Visibility of Blackness

Presence: An Essay About Black Peoples Presence In An Antiblack World

1. Events and Eventuality:

Recently the BAT Centre hosted a visual arts exhibition inspired by the life and socio-political works of Fela Anikulapo Kuti; the Nigerial bandleader and the most revered pioneer of Hi-Life and Afro-Beat music had such a profound impact on people’s lives globally. The exhibition was organised by a duo of young industrious Arts entrepreneurs calling themselves KMH Productions and it was received remarkably well by both the media and the audience.

The audio-visually stimulating show was something of an eye opener for the BAT Centre and for the people of Ethekwini in general as the BAT Centre has always promoted cutting edge projects that revolutionises the way people view arts and culture in general; but for the rest it was really a reminder of how imperative Pan Afrikanism is to a people who are usually compelled to forget their most radical teachers and healers.

Many people who had not even heard of Fela Kuti were pleasantly surprised and educated by what they saw and heard. The fact is in this antiblack world which is overly determined by Eurocentric cultures, the celebrating of truly authentic Afrikanness is largely frowned upon.
I am a student and teacher of Afrikology*, a burgeoning institution that focusses on the logical, methodical and impactful study of Afrika with the purpose of debunking misconceptions about the indigenous peoples of this great continent. Afrikology seeks to address the following issues logically:

• The prevailing Mis-education about Afrikan History and present state of being.
• Appreciation and understanding of traditional values, rituals and symbolism – Afrikan indigenous Knowledge Systems.
• The popularisation of terms such as Ubuntu and Afrikan Renaissance has not been followed up by appropriate definitions and practical values.
• To develop scholarship and the international necessity to explore, highlight, teach and network internationally on pan-Afrikan matters –based on Afrikan centred perspectives.

Being a Black Consciousness revolutionary, involved in the production, propagation and administration of Arts while also active within political formations means that I spend much of my time striving to balance several responsibilities that may appear irreconcilable. I have engaged in many robust dialogues dealing with the roles that Art and Culture play in societies, especially the black communities. While there are several perspectives and approaches which include the roles imposed by a potential “developmental state”, such as questionable celebrations of national heroes, promotion of social-cohesion and other dubious causes; it is well known that Art can also agitate and often be in conflict with a repressive state. Just like political activists who purport to speak truth to power, Arts and dynamic youth Culture usually maintains a healthy tension with the powers that govern and try to control individual and social expressions.

In Azania aka South Afrika, we have had many artists and cultural activists who have risked a lot to present their perspectives of the truth. Dumile Feni; Lefifi Tladi, Mandi ‘Poefficient’ Vundla; Simphiwe Dana; Lewis Nkosi; Lesego Rampolekgeng are some of the names that come to mind. But there are also many unsung ones who produce works of Dance, Choreography, Theatre, Music and other forms of Arts and Culture which add a wealth of knowledge to the great pool of Afrikan genius. The question is what impact are they having on the general public or on the collective Afrikan society? The other question is how do we ensure that the message of Black Power Pan Afrikanism permeates the media channels to such a degree as to embolden the masses of still oppressed peoples to fight for their rights and make a real revolution.

Beyond these “borders”, we have the likes of visual Artists such as Chris Ofili, whose works and story appear in the latest Financial Times weekend edition ( 8/9 November) ‘Life and Arts”, and Ariella Budick writes that “He doesn't avoid ugly fights over race, sex, politics, but he cushions these issues in the plushness of surface”.
This brief depiction of one Black Artists work is one of the reasons why I decided to write this essay. There seems to be reluctance by many white writers to acknowledge or even recognise what lies beneath the surface of many Black Artists works.

The Black artist is sometimes made invisible through some carefully constructed words that on the surface may seem to applaud her, yet the reality is that the contemporary and powerfully opinionated white gaze often obscures the reality of black subjectivity. I am more interested in the present state of Black peoples across the globe. Thus I am always eager to engage meaningfully with fellow Afrikans who offer other practical and revolutionary solutions to the challenges that haunt us and urge us to act decisively through social, cultural and political means.

The significant role played by the Arts in this regard cannot be taken lightly. Although we have seen many Artists dealing with difficult questions of race, identity, and complex existential challenges of being Black in an anti-black world; it seems that the impact of Arts, studies, workshops and the painstaking scholarship on black people’s agency is hardly ever sustained. How many people in the townships ever get a chance to attend an Arts exhibition or a choreographed theatre piece and is the language that is used ever discernible?
The enemies of our liberation are always watching and listening and through various means the ones who seeks to maintain the status quo are doing their best to diminish the images and voices of dissent. In a place where lies are common, telling the truth becomes a crime.

This leads me to the conclusion that was already reached by Afrikan nationalist revolutionaries such as Patrice Lumumba during the early years of the struggle for independence. As Afrikans we need to assert ourselves more than ever and affirm our own genius without depending on white power structures, awards or vindication.
In 1963 Lumumba stated in a speech entitled A Rejection of European Rule with a Demand for Independence:

“The Afrikan personality must be expressed; that is the meaning of our policy of positive neutrality. Afrika will have no blocs such as you have in Europe. Instead there will be active Afrikan solidarity. The commonwealth regime, which is just a disguise for continuing the colonial regime, is going to fall soon.”
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