The necessity of art

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« We pose the question of knowing which tools
we dispose of today to devour the world,
to express our appetite for the world ».
Kossi Efoui, interview with
Sylvie Chalaye, Théâtre Public, n° 158.

No, African artists aren’t just trying to jump on the bandwagon. We need to stop comparing them to others, for such comparisons are superfluous, reductive, and tend to cause misunderstandings.
No, they don’t have to be African, traditional, authentic, or what have you. It’s time to do away with all the things that refuse them their contemporaneity.
No, they aren’t all into assemblage, into working with found objects and refuse. They choose the materials they like to express their innermost feelings.
This dossier invites us to drop malodorous generalities and to recognise artists’ implacability, commitment, and originality. It encourages us to take these works for what they are – not for what we would like them to be (exotic mirrors for our own lacks and fantasies). It enjoins us to stop making cultural difference the panacea of our thought about the Other. Although difference has « generously » been highlighted to allow the Other to exist, this has ultimately turned Africa’s contemporary art into a genre – « African art » – a static object that blends tradition, purity, and authenticity. By pretending to understand it, we have underrated and held it at bay, assigning it a role and a place that is, of course, inferior, minor, in reflection of the economic power relations. The Cubists already glorified African art without heeding the meaning and function of the objects they so exalted…
Some African artists have reacted by refusing identification whilst at the same time avoiding denying their environment, culture, and, above all, their experience which they, like everybody else, draw from the four corners of the world. Faced with the pressure to « produce African », which inevitably leads to the decorative and entertainment, they have appropriated forms so as better to undermine them. Their inventiveness is a liberation struggle.
What gives a work of art its quality? Its auteur’s gut reactions, his or her way of questioning his or her era, world, and multiple beings, of recreating his or her discoveries and intuitions in new forms, images and symbols that are full of meanings and values. This makes the work suffice in itself, without superfluous pedagogy. The quality of the work is its necessity. Not that of a obligatory socio-political discourse, but that of the opening it enables, the force it gives, and the sensation it brings by rendering the unspoken and the unseen perceptible. When the artist manages that, he or she advances humanity.
By questioning the being, it appeals to utopia, and it is precisely that that irritates and unnerves. Art which doesn’t disturb in some way is not art. By conveying another sensibility, it contests the dominant social logic that upholds economic domination.
Its necessity is to open up our appetite for the world.

///Article N° : 5579


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