Apr 10, 2010

"African American art still needs support"

An interesting article by Kinshasha Holman Conwill on efforts to diversify the art collection of the White House by including more artworks from African American, Asian, Hispanic and other artists of color. Although slightly dated, I am interested in Conwill's point that "the arts need advocacy to survive. African American art, given its historically lower level of sustained attention, requires advocacy at a higher volume". Conwill has a point. One might argue that value is created for artworks mainly through a process of advocacy. The impressive framework of such advocacy is one reason for the astronomical value of Western art in relation to art from all other parts of the work.

Actually, the persistent undervaluing of Global African cultural knowledge bears a direct relationship to lack of advocacy for the value of Global African arts and cultural knowledge and therefore requires significant advocacy to overcome. My worry, after several years of making this argument to many significant African and African American individuals and institutions, is that black peoples don't quite understand the danger of having their arts and cultural knowledge undervalued. Right now, the value of African art accrues only to white collectors and institutions, which means that African art and cultural knowledge is treated pretty much like any African other raw material or natural resource: it is produced by Africans, exported raw to the West, and only gains value when it is processed there and reimported to Africa (and by "Africa", I mean Global Africa and black peoples worldwide).

Given the shocking lack of attention paid to this problem of cultural-value dispossession by black peoples worldwide (aside from the stupid "cultural" festivals and other asinine methods of "promoting" global African culture as tourist consumables), it is obvious that the future looks glum for black peoples' ownership of the value of their cultural production. In the so-called "Information Age", being dispossessed of the cultural value of the information, art and culture one creates could amount to the greatest dispossession of all, more damaging even than chattel slavery. In the meantime, there is much feet on the ground but no movement, much light but no illumination. There is much awareness that Africans have made great contributions to global creativity but no effort to ensure that they benefit in any way from the value of such contributions. Time will tell if this trend changes.

Apr 8, 2010

Cairo Conference Ends With Demand for Return of Stolen Artworks

The International Conference on Looted Antiquities hosted by Dr. Zahi Hawass in Egypt ended yesterday with the 16 countries involved in the conference issuing a joint declaration requesting the return of antiquities and other cultural patrimony stolen from them by European colonial powers in the past two centuries. The declaration inaugurates a joint effort by the affected countries to force a solution to the continued inransigence of Western museums and institutions who illegally hold cultural patrimony stolen from these countries, often through a process of colonial brigandage involving genocide. It will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds.

I am particularly interested in seeing how the conference provides a basis for making formal claims for return of looted African cultural patrimony, including the Benin bronzes stolen by the British government from the palace of Oba Ovonramwen of the Edo Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria. The famous hip pendant mask of Queen Mother Idia, shown above, was taken from the King's belt after he surrendered to the marauding British forces.

See reports on the conference here.