The Art of Pan-Africanism

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					The Art of Pan-Africanism
The Commonwealth Foundation believes that cultural expression is a fundamental human right, and that development best proceeds, good governance prospers and innovation occurs when there is dialogue that allows people with different identities to exchange their views freely in an atmosphere of creativity, respect and equality. Graça Machel, former Chairperson of the Foundation once said: “Civic education has to strengthen pride of being oneself, of having the identities we have. If I am African, that means being proud to be African...don’t be shy to fly high, but at the same time, be willing to learn from others and be open to influences. But remain yourself, and give to others from your culture and your tradition.” So there was a natural fit between our work and that of the Pan African Circle of Artists (PACA), whose ultimate goal is to realise “the full potentials of art and aesthetics to be more meaningfully exploited by African peoples for a wholesome social development and for the enrichment and sustenance of Africa’s identity in an increasingly globalised world.”

“Overcoming Maps” Study Tour In November 2008 the Foundation supported nine distinguished African artists to make a one-week study tour to Zambia. The programme involved visual artists, poets, journalists, critics, anthropologists and government representatives. A Creativity Workshop was held at the National Museum in Lusaka, with participants creating works from materials sourced from the local environment. Round table and informal discussions on art and related matters were organised on a daily basis. The aim was to draw the attention of the artists and governments to the potentials of art in shaping the collective consciousness. PACA’s experience in its preceding tours in West Africa was that the art circuits remained highly impoverished, temperamental “outsider” spheres of living, attractive only to a minority. However, they feel that through networking cultural groups in the continent, the art market can be reinvigorated and gaps between art and society can be bridged.

Background “Maps show the wealth of territories by using a great poverty of symbols. Above all, they serve to delimit boundaries. They tell us nothing about the complexity of a place. But they establish ownerships, discern nations and are often confirmations of acts of violence”. - Amyel Garnaoui, Biakoye, 2002 PACA explain: “The geography of Africa owes its validity to the Berlin Conference of 1884 where the continent was cut and shared among the imperialists like a piece of breakfast.

The Partition of Africa created a number of barriers, including that of language, which has tended to pigeonhole the peoples of Africa in so many ways. “One of the areas where this compartmentalisation has been so palpably felt is in the artculture arena. There is only very little opportunity inside Africa for the celebration and reinforcement of African art and culture as a basis for affirming the African identity in the face of threats of effacement that is part of globalisation’s gift to the Others, especially the so-called Third World. “In the last two decades of the 20th century, world interest (especially Western) in African art attained unprecedented proportions. A huge number of African artists found their way abroad as a logical response to this historic boom. Not only that. Several Western universities established African Studies departments, which, in spite of their obvious merit, subtly occasioned the transformation of Africa, as a branch of scholarship, into a playground of fancies. The same situation is reflected in the publications about African art where the dominant voices have remained those of outsiders. “Up until now, many Africans are still scrambling to migrate to Europe or America under one guise or the other. The situation is not different in the art scene. These days, the best artists are often those who have shown their works in Western centres. Thus one finds that artists are more eager to exhibit in London or America than they may be to show in Accra or Abidjan... “it is perhaps time to also ask why Africans cannot begin to contrive an environment as conducive to creativity and art dissemination as they find in the West. Why are politics, economics, and development so skewed in Africa that leaders have a straitjacketed concept of society, one which brazenly excludes art to the detriment of society itself? Why is it not as easy and attractive for a person or artist to travel from Lagos to Bamako as it is for one to fly from Lagos to London?”

Participants (beyond Zambia) Dr Peter Jazzy Ezeh (University of Nigeria) works mainly in symbolic anthropology, including linguistics, art and myth. For eleven years he has studied the culture and language of the Orring, a little-known minority group in Nigeria’s southeast. Ayo Adewunmi (Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu) teaches art and design. His work has taken him to West Africa and Japan. His research interests include child abuse and neglect, and he held two exhibitions on the subject. C. Krydz Ikwuemsi (University of Nigeria) is a versatile artist who has published poetry and more than 60 essays in local and foreign media. He teaches painting and draughtsmanship and has worked in West Africa, Japan, Hungary and USA.

Grace Ngozi Ojie (Delta State University, Abraka) recently completed her doctoral studies and holds four degrees in the arts and education. She has won prizes at national level and has publishing and administrative experience. Helen Uhunmwagho is Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Federal Polytechnic, Auchi. She has participated in many national and international exhibitions. Dr Tracy Utoh-Ezeajughu teaches Theatre Art at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. She has written novels and plays and researched on the cultural aspects of Igbo history. Kofi Dawson lives and works in Accra, Ghana. His paintings and illustrations have been shown nationally and internationally. Akwelle Suma Glory is an artist and craftsperson active in Ghana and the international scene. Dr Frank Ugiomoh teaches Fine Art and Design at the University of Port Harcourt, River State.

Why did they get the grant? A Commonwealth Foundation Grants Officer explains: “The Foundation recognises the lack of networks of cultural/art practitioners and campaigners in the developing Commonwealth. We were impressed that the Pan African Circle of Artists is well established, having started in 1991. And that it aims to promote art by Africans, on African terms. “Initially we were concerned that the grouping was not “pan” African enough and was mostly academics. But then we realised these individuals could have real policy impact, and the group had initially grown out of the University of Nigeria. With some fine-tuning we were satisfied that the group was making efforts to be gender balanced. Finally, we saw that this study tour was going to build on the Circle’s earlier work since 2001. “The Culture Programme started in 2005 and now accounts for about a quarter of the Foundation's total programme and grants spending. One area we focus on is working directly with cultural practitioners – artists, writers, film-makers, musicians and others, and their networks – to help them promote and make a living from their work, find new audiences and connect with each other. “We do this in a variety of ways, including through various award schemes, the best known of which is the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. We also give grants to practitioners and their networks to support exchange and encourage learning. In addition to our well-established work in literature and visual arts, we are now increasing our support for people working in music and film. We are also strengthening the education and community aspects of our award schemes.”

Amount of Grant: £5,000

How can I get involved? PACA membership is open to all artists in Africa and elsewhere who are committed to exploring the potentials of art for the amelioration of the human condition, the promotion of peace, and the perpetuation of humanity. For more information see:

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