What is African art?

Art & Design | By Masimba Hwati, Fine Artist | 23 June 2013
PHOTO: © Baynham Goredema

The question of African art is a complicated one because Africa is a place of many identities and there is also the diaspora...but I think it is an important issue though we might not get an answer, but it will help us at least define ourselves, because my problem is when culture takes in more than it can give.  It is  a bit difficult to describe art. I think  certain elements, ideologies and patterns that we can call African and we can also share with other cultures as African.

We import more than we export. Even in our culture. We use oil paints, Da Vinci oil paints. We don’t know anything about how they are made. Even if we have some of the raw materials right under our feet and around us. And we use canvases which we do not know the origins of. We do not know how to make it, and we buy these things and then we show our work and then we call ourselves African artists? I struggled to put my arms around that kind of an idea. From my college days, I started looking for what I call alternative materials of work. You might find no particular pattern in my work because I am always in search of materials. 

I look at it from another angle, we are using the English language right now? We have a dress that we borrowed, we have habits that are borrowed, we have got eating habits that are borrowed, our diet, so I also look at that level of our life  as Africa not having. I think Africa has more to give. I understand and I also think that  when you say Africa has given, things have been taken from us because I don’t think there was an even exchange. So I’m talking from an even point of view where we can have respect for each other and share at a level and respect each other. That still has to happen in my own perspective.