Category Archives: Colour

Performance Art or Protesting Act?


Performance Art or Protesting Act?

Johny ML


Blackening her face for 125 days was a new aesthetical mode that artist P.S. Jayamol adopted to create a social critique on the discriminated ‘living’ experiences of the Dalit communities. But it seems to have almost backfired on the face of the artist herself. The onus is now on Jayamol to defend her ‘creative social experiment’ which was lauded as a piece of performance art by local as well as international media.

Jayamol’s ‘performance art’ was almost a reaction toward the infamous ‘Rohit Vemula’ incident at the Hyderabad University. Taking ‘black complexion’ as a definitive marker of the Dalit identity, the artist had embarked on her ‘social experiment cum performance art’ by smearing her face and the exposed parts of hands and feet with removable black paint whenever she ventured out of her home/studio.

However, the argumentative Kerala intelligentsia, especially the Dalit intelligentsia, came out strongly against the artistic ‘co-optation’ of the Dalit issues by using her ‘upper caste’ body as a point of departure and made the artist accountable for such superficial ‘sabotage’ of a Dalit ‘agitating and theorising’ spaces. On the other hand, a major section of the artist community questioned Jayamol on the very idea of ‘performance art.’ Their contention was that the artist herself wasn’t clear about whether it was a piece of performance art or a social experiment. They also raised questions via social media regarding the aesthetics of ‘black’ and the politics of the performing body or that of the body in ‘performance.’

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Kerala is no longer the same. The issue of ‘black’ taken up by Jayamol could’ve been lapped up by the intelligentsia had it been done a decade before. Today, the Dalit intelligentsia doesn’t allow any such ‘integrationist,’ ‘patronising’ and ‘co-optation’ moves from anybody. For the spokespeople of the Dalit sections in Kerala, no discursive space that has exclusionary tactics or inclusive approach for the sake of democratic norms is acceptable. What they want today is ‘debate’; they no longer want to be spoken at or spoken to. The clear and precise political positions of the Dalit intellectuals have categorically made it clear to Jayamol that while they accept and appreciate her ‘artistic performance,’ the very idea of sabotaging the discursive space that they’ve been creating for so many decades now cannot be allowed for whatever reasons, including the aesthetical ones. The colour Black is not the only marker of a Dalit or a Dalit’s experience. Black is a general marker for Indians, though the upper castes don’t accept this until they face discrimination at the hands of the real White within the country or elsewhere. While Black being a universal derogatory marker of the evil, marking a Dalit or a Dalit experience with the colour black is almost a reductionist approach. According to the Dalit intelligentsia, blackness has transcended to various daily experiences of the Dalit even in their interactions with patronising integrationists.

It would be a reductionist argument if I say that only a Dalit has the right to speak about the Dalit experiences. However, empathy can’t be a replacement for the real experience. Jayamol’s contention regarding her performance is that it was her position/status as a woman that made her at par with the black skinned Dalit. Though we could argue that women are gendered Dalits, there is a Dalit discourse within the gender discourse itself. Feminisms all over the world have debated the multi-layered experiences of women in various social strata and have come to a conclusion that white feminism can’t speak for black feminism; similarly white upper class feminism can’t speak for the white labour class feminism. Even within Black communities such debates prevail. Jayamol has failed utterly while conceptualizing her performance art, as she hasn’t understood the nuances of Dalit and feminist discourses. Simplistic equations like Dalit= black and Dalit= woman made her almost a laughing stock within the cultural communities all over the world. However, I won’t say that Jayamol as an artist doesn’t have the right to ‘perform’ or ‘conduct’ social experiments on caste system in Kerala using a ‘color’ as a marker. While she has the right to do so, she should also be aware that the word ‘color’ or ‘colored’ itself is a marker of race or caste (in India’s case) and it isn’t just white against black, it is white against all the other colors. In Indian context, it is Brahminism against all other castes created by Brahminism itself.

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When art is treated as a ‘reaction,’ not really as ‘response’ or ‘assimilated experiential responses filtered through intelligence and feeling via adequate methods and materials,’ many Jayamols would happen in our society. Such reactionary artists, as they are driven by the urgency to ‘react’ rather than to respond intelligently, fail to understand the gravity of the situations. The failure that happened to Jayamol’s art project is because of her ‘reactionary’ approach. This performance was a ‘reaction’ to Vemula’s suicide. Her concerns were extended to the unfortunate incidents like ‘Ooraly’s arrest’ and the ‘rape and murder of Jisha.’ Reactionary artists often grab the opportunity of famous as well as infamous social happenings and attach their ‘art-ivism’ to such developments. That’s why Jayamol’s performance looks like a tacky social experiment meant for a ‘desired result’ masquerading as a piece of performance art process. The reactionary verve of the artist blinded her in seeing how artists like Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Carolee Schneemann, Marina Abromovic and so on used body as a performance tool much before the social experiments intend to shock and eke out a reaction from the ‘shocked’ or ‘offended’ or ‘don’t care’ audiences.

Jayamol isn’t alone. Reactionary art is the latest fad in Kerala where people are looking for publicity by attaching themselves to the latest social events that demand intellectual solidarity from different sections of the society. This is an outcome of the Kochi Muziris Biennale that has been promoting an art culture which is predominantly spectacular, and supporting capitalist art with a rebellious streak. While claiming its leaning toward political art, Kochi Muziris Biennale runs with the pray and hunts with the hunter.

Before I close this article, I would like to tell the artists in Kerala and elsewhere that art is political only up to the level of the political integrity of the artist himself or herself. Painting Mahatma Gandhi with a blackened tooth or talking about Dr. B. R. Ambedkar doesn’t make an artist political. Mere sloganeering and claiming of a political voice or space also doesn’t make an artist political. Even the party affiliation of the artists does not make them political. Picasso was a Communist Party card holder, but apart from the forced reading of ‘Guernica,’ we don’t identify Picasso as a communist. Reactionaries are never political. Whether they are visible or invisible, accepted or rejected, accommodated or thrown out, Dalit political discourses have been there for over a century now in India, and a reactionary artist just cannot snatch that space for whatever reasons. As a Dalit scholar and leader had put in one of the television debates, ‘Jayamol can wash the black colour by evening, but what about us who can’t wash it off and also have to hand it over to the successive generations like a pollutant?’

(Photos: Kalakakshi/Facebook & See-ming Lee ??? SML via Foter.com / CC BY-SA)

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ചായം പൂശിയ ഐക്യദാര്‍ഢ്യത്തിന്റെ ചെമ്പ് തെളിയുമ്പോള്‍

Why this Indian woman is using ‘blackface’ as solidarity

Here’s Why This Young Artist In Kerala Is Covering Herself In Black Paint For 100 Days

Paint Me Black


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    Johny ML

    Johny is a New Delhi-based art historian, critic, curator and writer.

     

 


 

Helpful White Lady Raises Awareness Of “Secluded Cultures” Through Magic Of Blackface


Helpful White Lady Raises Awareness Of “Secluded Cultures” Through Magic Of Blackface
ROBYN PENNACCHIA 


Meet Hungarian journalist Boglarka Balogh! Boglarka says that she usually travels the world writing about human rights issues–but recently, she got a great idea to try something different! She thought perhaps there wasn’t enough “awareness” of the various “secluded cultures” in various African nations, and decided to do her part to correct that.

Her idea? To transform herself into seven of these “stunning tribal beauties” with the help of a graphic designer, and then wrote an article about it on BoredPanda. An article titled–I shit you not–“I Morphed Myself Into Tribal Women To Raise Awareness Of Their Secluded Cultures.

Boglarka writes:

My inspiration came from my time spent in various African countries where I became fully aware of the issues regarding a number of endangered tribes, and the speed at which they are fading away. These stunning portraits show how beauty varies across the globe and prove that all of us are beautiful in a different way. They’re celebrating stunning tribal beauties at the brink of extinction.

Let me get this straight, Boglarka–in order to show how beautiful women of different ethnic backgrounds than you are, you are simply dressing up as them? This seems like it’s perhaps a little bit more about how beautiful you think you are.

How this raises awareness more than posting pictures of the actual women themselves and then writing about them, no one can really be sure. Are there actual people who would perhaps go “Gosh! I had no interest in these various cultures until a white lady Photoshopped some blackface on a selfie and dressed up as them!” Because I honestly can’t imagine how or why that would be. Although–given the fact that the article has a rating of 80, which I assume is good although I have no idea how their voting system works, and has been shared on Facebook over 4,000 times, I have to imagine they exist.

I also find it a tad suspicious that she is a journalist who travels the world writing about human rights and yet somehow she has absolutely no idea that blackface is an extremely offensive thing. I get that there are not all that many black people in Hungary, but come the hell on. Clearly, she is familiar with some non-Hungarian news sources, as she posted this thing on BoredPanda.

In light of the fact that there are so many people out there who appreciate this kind of thing–I feel I should let the world know that I am currently wearing a long sleeved black shirt and black leggings. Why? Because it’s what I put on this morning, but also because I want to raise awareness of mimes. Now you know what a mime is. You’re welcome. Feel free to send me many accolades, flowers, and candy.


Read More:

Blackface

Hungarian journalist slammed for ‘seven types of blackface’

I Documented Daily Lives Of African Tribes For Four Months

‘Blatant, unapologetic blackface’: Woman sparks furious backlash after editing her face onto photos of African tribeswomen – but she claims negative reaction is down to ‘ignorance’


 

INEQUITIES AMONG PHOTOJOURNALISTS PRODUCE A FAMILIAR IMAGE


Inequities Among Photojournalists Produce a Familiar Image

A lack of diversity among photojournalists runs the danger of perpetuating clichés and crippling stereotypes, but the industry is slowly starting to address the problem.

First woman maasai warrior?


First woman maasai warrior?: the appropriation of African cultures

By  on October 2, 2013


To the many white people in African countries using us to make a name for themselves while overshadowing the work of those few who genuinely care and have a clue about what they’re doing, please get over yourselves, and find less insulting ways to feel good about yourselves

Mindy Budgor, who took a crash course to become the first female Maasai warrior.  Glamour.com

Mindy Budgor, who took a crash course to become the first female Maasai warrior. Glamour.com

A young white, middle-class woman from California learned on a trip to Kenya that Maasai women were not allowed to become warriors. Apparently, she learned this from a Maasai chief. The woman, Mindy Budgor, was shocked at hearing of such an oppressive culture and decided to become the first woman Maasai warrior in order to save Maasai women from their own culture. Budgor, having apparently succeeded at her mission – let us not dwell on the intricacies of how a white woman can become Maasai or the fact that Budgor took a crash course in becoming a warrior, completing in 15 days an exercise that usually takes years – returned to the United States and published a book titled Warrior Princess: My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior.

Considering the number of white people who venture into African countries, particularly Kenya, in order to save the natives and in process themselves, Budgor’s story could easily have escaped the notice of the general public. Fortunately, this one didn’t. On the one hand there was the Western media who never seem to tire of these stories of white women thriving in harsh “tribal” conditions, then there was the backlash from African bloggers who have had enough of white people using Africa, African people and African cultures as their playground.

Ignoring Maasai voices

It is hardly a secret that there is no shortage of cultural appropriation when it comes to the Maasai people. Yet Budgor’s labelling of herself as the first female Maasai warrior marks a new, low, and could not have come at a better time, right on the heels of the massive online discussion about how feminism excludes women of colour. The white woman’s burden sees white women using their feminism to liberate their less fortunate “sisters” all over the world, regardless of whether the latter actually need liberating or not, from FEMEN encouraging Muslim women to dump their hijabs in favour of toplessness, completely disregarding the opinions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab, to Budgor, who seems to have totally ignored Maasai women in her quest to bring feminism to them.

Mindy Budgor, the 'first female Maasai warrior'. Photo: Glamour.com

Several Maasai women have remarked on the foolishness of Budgors’s actions. One comment from a Maasai woman over at Africa Is A Country reads: “I am a Maasai woman (from Kenya) and we have seen these (white) women come and go. We have Maasai women members of parliament, doctors, lawyers, professors, civil servants, teachers, nurses, business owners etc., but of course, we don’t exist in the eyes of fools like this Mindy woman whose sole purpose always appears to be to fetishise Maasai men (our sons, brothers, fathers and husbands) in one way or another. How many books are going to be written by white women about how they came and fell in love with a Maasai man, gave up everything for him, helped poor ignorant Maasai women, taught Maasai men how to behave etc, etc. We are sooooo fed up!” Another Maasai woman was disgusted by the white saviour aspect of Budgor’s mission, the cultural insensitivity, and the insult to Maasai women and Maasai culture in general. In addition, the fact that Budgor is making money off this insult puts her in a space not too far from that occupied by the white colonialists and slave traders who similarly just came to Africa to take and enrich themselves. To end her dissection of Budgor’s actions, the second Maasai lady reveals an insight with the question: “why is it so easy for us to sell ourselves like this…if this woman was not a mzungu [white woman] she would never have had this experience let alone write about it. Are we still enslaved in our minds or what?”

It appears the majority of us Africans are indeed still enslaved in our minds. Literally every time I have expressed some discomfort at white women wearing traditional clothes from Nigerian cultures and attempting to dance cultural dances, I have been told to hush and be happy that white people are showing any interest at all in my culture. As if our cultures cannot be whole without a stamp of approval from white people. The reason Africans are still be looking to white people for validation and valuation of their cultures can only be due to the shackles of mental colonialism.

What would have happened if a woman from another African country had attempted to do what Budgor did? Would she have gone far in the process of becoming a warrior? Would any chief have paid her some attention? The truth of the matter is that we Africans tend to give more space to and legitimise white voices than we do our own; we are still seeking to please the white man, prompting Julius N. Timgum of the African Economist to ask “what is it about the white man that breaks us down to the point of submission? Do we have to continue stooping so low by selling our heritage at so cheap a price?” It is hard to know how far a Maasai woman, or an African woman from another country, would have gone in becoming a warrior if she’d tried, and I have no idea how many, if any, African women actually want to become Maasai warriors, but it is necessary to question why Budgor was allowed to go as far as she did. It is important to recognise and confront the way we Africans respond to white privilege.

The White Man’s Woman’s Burden

There is a long history of white people trying to liberate Africa and Africans; this was one of the excuses Europeans used to justify colonialism. Till today we still see versions of the white man’s burden, though not limited to just white men as white women and Westerners of colour fall into this trap, too. We encounter such people who believe it is their duty to help the poor, confused and oppressed/oppressive African “tribal” people. The more sinister truth is that these privileged people are only using their wish to help as an excuse, and are in reality selfishly looking for ways to enrich themselves at the expense of whomever they claim to be helping. This is not unique to Africa; there is a long list of white women being “initiated” into Asian, African and indigenous American cultures. Contrary to some African bloggers who seem to believe that Budgor would not have been able to get away with this brazen appropriation if she had tried it with Native American cultures, white women have appropriated Native American cultures for centuries. The white Australian woman Fiona Graham who travelled to Japan to become a geisha also followed a crash course, taking a year to complete what traditionally takes years to master. Her tale of cultural appropriation ended when the other geisha chased her away from the sisterhood due to her lack of respect for elders, among other things. The eventual rejection is notably similar to Mindy’s, who was lunged at with a spear by her “fellow” Maasai warriors who felt that she did not belong in their circle.

Fiona Graham said the Asakusa Geisha Society refused her membership as she is a 'foreigner'. Photo: Ben Robbins/The Australian

White women who appropriate benefit from it, they get published and interviewed. People buy their books and some of these women become the go-to Western authority on whichever foreign culture they plundered. I have met quite a few white British people who seem to believe they can change the world by travelling to Kenya to play with children, and maybe having sex with the natives, before returning to their comfortable lives in England. Last year I was (un)fortunate enough to attend an event that I thought was a fundraising for people who were displaced by the post-election violence in Kenya. It was quite a fancy event, held at a beautiful hotel in the English countryside. As the dinner progressed I found myself horror-stricken as it slowly became clear that the fundraiser was actually to sponsor a young, middle class white man to go to Kenya for vague reasons involving work with children. Money was being raised, not for the displaced people but for a white man to go on a “saviour” trip.

To the many white people in African countries using us to make a name for themselves while overshadowing the work of those few who genuinely care and have a clue about what they’re doing, please get over yourselves, and find less insulting ways to feel good about yourselves.


 

Are Colonial-Era Laws Holding Africa Back?


60 years later, Are Colonial-Era Laws Holding Africa Back?

 January 20 2017 at 7:00 AM


 

When Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo took the oath of office on Jan. 7, by his side was a judge wearing a traditional British horsehair wig and black judicial robes. Just how far had Ghana shifted away from colonial rule since gaining independence in 1957?

Many Africans — and political scientists — believed that the newfound sovereignty of African nations in the 1950s and 1960s would cure ills, from economic underdevelopment to political repression, from low levels of social trust to high levels of corruption.

Many of these hopes remain unrealized. While countries did gain independence, some researchers argue that they held on to many of the rules put in place by former colonizers. Our research examines if this idea of colonial endurance is plausible in the legal sector.

Do colonial rules persist?

Colonial-era bureaucracies and legal systems were designed to control the population and extract wealth from the colony back to the colonizing power. After independence, governing and judicial institutions continued to run much as they had in the past, like trains moving along the same track.

Jumping to a new set of tracks proved very difficult because of the increasing cost of switching to a different path. So, if there were only minimal shifts in these institutions after independence, then countries might be stuck with autocratic politics and bad economic institutions inherited from colonial times.

Examples are easy to spot. Judges in a number of other African Commonwealth nations continue to wear the horsehair wigs and robes of their British predecessors. Some laws in Commonwealth nations also mirror older British laws — many African countries still maintain harsh colonial-era laws criminalizing homosexuality, for instance.

In the United States as well, we can easily find antiquated laws. Hey, New Yorkers, it’s illegal to wear slippers after 10 pm. Seriously.

While we have some anecdotal examples of legal institutions staying the same, we also have examples of countries making major changes to their laws. Rwanda, for example, is in the process of changing its entire legal system from the colonial Belgian civil law system to the common law system.

So, we have competing narratives. Do examples of colonial endurance tell us something about the general state of institutions, or are they just weird exceptions to a more general pattern of change?

Do colonial laws hold countries back? 

If these laws have stayed largely the same, this could help us understand why some countries have had slower economic growth. For example, researchers have found that there is a correlation between the kind of colonial legal system and economic outcomes today. Generally, civil law countries perform worse than common law countries.

So, if civil law countries kept their colonial laws, this might account for worse economic growth. Changing these laws might help them perform better economically. If, however, laws have already shifted, then further modifying the laws themselves is unlikely to promote economic development. In this latter case, there must be other reasons for the constrained growth, like informal institutions or norms.

We scrutinized the entire criminal code in 7 countries

Our research challenges the idea that there is widespread persistence of colonial legislationin African civil law countries. We examined how much of the colonial criminal code endured across much of French West Africa — Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. We looked at whole legal codes rather than cherry-picking individual laws.

The French implemented a single criminal code across its colonies, with a final version instituted in 1955 (five years before most French African colonies gained independence). We wanted to see how much of this colonial law was evident in the present codes of these sub-Saharan successor states of French West Africa.

Each criminal code includes hundreds of articles, so we wrote a program to make these comparisons. The program takes every article of the 1955 code and finds the article in each country’s present code that most resembles it. It tabulates what fraction of the old article must change in order to turn it into a new article. If very few changes are necessary, then the language of the old article carries into the present code. If a lot has to change, then this is evidence that colonial influence is waning.

All of these countries made large changes to their criminal codes

The figure below shows how much of the colonial code was retained in each of the seven West African countries in our study. Every country substantially changed more than half of the colonial criminal code. Most changed significantly more.

Senegal retained the largest share of colonial articles, but even then, less than half of the colonial code exists in the present code. Togo retained the least, keeping only a few colonial articles in its modern criminal code.

So what do our findings say about the persistence of colonial law? First, we should be skeptical of claims that Africa’s laws are unchanged since the colonial period. Our results suggest that the laws in these countries are dynamic and varied.

Second, these findings suggest that if inherited colonial institutions are responsible for economic or political outcomes today, then this effect probably occurs through the transmission of informal rules or culture. It’s not directly because of the laws themselves.

Third, these results imply that it is not enough, and potentially not even useful, to suggest that a problem like corruption or weak shareholder protection can be fixed simply by writing new laws. Any prescription for change should start from a proper diagnosis. In these countries, there is little need to rewrite laws to remove colonial influence; that influence has already waned.


Maya Berinzon is a researcher at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Policy and Governance.

Ryan Briggs (@ryanbriggs) is an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Political Science.


The Problem with Photojournalism and Africa


The Problem with Photojournalism and Africa

Why African photographers don’t get to tell African photo stories in Western media.

Images of Africa in Western media often conform to racist colonial-era stereotypes about the continent, writes Jayawardane [Al Jazeera]
Images of Africa in Western media often conform to racist colonial-era stereotypes about the continent, writes Jayawardane [Al Jazeera]
 | @Sugarintheplum

M Neelika Jayawardane is an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York-Oswego.


Whenever “Africa” is in the headline of mainstream US and European media sources, especially those that are highly regarded, I wince. I know the storyline is going to suffused by disappointment and resignation about Africa failing, once again.

While the rest of the world and its modern inhabitants are technologising and digitising, happily going about wearing jeans and T-shirts, there goes Africa, backwards into some apocalyptic, scarred past, wearing embarrassing tribal garb. 

Sometimes, these media outlets allow Africa to come to the present, but of course, in dubious ways: embedded in the flow of “Islamic” terror-narratives: Nigeria and Boko Haram, Libya and its violent insurgents, Somalia and its troublesome “Islamic fundamentalists” raiding Kenyan universities.

It’s as though the editorial board is shaking its collective head with an exasperated sigh, and showing us, with a lavish, full-colour photograph, exactly why they are frustrated with the entire continent.

Sometimes, though, I’m just confused. For instance, the influential New York Times recently published an article titled “Who Is Telling Africa’s Stories“, covering efforts to develop photojournalism in various African countries.

The writer, Whitney Richardson, a photo editor for the paper, provided some contradicting points: Happy news about the growing number of talented photographers coming out of photography training institutes and collectives based in countries with divergent histories and presents – Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa – but also that these photographers do not produce work that is “professional” enough for agencies to hire them.

‘Uncomfortable conversations’

Richardson offered some insight into continuing problems that locally based photographers face getting international news agencies’ attention. What emerges as a solution is the need for young photographers to get international exposure, where, according to acclaimed photographer Akintunde Akinleye, they may also “learn the ethical standards of the industry”. The takeaway: unless international news agencies based in North America and Europe such as the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse pick your work, you are a nobody.

Yet, it is these very agencies that contribute to problematic views that simplify Africa into a repetitive trope. Africa remains a monolithic space of violence and poverty uncomplicated by global politics and military action, because the images and narratives chosen by powerful news agencies and newspapers continue to speak to foundational myths that Europe (and white ex-colonists and plantation owners in America) manufactured about Africa, in order to better ease their conquest and exploitation of a regionally, politically and socially complex, dynamic continental shelf. 

If the construction of the African as child-like, or not quite human, who has little agency or intellect, aided the colonial project, today, the narrative continues to aid the construction of the European self as civilised, maintaining the African and Africa as the location of savagery, helplessness, and devastation. It also creates Europe as a desirable location that those who have no agency and have done little to better themselves attempt to infiltrate – much to Europe’s chagrin. 

Aida Muluneh, Ethiopian-born artist, documentary photographer, and the founder of Desta for Africa (DFA) – a creative consultancy that curates exhibitions and pursues cultural projects with local and international institutions – emphasises: “Photography continues to play a key role in how we are seen, not just as Africans, but as black people from every corner of the world. Stereotypes and prejudice are incited by images, and if it’s used, yet again, to undermine those of us who are truly doing the difficult work, then we need to have some uncomfortable conversations.

And when it comes to payment, there are further “uncomfortable” discrepancies that international agencies never reveal: “When we do get assignments, they want to pay us less because we are from the country; but for a foreign photographer, they will not blink to pay an arm and a leg,” adds Muluneh.

In Richardson’s piece, the prevailing view is that even though top photo agencies are looking for local photographers to “offset costs”, the Africans do not compare to western photographers.

Alice Gabriner, Time magazine’s international photo editor, expressed disappointment with African photographers (note, again, an entire continent’s photographers are lumped together), because they lack “completed bodies of work”.

But photography training institutions – producing photographers with “complete” bodies of work that have received international acclaim and awards – have mushroomed in the past 10 years. Muluneh’s own focus is on developing internal networks: to be “independent and to create our own platforms … and institutions … to be self-sustainable and to be able to compete in the international market.”

Besides Muluneh’s DFA, which also runs AddisFoto Festival, there is Market Photo Workshop in South Africa, The Nlele Institute in Nigeria, The Nest Collective in Kenya, among others.

Despite the existence of photographers and journalists from African localities, they are not the go-to people that agencies based in the geopolitical West seek out. The New York Times’ reporters-in-Africa, Nicholas Kristoff and Jeffrey Gettleman, or R W Johnson, the London Review of Book’s go-to fave on South Africa, spin a good Africa story, seemingly with little self-critique, and with little thought to consequences.

The ideologies behind the image narratives and stories in English language news sources are presented matter-of-factly, with little resistance from alternative media in the US and Europe; although they often contain deeply problematic perspectives of significant issues, they are trotted out on a regular basis, whenever there is a “crisis” involving Africa.

Conscious and unconscious tropes

If we ask a photojournalist or a photo editor how old narratives constructed in order to aid slavery, exploitation, and colonisation, as well as current efforts to extract resources, continue to inflect themselves into how we conceive of Africa and Africans today, in current photo spreads, we’d draw blank stares, or be the recipient of hostile, defensive responses. 

That lack of critique is partly owing to the fact that photo narratives reference prevailing problematic, and often racist, views; even those with expensive educations that taught them to be critical, those who hold influential photo-editing positions at the world’s most powerful news companies, still subscribe to these views, consciously or unconsciously.

For instance, only months before publishing “Who is Telling Africa’s Stories,” The New York Times published a photo essay with the troubling headline Stepping Over the Dead on a Migrant Boat” by Rick Gladstone and Aris Messinis. The story focused on African migrants who had crossed the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe, but ended up dying in a capsizing boat. 

The photo essay appears, at first, to highlight the migrants’ plight. However, the way in which they are portrayed, along with the provocative headline, made their desperate attempts to reach safety appear callous and inhuman (because what civilised person would step over the dead?). 

The survivors who scrambled to get to safety are depicted as broken humans, at best, or those with unformed psyches that permit acts of barbarity that the Western “we” would never consider.

Photo-narratives such as “Stepping Over the Dead” bring up many familiar, and troubling, tropes common to the prevailing narratives about Africa. They teach a new generation of readers to view the African as an “other” to be pitied or feared. 

These arresting images – constructed mostly by flown-in photojournalists, with the help of their photo editors – grab our attention; the best draw the fundamentals of their aesthetic from European masters, referencing visual cliches that Western-educated audiences can identify and latch on to. They continue and reinforce colonial mythologies, fashioning the “us” of the geopolitical West as “civilised”, defining and distinguishing the enlightened European self from the dark, savage Africa.

OPINION: Africa doesn’t want any more Western band aids 

When the same newspaper prints a story about the struggle that African photographers face getting their work published, with little critique of their own involvement in presenting an insistently racist vision of Africa and Africans that simply masquerades as compassion, it’s easy to end up with a little schizophrenia.

How can African photographers hope to get work or recognition without reproducing expected stereotypes? Can they do so without the accompaniment of writing that exposes European or US governments’ interference and military presence – as in the case of Somalia, Mali, CAR, Djibouti, and Chad – or destabilisation efforts and military campaigns – as in the case of Libya?

Instead of leading the story with the dearth of Africa-based agencies, and offering the need to get recognition in North America and Europe – itself a problematic solution, available mostly to those who are already from middle and upper-class families who are well-connected enough to navigate visa and immigration regimes, not to mention galleries and art world sharks – why not offer better solutions?

Photographs have traditionally been regarded as “evidence”, or even as providers of indisputable “truth”. And there is little doubt that the present generation reads the world almost exclusively through images. In this age, where images play a significant role in how we read the world, photographs that accompany news stories have even more influence. 

But the practice of reading, in which we currently engage, is undergirded by consumer practices; it is carried out with little critical ability, and with little historical understanding about how and why readers’ image repertories, and their thought processes are influenced by material cultures – including photography – that aided violent, imperial histories.

But because photography is seen as a “truth-telling” medium that reveals without bias, audiences and photographers themselves are unaware of how the narratives they help create continue to be inflected with the same stories that enabled Europe’s construction of the African as a savage or helpless, the “other” needing the disciplinary forces of Western civilisation to tame and aid their unruly bodies and psyches into modernity.

When Muluneh was recently interviewed by a local radio station, she was asked how she was able to photograph “the good” things about Ethiopia, “as well as the bad”. Muluneh explained to her interviewer that the “bad is the easiest thing to document”. Perhaps that’s something The New York Times’ photographers need to hear in a critical skills workshop.


M Neelika Jayawardane is an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York-Oswego, and an Honorary Research Associate at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa). She was a senior editor and contributor to the online magazine, Africa is a Country, from 2010 to 2106. Her writing is featured in Transitions, Contemporary And, Art South Africa, Contemporary Practices: Visual Art from the Middle East, and Research in African Literatures. She writes about and collaborates with visual artists.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy. 


Ghanaians Want Statue Of Mahatma Ghandi Removed


Ghanaians Want This Statue Of Black People Hater Mahatma Ghandi Removed


 

Ghanaians Want This Statue Of Black People Hater Mahatma Ghandi Removed
Mahatma Ghandi was a notorious racist against Africans.

AFRICANGLOBE – A former Director of the Institute of African Studies, Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo, has started a campaign asking for the removal of the statue of Indian independence icon, Mahatma Ghandi, from the University of Ghana campus.

Prof Adomako Ampofo is urging members of the University of Ghana Council to heed her petition arguing among other things that, Ghandi was racist against Black people and honoring him set the wrong example for students.

In June 2016, the statue of Ghandi was erected on the University campus to the dismay of some members of the university community aware of the apparent racist overtones Ghandi exuded.

Prof Adomako Ampofo cites some of these examples of racism in her petition, like this quote from 1894. ”

“A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.

It should be noted that, the word Kaffir, is a derogatory term for Black people with roots in Apartheid era of South African history.

No racists symbols on world class universities 

South Carolina Governor Attacks Black Protest Movement
As Africans we have no friends

The petition also contended that, if the University of Ghana sought to be a world class university, it should not be seen to be honoring former bastions of slavery, apartheid and white supremacy.

In other high profile universities, symbols edifying persons associated with controversial stances like white supremacy have been removed.

Prof Adomako Ampofo notes one such example in her petition when in October 2015, “Rhodes University [in South Africa] established a renaming team to remove the name of Cecil Rhodes, former prime minister of the Cape colony, and one of the founders of apartheid.”

The first senate and then the Council of the University of Cape Town, also voted to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes early in 2015, after protests by some students. With these arguments, Prof Adomako Ampofo urged the University of Ghana Council to “do the honourable thing by pulling down the statue. It is better to stand up for our dignity than to kowtow to the wishes of a Third World super-power.”

Find below her full petition 

Dear Honourable members of the University of Ghana Council:

Re: Petition for the removal of the Statute of Gandhi

We the undersigned bring this petition for the removal of the statute of Gandhi to the esteemed Council of the University of Ghana Council for your consideration.

Background: 

On 14 June 2016 a statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi [1] was erected at the Sam Aboah quadrangle[DOK1] . This is the only statue of an historical personality on Legon campus, and soon after it came to the notice of members of the University community and the general public, calls for its removal began within the University community and beyond. [2] We, the undersigned associate ourselves with that call for the reasons outlined below.

Rationale for Removal: 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s racist identity:

Below we provide just a few citations from his own writings to illustrate this.

Before Dec. 19, 1894

“A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.” ~ Vol. I, p. 193

Before May 5, 1895

“In the face, too, of financial operations, the success of which many of their detractors would envy, one fails to understand the agitation which would place the operators in the same category as the half-heathen Native and confine him to Locations, and subject him to the harsher laws by which the Transvaal Kaffir is governed.” ~ Vol. I, pp. 224-225

Before May 5, 1895

“So far as the feeling has been expressed, it is to degrade the Indian to the position of the Kaffir.” ~ Vol. I, p. 229

Sept. 26, 1896

“Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.” ~ Vol. I, pp. 409-410

Before May 27, 1899

“Your Petitioner has seen the Location intended to be used by the Indians. It would place them, who are undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Kaffirs, in close proximity to the latter.” ~ Vol. II, p. 270

June 1, 1906

“The Boer Government insulted the Indians by classing them with the Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. V, p. 59

Source: Gandhi and South African Blacks ( http://www.gandhiserve.org/e/cwmg/cwmg.htm)

*(NOTE-The term kaffir is considered a racial slur used in reference to Black South African natives.)

Gandhi also campaigned against the efforts of the Dalits, The Black “Untouchables” of India, and for the maintenance of the caste system right up to his death.

Supplementary Reading and Links:

The Myth of Mahatma GhandiBy: Velu Annamalai  Ph.D. velu@home.com

Petition calls for Gandhi statue to be removed from Ghana UniversityProfessors say late civil rights leader was racist and considered Indians to be ‘infinitely superior’ to black Africans | Thursday 22 September 2016   |

Ghana: Call to remove Gandhi statue over ‘racist views’
Campaigners urge removal of Indian social activist’s statue from university, saying he was racist towards black people.

#GandhiForComeDown: Ghana to remove Gandhi statue because of his anti-black racism
Lecturers and students began campaigning for the Indian nationalist leader’s statue to be removed shortly after it was installed.
08 OCT 2016 10:14 | MAIL & GUARDIAN ONLINE REPORTER AND REUTERS

Ghana’s problem with ‘racist’ Gandhi
22 September 2016

Was Mahatma Gandhi a racist?
17 September 2015 |  India

GANDHI SPREADS RACIAL HATRED OF AFRICANS
ORGANIZATION FOR MINORITIES OF INDIA

The truth about Mahatma Gandhi: he was a wily operator, not India’s smiling saint
The Indian nationalist leader had an eccentric attitude to sleeping habits, food and sexuality. However, his more controversial ideas have been written out of history
By Patrick French | 7:50PM GMT 31 Jan 2013 |

What did Mahatma Gandhi think of black people?
 | September 3, 2015 |

Continue reading Ghanaians Want Statue Of Mahatma Ghandi Removed

13 Racist Quotes Gandhi Said About Black People


Not All Peaceful: 13 Racist Quotes Gandhi Said About Black People

All quotes are direct quotations from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. They are taken from his writings and statements during the years he spent working as an attorney in South Africa, before he went back to India in 1915 to fight for independence. Note: “Kaffir” is an offensive term in South Africa considered on par with “n*gger” in the U.S., though in Gandhi’s time some historians claim it was considered more neutral.

Gandhi in his 20s
Gandhi at 19

Indians Dragged Down to the Kaffirs

Before Dec. 19, 1894: “A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”

Gandhi in South Africa
Gandhi in South Africa

Kaffirs Pass Their Lives in ‘Indolence and Nakedness’

Sept. 26, 1896: “Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”

Young Gandhi (1)

Kaffirs Would Not Work

Oct. 26, 1896: “There is a bye-law in Durban which requires registration of coloured servants. This rule may be, and perhaps is, necessary for the Kaffirs who would not work, but absolutely useless with regard to the Indians. But the policy is to class the Indian with the Kaffir whenever possible.”

gandhi lawyer

Indians ‘Infinitely Superior’ to the Kaffirs

Before May 27, 1899: “Your Petitioner has seen the Location intended to be used by the Indians. It would place them, who are undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Kaffirs, in close proximity to the latter.”

Boer War, Indian Ambulance Corps (Gandhi is in middle row, fifth from left)
Boer War, Indian Ambulance Corps (Gandhi is in middle row, fifth from left)

Indians Shouldn’t Be Taxed Like Kaffirs

May 24, 1903: “The £3 tax is merely a penalty for wearing the brown skin and it would appear that, whereas Kaffirs are taxed because they do not work at all or sufficiently, we are to be taxed evidently because we work too much, the only thing in common between the two being the absence of the white skin.”

gandhi with friend

Indians Forced to Live with Too Many Kaffirs

Feb. 11, 1904: “I venture to write you regarding the shocking state of the Indian Location. The rooms appear to be overcrowded beyond description. The sanitary service is very irregular, and many of the residents of the Location have been to my office to complain that the sanitary condition is far worse than before. There is, too, a very large Kaffir population in the Location for which really there is no warrant.”

Gandhi with friends
Gandhi with friends

Calamity Coming for Johannesburg

Feb. 15, 1904: “I feel convinced that every minute wasted over the matter merely hastens a calamity for Johannesburg and that through absolutely no fault of the British Indians. Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian Location should be chosen for dumping down all the kaffirs of the town passes my comprehension.”

Gandhi in UK
Gandhi in UK

No Mixing Kaffirs With Indians

Feb. 15, 1904: “Of course, under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen.”

gandhi smile

Kaffirs Less Advanced

Sept. 9, 1906: “Even the half-castes and Kaffirs, who are less advanced than we, have resisted the Government. The pass law applies to them as well, but they do not take out passes.”

Gandhi (right) with brother
Gandhi (right) with brother

Even a Kaffir Policeman Can Accost Indians?

June 4, 1907: “Are we supposed to be thieves or free-booters that even a Kaffir policeman can accost and detain us wherever we happen to be going?”

Mahatma+Gandhi+

Kaffirs Can Be Pleased With Toys and Pins

Feb. 2, 1908: “The British rulers take us to be so lowly and ignorant that they assume that, like the Kaffirs who can be pleased with toys and pins, we can also be fobbed off with trinkets.”

Gandhi+spinning

Kaffirs Are Uncivilized Animals

July 3, 1907: “Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised – the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals. Each ward contains nearly 50 to 60 of them. They often started rows and fought among themselves. The reader can easily imagine the plight of the poor Indian thrown into such company!”

Marche_sel

Indians Must Stay Away From Kaffir Women

Dec. 2, 1910: “Some Indians do have contacts with Kaffir women. I think such contacts are fraught with grave danger. Indians would do well to avoid them altogether.”


Why Travelling with an African Passport is Difficult?


Why is travelling with an African passport so difficult?

 | Friday 11 September 2015 

Getting around Europe is a struggle, but it’s just as tough to cross borders in our own continent


Morocco v Cameroon - FIFA2010 World Cup Qualifier
 A 2014 ranking of countries by the strength of their passport revealed that Cameroonians can travel to only 43 countries of their choosing. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

In the summer of 2003, a clerk at the US embassy in London informed me that under new 9/11 laws, I was considered “unstable”, and my request for a tourist visa would be denied. Never mind that on the invitation of my aunt – a US citizen – I had bought non-refundable, round-trip tickets to Philadelphia (both the written invitation and the confirmed bookings were prerequisites), or that I was at the end of the second year of a four-year degree course at Liverpool University, or even that I had a visa and job confirmed in France, where I would be spending my third year.

None of that mattered. I carried a Cameroonian passport, and the job of the consulate team was to presume I had no intention of leaving the US, unless my documentary evidence convinced them otherwise, which clearly it hadn’t. As I left the embassy, my face wet with tears, I invented scenarios to console myself: “Her husband has obviously just left her for her best friend, she’s obviously taking out her frustration on me.”

Over the years it’s not just Americans who have looked at my forest green passport and seen the warning: “Beware! Likely to spread contagion or disappear into the black market.” Queuing in Lille in northern France to upgrade my visa from visitor to work permit was like waiting in line with the disallowed – easily 200 of us jostling to be seen by the gendarmes, emotions ranging from hopeful to desperate, depending on how many times you’d been turned back for some trivial reason. “Revenez demain” (“Come back tomorrow”) became the most painful words to hear.

Much of my time in Britain has also been punctuated by the cycle of visa applications, the prices for which escalate with each change of government. My conversations with immigration officers have become something of a chess match: they make their move then I make mine.

“How long have you been in the UK?” I’m asked, as the immigration officer feels up the page to which my visa is stuck, checking to make sure it didn’t belong to a different passport. “Oh, only 10 years,” I say, insouciant; using my BBC Radio 4 voice. “What did you study at university?” “Do you mean my first degree or one of my masters?” Neither of us break eye contact.

They were only doing their job, but I felt as though I too was doing mine: subtly making the point that I had every right to be here. I’d studied a British curriculum, taught to me by British teachers in African schools; and after my parents raised the thousands of pounds needed to pay for the British university education they thought would help me establish my place in the world, I just wanted to be left to get on with it.

But this is not just a problem in the west. My most painful visa transactions have, sadly, been on the African continent – the place where passports should be recognised immediately for the useless, artificial construct they are; where members of the same ethnic group are separated by barriers imposed from outside.

But Africa’s leaders have been among the most ardent defenders of national boundaries. In 2013, the African Development Bank wrote: “African countries remain closed off to each other, making travel within the continent difficult. Africa is one of the regions in the world with the highest visa requirements. This situation is even more restricted for Africans travelling within Africa, as compared to Europeans and North Americans. On average, African citizens require visas to visit 60% of African countries.”

But immigration systems and visa requirements aren’t designed with actual people in mind. Instead, they are a reflection of the geopolitics of the day and of voter sentiment. The number of countries your passport grants you access to is directly proportional to how many friends your government has, and Cameroon’s Paul Biya is famously reclusive.

That said, Cameroon is not the worst. In a 2014 ranking of countries by the strength of their passport, Finns, Swedes and Brits can travel the most freely, swanning into 173 countries of their choosing. Cameroon came in at 43, alongside China, Congo, Jordan and Rwanda. The least desirable passport was Afghanistan’s, giving its citizens access to a paltry 28 countries.

The system is broken, and the idea that where you are born is a lottery exempts us from our collective responsibility to change that system. But I’m an idealist with wanderlust. So I studied hard for the Life in the UK test, pledged my allegiance to the Queen, and swapped my forest green passport for a crimson red British one – all so that I could just finally roam free.


“Nobody is Ever – Just a Refugee”


A NEW NARRATIVE

“Nobody is ever just a refugee”: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful speech on the global migrant crisis

WRITTEN BY: Lily Kuo

Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sits in a salon for her hair-do in Victoria Island district in Lagos May 2, 2013.
The power of lipstick. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye)

The Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called on attendees of the United Nation’s World Humanitarian day last week to rethink the refugee crisis.

“Nobody is ever just a refugee,” said the novelist and non-fiction writer, delivering the keynote address at the event in New York. “Nobody is ever just a single thing. And yet, in the public discourse today, we often speak of people as a single a thing. Refugee. Immigrant.”

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than a quarter of the world’s refugee population, about 18 million people fleeing conflict in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, and elsewhere.

Adichie, the author of Americanah and several other books, has a personal connection to migration. Her parents were displaced during the Nigeria-Biafra war and lived as refugees for three years. She proposed a new way of thinking and talking about those in need:

In my language, Igbo, the word for ‘love’ is ‘ifunanya’ and its literal translation is, ‘to see.’ So I would like to suggest today that this is a time for a new narrative, a narrative in which we truly see those about whom we speak.

Let us tell a different story. Let us remember that the movement of human beings on earth is not new. Human history is a history of movement and mingling. Let us remember that we are not just bones and flesh. We are emotional beings. We all share a desire to be valued, a desire to matter. Let us remember that dignity is as important as food.


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