us not forget the many more works, which, as French Museum Curator Pierre Gaudibert points out in the introduction to the catalogue: ‘plunge into tradition and make the ancient heritage theirs, yet embrace the technology and art of the West’


From Kinshasa to Harlem...

Wheels of fortune (toys from Kinshasa) and Margins in the capital (painted shutters and walls in Harlem and the Bronx, photographed by Clovis Prst) Cooption par l’Education et la Culture and La Papeterie, Brussels, 12 January-10Febrnary 1991

Popular art from the melting pots of peoples and societies of the cities of today was brought to the Brussels public in this double exhibition of toys from Kinshasa and paintings from shop blinds and walls in the Bronx-a fine illustration of how popular culture relates to art in the modern world.

Toys from Kinshasa. Wire, cans, sheet metal and tyres... junk, in fact, is the stuff of these original creations born of the imagination and observation of children from Zaire and all over Africa. These toys are ever more sophisticated, faithfully reproducing symbols of modern life, a -makeshift-expression of the technological and consumer society erupting into cycles, cars, buses, trains, planes and helicopters, all with their running boards and their seats, their rear-view mirrors and their occupants.

Since the early 1970s, the creativity of Kinshasa’s children has led to the emergence, and professionalisation, of a new craft tradition among adults-although the frontier between the child and the adult craftsman has never closed.

Margins in the capital. Walls make cities and this exhibition is a poetic reading of the picture which they, with their coverings of graffiti and writing and pictures in which trompe l’oil and illusion deceive the eye, give of the city.


The market men of Northern Ghana

by Albert K. AMEDZRO

Markets are very important social institutions in Northern Ghana which comprises Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions. They are in every town and village and are frequented by people of all ages and by both sexes. But unlike in Southern Ghana where markets are dominated by women, in the North, the opposite is the case, for here, markets have special significance for men. Indeed a visitor to this part of the country would be surprised at the large number of the male population in the throng of people converging on the market-place on market days- colourful scenes of a multitude on foot, on bicycles, on lorries, on tractors and even on horseback, many of whom travel long distances to be in the market on time. They do not specialise in any particular commodity. Like the women, the men sell everything from yams, beans, maize, chicken and kolanuts to second-hand clothes and shoes.

Because of the very high rate of illiteracy in the three regions, these people have little access to news either through newspapers or radio broadcasts in English. So markets provide them with the opportunity to bring themselves up to date with local and national news by word of mouth. But the social significance of these institutions goes beyond that. It is important to explain that the settlement patterns in Northern Ghana render social interraction, especially in the rural areas, very difficult. In these communities, houses are built in clusters and these are isolated one from another by vast fields of cereals Linked by footpaths which become impassable during the rainy season visits to neighbours are rare. Markets provide the people with unique opportunities to meet.

For any man in search of a wife, the market place is the right place to go. It is therefore not surprising that men predominate in these institutions. During the lean season, i.e. the eight months from September to April (known as the fallow period) when people no longer go to farm and feel bored in the villages, the markets become ever more important as a place to kill the boredom.

Markets normally open at around 6.30 a.m. They gradually build up until midday when they are in full swing and the noise of buyers and sellers reaches a crescendo.

Kidnapping of women

But behind all this activity lies what perhaps for many is the most ‘exciting’ (and for others the most deplorable) aspect of the markets; the kidnapping of women. Men come either as actors or as spectators to these scenes.

The kidnappings take place for different reasons: (a) A man pays a dowry to the parents of a woman to marry her. She refuses and runs away. Since dowries are expensive, involving sometimes cattle, the man refuses to accept the situation; (b) A woman agrees to marry a man but insists on living apart from him, or keeps him in suspense far too long for his liking; (c) The parents of a woman accept dowries from several men but are unable to advise their daughter on whom to marry. Markets provide the aggrieved man with the opportunity to redress the balance.

Careful planning goes into these kidnappings and almost always involve the family of the man. Spies are first sent out to the market to spot the runaway wife or the stubborn woman. Then she is lured into a false sense of security by various means until she is suddenly bundled into a waiting vehicle and driven away. One known method is for agents of the man to get the woman intoxicated. At home the man waits with his family, until his agents arrive with the woman. Then there is joy -drumbeating, dancing and drinking. The family of the girl is then notified immediately of the successful kidnap. The tradition is that once a woman has been successfully kidnapped she must remain at her husband’s home or must marry her suitor. A good number of the marriages conducted in this fashion do succeed, lasting sometimes a lifetime. Others fail when the woman runs away again. If such a woman marries someone else, it is the duty of the new husband to keep watch over her in the markets to prevent her from being kidnapped again.


A Mozambican painter in Brussels: Iņacio Matsinhe

In Europe, African art has long meant works from French-speaking countries in Paris (and Brussels) and works from English-speaking countries in London. But Africa is a huge continent and there is a wealth of culture to reflect its diversity and, in traditional and recent fields alike, it seems to be only at the very beginning of an infinite flourishing of talent. Its traditional music and plastic art are a constant source of wonder, inspiration. and even influence for European artists -Afro-European music is already with us- but, in spite of being-a time-honoured form of artistic expression on the continent itself, African painting has not broken through so far.

Yet African painting, like the black cinema in the early days, wants to exist and be recognised on the international scene thanks both to real fans and to the artists themselves. The exhibition of Senegalese painting at the Tervuren Museum in Belgium, described elsewhere, is but one example.

One of Africa,s talented painters as yet unknown in Belgium is Io Matsinhe, from Mozambique, whom The Courier met in Brussels recently. Matsinhe’s paintings are working their way north, from one country to another, after terrific success in Portugal. ‘He tends to use bright colours like the flowers and birds of his native land. But sometime’s he goes for sombre blacks and violets spread over blues and browns-which is no less significant’, said the Diaro de Noticias in June 1973, reporting on an exhibition at the Lisbon academy. And ‘he fixes time through figures for whom existence is the passing of every moment and the immoraltality of the spirit is linked to the permanency of the group...’, said the Expresso Lisboa.

Painting, Matsinhe believes, is neither -pastime nor chance vocation. He began painting in childhood, on the walls of the huts in his native town of Maputo (formerly LourenMarques), and and at l6 was able to go to the Art School. From where does Matsinhe get his inspiration? From Africa, from Africans in all the joys and torments of their daily lives. ‘The people of Mozambique are my greatest source of inspiration. I want my painting to be a manifesto of the people, with total respect for what I have inherited from my people’, he says.

So he paints Van Gogh style, guided only by sensation and the feelings aroused in him by his human and cultural environment, and his works fall into two main periods- before and after the independence of Mozambique in 1975.

The pre-1975 paintings bear witness to a difficult time for the people-the fight for decolonisation, when they knew the sufferings of war, but accepted them as being in a just cause. The intermingled figures of this period have the steady gaze of legitimate anguish focused on the injustice of submission and freedom denied... with birds, those symbols of liberty, ever-present nonetheless.

But the pre-independence authorities did not like pre-independence Matsinhe and put him in solitary confinement and gave him the ‘punishment’ of a posting to the war front, followed by enforced exile to Portugal, the only country he could enter without papers (as Mozambique was at that stage considered to be one of its provinces). There he continued his work as an artist and messenger of freedom and peace, with help, in particular, from the Gulbenkian Foundation, which also gave him the opportunity of travelling to Egypt and Italy- where he studied ceramics.

Matsinhe’s later period is of course post-independence. Happy to see his country free at last, the artist, like all Africans, quite rightly expected independence to mean freedom and progress, but the euphoria was short-lived. Independence and the attendant freedom and economic progress were soon taken away and Matsinhe, a man of action, wanted to do other than paint. Action, however, has no meaning if it cannot help change the course of events and everything was frozen according to the Truth (with a capital T) of the colonials and of all those who after independence erected dogma into salvation for all. Matsinhe could only do one of two things. He could keep quiet or he could paint. And he chose to paint-to paint to express that there is no point in one form of oppression replacing another, even if it is in the name of the people, and that libertarian artists like himself have always been the spokesmen of the poor. That is the thread running through all Matsinhe’s work.

He had no better luck with Mozambique’s new authorities either and he left his country once again, with death in his heart, but more determined than ever to paint figures who would serve as a constant reminder that, for the people of Mozambique and the whole of Africa, the fight for progress and freedom is a long one.

In his basement studio in a building not far from the European Community headquarters in Brussels, Io Matsinhe is still anxious to put onto canvas the real and the dreamt-of picture of Mozambique and of Africa and a vision of the interaction of cultures. ‘Africa has been a source of abundant cultural stimulus to Europe, and in many ways. This is why it has increasingly to accept, respect and restore the dignity of its peoples’, he says.


African literature as seen through some African authors


In 1960 Wole Soyinka was commissioned to write a play for Nigeria’s independence celebrations. Contrary to the expectations of his patrons, Soyinka does not glorify Nigeria’s past in ‘The Dance of the Forest’, the play he then wrote. Instead he shows that humankind was no happier in the past than it is now and that brutality and war have always been with us. The theme of the play is that the past has to be accepted as it really is and not in any way glorified or idealised. From the first, Soyinka leaves no room for doubt that he wants to write for Africans. Even in this easy play, he uses Yoruba myths so naturally that Europeans unfamiliar with the historical and cultural background cannot understand the play. ‘The Dance of the Forest’ is a popular drama; songs and pantomime accompany the action and translate it for Africans in the audience who have no English.

Even at this early stage, Wole Soyinka distances himself from the philosophy of Negritude. Whilst the Negritude movement glorifies the former Africa and the African past and trumpets Senghor’s call to return to the traditional values of Africa, the younger generation of African authors set itself the aim of writing for Africans and making them more familiar with their country, their history and their culture whilst at the same time confronting them with the reality and problems resulting from cultural conflict, the generation gap and the differences between traditional values and modern, western schooling. This younger generation considers that literature should be more and do more to promote and idealise Black Africa’s own history; it should discuss contemporary social problems whilst not ignoring Africa’s own traditional culture and myths. The beginnings of this concept of the role of literature were already discernible in the work of the first generation of writers using English as their vehicle. Chinua Achebe, one of the first great African writers using metropolitan English still thought along the lines propounded by the Negritude movement and wrote on similar themes. For instance in ‘No Longer at Ease’ (1960) he tells the tale of Okonkuros ‘been to’, who tries to settle down again at home after having spent some time in Europe. In this work the author creates a character typical of the African navel of the type found mainly in the metropolitan French literature of Africa, but he Africanises the English by transposing African expressions, images and sayings into English. In so doing, he already distances himself from works created in the shadow of the Negritude movement and written in classical French. Achebe thereby points the way to a change in the attitude of the African author to his own history and culture, which also means that he is primarily addressing another public, namely his own compatriots. A criticism often levelled at works written in the spirit of Negritude is that they were produced for a purely European, mainly French, public and the young African intelligentsia educated and assimilated to European ways. The rediscovery of the ‘Kingdom of childhood’, on which many authors of the Negritude movement embarked could only ever be a rediscevery for those who had become estranged from their families and homes, in other words for assimilated Africans -a mere handful of people. European readers admired these works chiefly for their exotic places, the foreign world and way of life they described and it was not until much later that their anticolonial nature and the criticism of colonial methods, both discernible in many of these works, were recognised. As English speaking critics of the movement constantly stressed, the concept of Negritude presupposes that assimilation has already taken place. The fact that the call to return to traditional African values, i.e. consider Africa’s own history, must necessarily have been preceded by a loss of identify is clearly expressed by the South African author, Ezekiel Mphahlele, when he says:

‘If there is any negritude in the black man’s art in South Africa, it is because we are African. If a write’s tone is healthy he is bound to express the African in himself.’

The tendency to treat contemporary problems in their own country and address themselves primarily to their own compatriots has become even stronger among the younger generation of African authors. Those who take the decision to continue writing in the language of the former colonial power, compensate by slipping in more and more of the syntactical structures, expressions, metaphors, images and myths of their mother tongue. Naturally this creates barriers for the European reader but this is con sciously accepted by these authors. It also means that, when new literary works are translated into other languages the, almost always come with comprehensive explanatory annexes.

Europeans like to aim their criticism precisely at the increasing tendency to write about local and regional subjects, take up specific problems and above all, take a political stand. Such criticism betrays a point of view that is as arrogant as it is unconsidered. It shows that Europeans still cannot, or will not, recognise that African literature is setting its own standards and wants to be judged by those standards, that it wants to acknowledge its national character and refuses to be pigeonholed by Europeans. The fact that political and social problems such as racism, cultural and generational conflict are the dominant themes in contemporary African literature is not because there are no other subjects but because of the sad truth that everyone is daily confronted with these problems, as the Ghanaian author, Ama Ata Aidoo highlights in an interview with a French journalist when she says:

‘I cannot see myself as a writer, writing about lovers in’ Accra because you see, there are so many other problems...

Whilst the Africanisation of English in the English-speaking parts of Africa began as far back as the late fifties and early sixties, for many reasons it took some years for this development to French-spread to French-speaking Africa. For one thing, with the exception of Portugal, France, more than any other colonial power pushed the policy of assimilation; in other words of training an African elite by educating them in colonial schools according to the French system. Perfect command of French was a gateway to French culture and its attendant amenities. Independence has not done much to change that. The sine qua non for obtaining a good job in the administration is still a perfect command of French. In English speaking Africa, English has always been less of a vehicle for culture than the practical instrument of day to day communication. The Africanisation of English was therefore never regarded as an offence against one of the colonial power’s instruments of authority. Consequently Ahamadou Kourouma’s novel, ‘Les Soleils des Indndances’, (1968) drew attention throughout Frenchspeaking Africa less because of its harshly expressed criticism of conditions of the post-colonial era, than because it represented the first attempt to Africanise the French language, a process which had been regarded as impossible until then, since French syntax is more rigid than English syntax.

By Africanising the various European languages, African writers are demonstrating that they have found the way back to their own language and their own form of national awareness and have created an independent African literature. Nevertheless, most of them still draw back from taking the next step of, freeing themselves from the linguistic fetters of the former colonial rulers and writing in their respective mother tongues. To do so would mean conscious acceptance of the fact that their literary output would hardly be read beyond the confines of their own country. Semb Ousmane, who wrote in his mother tongue, Wolof, is a case in point. At any rate, all African writers are probably well aware of the fact that even if they wrote in their respective mother tongues, they would still be a long way from reaching the ‘general public’ at home. The cinema and theatre are far more appropriate vehicles for that and writers have taken this on beard. For instance, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, currently Kenya’s foremost author, writes his plays in Kikuyu, his mother tongue, but his short stories and novels in English.

As Nadine Gordimer says, to be an African writer you should lock out at the world from inside Africa, not into Africa from the outside. And this is an attitude uncompromisingly adopted by the younger generation of African writers.


Film industry takes off in Southern Africa

by Chris MclVOR

There are a total of 37 cinema theatres in the whole of Zimbabwe. Most of these are owned by two companies, the Rainbow and Kine corporations, which are based in South Africa. On the entertainment page in the national newspapers which regularly advertise the films on offer, you will search in vain for a film which is not produced in either the USA or the UK. In the entire history of film in post-independence Zimbabwe only three African productions have ever been shown on the commercial circuit. At the same time, because there is no local distributor of films in Zimbabwe itself, features shown in the country have to pass through South Africa where the censors in Johannesburg screen and edit every production. The same procedure applies to film distribution in Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and Zambia. ‘The fact is that, ten years after independence, South Africa can dictate what our audiences can and cannot see. In terms of cinema we are still waiting for independence’, claims a representative of the Zimbabwean Ministry of Information.

The story with regard to television is not much better. Despite good facilities in Harare and Bulawayo for the production of local programmes, 90 % of television time is given over to imported material. Most of these programmes come from the United States, followed by the UK and Australia. One local producer of documentaries, which have been well received abroad, complains that the dependence on the external market is not solely a matter of availability of programmes. ‘People are reluctant to show local or regional productions. They are fixated on American television, much of which is junk. Here in Zimbabwe, if you produce a film of interest and relevance to the local people, you have to pay to screen it.’

A cultural affairs officer with the OAU claimed that the African market was used as a dumping ground for films of war, adventure, sex and violence which are distributed through agents in New York, London, Paris and Johannesburg. ‘This is a major factor in the destruction and deterioration of our own culture’, he said.

An important step in rectifying some of these imbalances, however, was recently taken in Harare when the First Frontline Film Festival was launched in Zimbabwe. The week-long screening of local and regional films and videos plus the workshops attended by film-producers, programme directors and delegates from different ministries went on to Angola, Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi and Zambia. The aim of the festival, sponsored by SADCC Governments and the OAU, was to formulate policy on the development of film and video in the region as well as to expose local populations to a type of cinema they have never experienced before. ‘We cannot consider ourselves Africans or defend our national dignity if we do not see ourselves on the screen’, claims one local film producer.

But the development of African cinema and television is not only of importance to local consumers. The images of Africans through Western-based productions and the media have a bias which can lead to racism and prejudice among Western audiences.

As the famous British film director Richard Attenborough acknowledged. ‘There is much justification in the criticism that very often, even if black Africans are not shown as grass-skirted warriors, they are treated in a paternalistic way. There is a degree of imbalance in the image that is set up and of course there are very good grounds for complaint among Africans.’ In an attempt to capture some of the markets outside Africa and help rectify this distortion, the festival will also move on to India, New Zealand and the Nordic countries over the coming year.

Not an easy task

The development of the film industry in Southern Africa will not be an easy task, however, as most of the delegates acknowledged. The costs of production are high and because of the lack of foreign currency in the region the purchase of equipment and materials from abroad will be difficult. At the same time the control of the distribution network by wealthy corporations such as Kine and Rainbow will be difficult to challenge. One speaker from Burkina Faso pointed out that when his own country had confronted the monopoly on film distribution held by one international company, all imports were then suspended. ‘It is significant that none of the major theatres in Harare screened any of our films or videos,’ one organiser pointed out. ‘With the resources for advertising at the film distributors disposal, it will be difficult to penetrate the market with local products and win the attention of an audience which has now grown up on a diet of imported material’, he explained.

The training of film producers, cameramen, sound technicians etc. is also of some concern. Although schools have 3 been set up in West and East Africa, lack of resources, money and equipment have ‘c meant that training has not been as effective as it should be for the creation of a competitive and professional industry. One of the recommendations to have come out of the workshops is the establishment of a school in Harare which would not only cater for the region but for the entire continent. In this way scarce resources scattered around different countries could be pulled together to create a viable institution.

The issue of censorship also featured prominently in discussions. While the conference was unanimous in denouncing South African control of distribution and the censorship that went with it, delegates pointed out that one type of control should not be substituted for another. ‘If African film and video production is to be viable and relevant, it must be critical and not subject to government interference,’ claimed one Zimbabwean director. In the past, several productions in Africa had been nothing more than propaganda for the ruling party. Several films had also been banned by censored by Ministries of Information and this in turn had alienated a public who did not want to be ‘protected’ in this way.

Another issue to arise was that of language. If a regional film and video market is to be established, facilities for translation will also have to be set up. Mozambique, which has sponsored an indigenous industry, has not been able to splay its films or videos in neighbouring countries because of lack of production facilities for subtitles and dubbing. ‘These are expenses which have to be taken into consideration,’ claimed a Mozambican director. ‘At present films from Mozambique have to be sent to Portugal to be translated into other languages. The costs are high and what has happened is that only a fraction of our productions can ever be seen outside the country’, he said. One of the functions of the proposed film institute in Zimbabwe will be to provide this facility.

Other directors and producers also cautioned that film and video production should not be aimed exclusively at the urban elite, as is now the case in most African countries. Of the 37 cinemas in Zimbabwe, for instance, some 25 are located in the two major cities while the others are distributed in provincial urban centres. With over 65 % of the population living in rural areas this means that the majority have no access to any of these facilities. Even television coverage in many rural areas of Zimbabwe is impossible because of lack of electricity and poor reception.

One idea that was raised was the establishment of mobile film units to service the rural populations of Southern Africa. Over and above the entertainment aspect of video and film, it was also felt that this could be used to promote development by showing local films on water and sanitation, health care, improved agriculture etc. These should be produced in local languages to ensure they are understood by the target groups.

Will the public follow?

The success or failure of this unique festival, however, will probably be measured in terms of its appeal to the public at large. One distributor pointed out that if directors cannot get people to come to cinemas and enjoy his film, then no matter how ideoligically sound it might be and representative of Africa and its interests, it will count as a failure.

The response of the Harare public in this respect has been mixed. The two cinema halls where films were shown were never filled to capacity but they did attract sufficient numbers to merit optimism. Some of the films and videos have also been sent on to rural areas through the Ministry of Information although there has been little official feedback on what kind of response they received. ‘Those who have seen the films have enjoyed them and asked for more. Of course we realise that much needs to be done to improve the quality of African film before it can compete with the external market, but this festival is the first step in a direction Southern Africa is determined to follow’, concluded one of the festival organisers.

C. Mcl.