Let's Stop Imposing Standards Of Authenticity On African Art

Let's Stop Imposing Standards Of Authenticity On African Art

Because who are we to decide what's authentic?
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Let's talk about the term authenticity as it applies to African art. The term authentic is usually only applied to African art if the piece of art in question is anonymous, traditional, and abstracted. However, these qualities reflect the implicit values of the society that designates something as authentic —in this case the oppressive, colonial powers of the West— while they have next to nothing to do with the societies that they have come to represent.

One of these Western values is a teleological belief—that is, the idea that everything moves in a straight line toward a definite end— that imposes a self-centered narrative structure upon the cultures oppressed by Western imperialistic forces. However, this linear narrative, which is assumed in Western culture, is not inherently present in all African cultures. For example, the Yoruba people of Nigeria believe in a more cyclical and transient passing of time and energy, in which our world—the aye – is separated from both the state of transition between worlds and another form of existence that westerners would most comfortably refer to as the afterlife, which Yoruba people call orun. By enforcing a linear narrative and disregarding any other possibilities, Westerners became ignorant to cultures that they did not know enough about and managed to reduce these cultures to plot elements in the grand narrative of civilization’s Western genesis and global spread.

Assumptions like these are acts of purposeful ignorance on the part of the imperial forces in order to keep the colonized cultures from becoming distinct, individualistic, or in any way human; by requiring anonymity from the artists of these cultures, their art becomes a reflection of the collector instead of the creator. This is the ultimate act of cultural appropriation, wherein a culture’s art—which is a physical manifestation of the culture’s values and ideals—loses its ability to do cultural work because it has been taken possession of, refocused, and decontextualized by an alien culture. Through this act, the art becomes less powerful as a tool of cultural progression. Chika Okeke-Agulu echoes this idea in his article “Modern African Art” by asserting that “The notion of artistic freedom was antithetical to the ethos of colonialism” because “modern artistic subjectivity is linked to political independence” which colonizers would have seen as a dangerous tool. Instead, an appropriation of cultural forms took place, leaving in its wake the idea of authenticity as a designation made by the beholder instead of the artist.

By giving themselves authority over the value of African art forms, Western art critics and curators created a dangerous ultimatum for African artists: work toward cultural progress under threat of silence from the international art community, or reproduce the art of your culture’s past as if its present and future were static continuations of what existed when it was first introduced to Western eyes.

This threat of international ignorance was a way of imposing a self-centered narrative structure on African peoples and reducing them to influences on Western artists and their modernist tendencies instead of allowing nonwestern cultures to have their own nonlinear narratives. The continual misunderstanding—or, more aptly, the refusal to attempt an understanding— of African art by Western audiences lead to its stereotyping and a belief by the Western world that African art could only tell one story. The intrusion of a Western structure on African cultures, and with the moment of initial interaction with the colonizers in the climactic position of African cultures’ progressions, it is implied that, from this point on, they will only rot.

Unfortunately for the imperialistic powers, the “traditional African society” that it seeks to conquer does not exist. In fact, it is helpful to query the word ‘traditional’ here, which is a central tenet of so-called authenticity in African art, because it really has very little to do with African society when uttered by Westerners. Tradition from the point of view of its practitioners is timeless and comforting, but the same word coming from an outside perspective becomes almost patronizing by assuming that the way a culture behaved when it was first observed is the only existence it has ever had.

This process of refocusing African art on its Western consumption has required African artists to confront their need to reclaim authenticity. This has resulted in an African modernism that resides outside the Western definition of authentic because, in Okeke’s words, “African modern art does not propose a particular narrative of modernism, as the triumphalist European version did.” As African artists look toward the future of their cultures, they open themselves up to a variety of narrative structures—indigenous and assimilated—that are possible, instead of confining themselves to the decline promised by imperialist constructions. Artists at recently established African art schools—themselves proof of an agency that was impossible under colonial rule—are “concerned with the role of the artist in a culture in transition” according to Okeke, meaning that they have all heard the same message loud and clear: do not succumb to the forced anonymity and teleology of Western thought; rise and fill in the outlines of your own individuality. These students inhale the many influences of their cultures’ pasts and exhale a future of many winding paths, each as authentic as the other. Their reclamation of authenticity is therefore political-literary move toward independence and the right to their own, possibly nonlinear, societal structure.

So we have to stop allowing ignorance and reductivism (and therefore imperialism) to persist. We must educate ourselves and our friends, all the while learning to think with a little more relativism. And we need to seek out a variety of experiences and expressions of those experiences so that we don't limit ourselves to a single, hegemonic narrative. If you haven't already seen Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie's wonderful TED talk on the topic, I suggest you start here.

Cover Image Credit: Ashley Malafronte / Ibiyinka Alao

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I'd Rather Be Single Than Settle – Here Is Why Being Picky Is Okay

They're on their best behavior when you're dating.
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Dating nowadays described in one word: annoying.

What's even more annoying? when people tell you that you're being too "picky" when it comes to dating. Yes, from an outside perspective sometimes that's exactly what it looks like; however, when looking at it from my perspective it all makes sense.

I've heard it all:

"He was cute, why didn't you like him?"

"You didn't even give him a chance!"

"You pay too much attention to the little things!"

What people don't understand is that it's OKAY to be picky when it comes to guys. For some reason, girls in college freak out and think they're supposed to have a boyfriend by now, be engaged by the time they graduate, etc. It's all a little ridiculous.

However, I refuse to put myself on a time table such as this due to the fact that these girls who feel this way are left with no choice but to overlook the things in guys that they shouldn't be overlooking, they're settling and this is something that I refuse to do.

So this leaves the big question: What am I waiting for?

Well, I'm waiting for a guy who...

1. Wants to know my friends.

Blessed doesn't even begin to describe how lucky I am to have the friends that I do.

I want a guy who can hang out with my friends. If a guy makes an effort to impress your friends then that says a lot about him and how he feels about you. This not only shows that he cares about you but he cares about the people in your life as well.

Someone should be happy to see you happy and your friends contribute to that happiness, therefore, they should be nothing more than supportive and caring towards you and your friendships.

2. Actually, cares to get to know me.

Although this is a very broad statement, this is the most important one. A guy should want to know all about you. He should want to know your favorite movie, favorite ice cream flavor, favorite Netflix series, etc. Often, (the guys I get stuck on dates with) love to talk about themselves: they would rather tell you about what workout they did yesterday, what their job is, and what they like to do rather than get to know you.

This is something easy to spot on the first date, so although they may be "cute," you should probably drop them if you leave your date and can recite everything about their life since the day they were born, yet they didn't catch what your last name was.

3. How they talk about other women.

It does not matter who they're talking about, if they call their ex-girlfriend crazy we all know she probably isn't and if she is it's probably their fault.

If they talk bad about their mom, let's be honest, if they're disrespecting their mother they're not going to respect you either. If they mention a girl's physical appearances when describing them. For example, "yeah, I think our waitress is that blonde chick with the big boobs"

Well if that doesn't hint they're a complete f* boy then I don't know what else to tell you. And most importantly calling other women "bitches" that's just disrespectful.

Needless to say, if his conversations are similar to ones you'd hear in a frat house, ditch him.

4. Phone etiquette.

If he can't put his phone down long enough to take you to dinner then he doesn't deserve for you to be sitting across from him.

If a guy is serious about you he's going to give you his undivided attention and he's going to do whatever it takes to impress you and checking Snapchat on a date is not impressive. Also, notice if his phone is facedown, then there's most likely a reason for it.

He doesn't trust who or what could pop up on there and he clearly doesn't want you seeing. Although I'm not particularly interested in what's popping up on their phones, putting them face down says more about the guy than you think it does.

To reiterate, it's okay to be picky ladies, you're young, there's no rush.

Remember these tips next time you're on a date or seeing someone, and keep in mind: they're on their best behavior when you're dating. Then ask yourself, what will they be like when they're comfortable? Years down the road? Is this what I really want? If you ask yourself these questions you might be down the same road I have stumbled upon, being too picky.. and that's better than settling.

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Pride? Pride.

Who are we? Why are we proud?

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This past week, I was called a faggot by someone close to me and by note, of all ways. The shock rolled through my body like thunder across barren plains and I was stuck paralyzed in place, frozen, unlike the melting ice caps. My chest suddenly felt tight, my hearing became dim, and my mind went blank except for one all-encompassing and constant word. Finally, after having thawed, my rage bubbled forward like divine retribution and I stood poised and ready to curse the name of the offending person. My tongue lashed the air into a frenzy, and I was angry until I let myself break and weep twice. Later, I began to question not sexualities or words used to express (or disparage) them, but my own embodiment of them.

For members of the queer community, there are several unspoken and vital rules that come into play in many situations, mainly for you to not be assaulted or worse (and it's all too often worse). Make sure your movements are measured and fit within the realm of possible heterosexuality. Keep your music low and let no one hear who you listen to. Avoid every shred of anything stereotypically gay or feminine like the plague. Tell the truth without details when you can and tell half-truths with real details if you must. And above all, learn how to clear your search history. At twenty, I remember my days of teaching my puberty-stricken body the lessons I thought no one else was learning. Over time I learned the more subtle and more important lessons of what exactly gay culture is. Now a man with a head and social media accounts full of gay indicators, I find myself wondering both what it all means and more importantly, does it even matter?

To the question of whether it matters, the answer is naturally yes and no (and no, that's not my answer because I'm a Gemini). The month of June has the pleasure of being the time of year when the LGBT+ community embraces the hateful rhetoric and indulges in one of the deadly sins. Pride. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the figures at the head of the gay liberation movement, fought for something larger than themselves and as with the rest of the LGBT+ community, Pride is more than a parade of muscular white men dancing in their underwear. It's a time of reflection, of mourning, of celebration, of course, and most importantly, of hope. Pride is a time to look back at how far we've come and realize that there is still a far way to go.

This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement launched onto the world stage, thus making the learning and embracing of gay culture that much more important. The waves of queer people that come after the AIDS crisis has been given the task of rebuilding and redefining. The AIDS crisis was more than just that. It was Death itself stalking through the community with the help of Regan doing nothing. It was going out with friends and your circle shrinking faster than you can try or even care to replenish. Where do you go after the apocalypse? The LGBT+ community was a world shut off from access by a touch of death and now on the other side, we must weave in as much life as we can.

But we can't freeze and dwell of this forever. It matters because that's where we came from, but it doesn't matter because that's not where we are anymore. We're in a time of rebirth and spring. The LGBT+ community can forge a new identity where the AIDS crisis is not the defining feature, rather a defining feature to be immortalized, mourned, and moved on from.

And to the question of what does it all mean? Well, it means that I'm gay and that I've learned the central lesson that all queer people should learn in middle school. It's called Pride for a reason. We have to shoulder the weight of it all and still hold our head high and we should. Pride is the LGBT+ community turning lemons into lemon squares and limoncello. The lemon squares are funeral cakes meant to mourn and be a familiar reminder of what passed, but the limoncello is the extravagant and intoxicating celebration of what is to come. This year I choose to combine the two and get drunk off funeral cakes. Something tells me that those who came before would've wanted me to celebrate.

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