– Opening on 14 November at 19h00
Rust and Vrede Art Gallery, Durbanville
14 November – 13 December
According to the Oxford dictionary online, Colonialism is “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically” or in other words according to the Collins dictionary online as “the policy and practice of a power in extending control over weaker peoples or areas”.
As a white male South African artist, I am a descendent and benefactor of the European Patriarchs who colonised Africa, and I want to emphatically state that I personally believe that colonisation was the worst thing to ever have happened to the people, cultures, societies, land and economy of Africa.
A commonly peddled myth exists in the minds of most – that being the one relating to the primitive and savage Africa that the colonising Europeans “discovered”, civilised and then developed. Of course, much of this commonly accepted those same colonialists have written history, but the truth is that large portions of Africa were not that far behind Europe at the time that Europeans began arriving.
For instance, in the 14th Century, Timbuktu was 5 times the size of London and the richest city in the world. The city was the capital of the Mali Kingdom, which was ruled by Mansa Musa, the richest person in history. It is estimated that his personal fortune (mostly gold) would equate to about four hundred Billion American dollars today.
At its peak, the Mali Kingdom was producing more than half the world’s supply of gold and salt and was home to the Library of Timbuktu and to twenty five thousand university students. National Geographic recently referred to Timbuktu as “the Paris of the medieval world, on account of its intellectual culture.”
This is just one tiny sample, but the reality is that hundreds of relatively developed African cities and invading Europeans in an endeavour to conquer the people and exploit the rich resources that the continent is bestowed with destroyed civilisations. As a result, most, if not all, of this rich cultural history was lost, destroyed and forgotten, and the narrative of “advanced Europe” bringing industrialisation, civilisation, trade and other developments to primitive Africa became the accepted truth.
According to Nsizwazonke Yende:
“Colonialism reduced the African people to the role of the conquered, nothing more than second-class citizens at best. And that’s without touching on slavery or the extremes of colonial oppression such as the barbarism perpetrated by the Belgians in the Congo Free State or the terrible crime of Apartheid that was perpetrated in South Africa during the death throes of colonialism.
The truth is that the intrusion of European colonialists did not lead to the transmission of technology, ideas or knowledge to the indigenous African population. Rather, it destroyed all existing forms of civilisation and development that had been accomplished by the indigenous people, and then further hindered Africa’s development by expatriating surplus from all production activities – minerals, precious metals, wood, ore, ivory, furs, gemstones, fuels, crops and other raw materials. The roles of Africans were reduced to basic labour jobs (without any education) which never stimulated technological advances or improved means of production”.
Without colonialism and its consequences, Africa would more likely have developed at a similar rate to Europe and other regions through trade, knowledge-sharing and a move towards industrialisation in line with the Industrial Revolution. The despicable offshoots of colonialism – slavery, racism, eugenics and genocide – may not have occurred (or at least, not to the level that they did and that they still exist today). More importantly, Africa’s riches would have been used to enrich the people and develop the infrastructure of this continent.
After recently deciphering Colonialism and Neocolonialism by the French author Jean-Paul Sartre (a complex text), I felt compelled to investigate and visually comment on the terrible legacy of Colonialism and Post-colonialism in my latest body of work. By doing so, I have come to the unfortunate realisation that many white South Africans do not want to be confronted by and/or engage in any honest debate about Colonialism.
In the light of the above, I would like to pose visual clues to my viewers, rather than attempt to provide clear and absolute explanations for my work on Confessional. In general, I personally do not believe that only one final explanation for any single work of art can ever exist. Any conversation about an artwork enriches its conceptual content and adds to the meaning and contextual intent of the work.