Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Beyond the Postcolonial: Video Art from Africa

Beyond the Postcolonial: Video Art from Africa.
By Marie Rodet
Lecturer in African History, Convenor MA Film and History, SOAS London

This set of video art from Africa offers to the spectator a crucial entry key into a new historical atmosphere, in which the cultural legacies of postcolonialism no longer seem to matter much. Indeed, while many African contemporary artists have been much concerned, in the past three decades, by responding to European modernity and cultural neocolonialism, this new generation of African video artists proposes a different stand deeply anchored in their intimate – sometimes violent – daily experiences of globalization and displacement. They are very much preoccupied with being within their time, sharing their own everyday life and their responses to constantly moving environments, more than responding to a (post)colonial past which appears henceforth far from their immediate concerns.


If the globalization process sometimes left us with the impression of dissolution of geographical territories or the disappearing of old landscapes of power, these video artists remind us that it was far from being a uniform process, that globalization has often affected the global South differently. In the same way as their predecessors experienced a hangover of the African independences, this new generation of African artists seems to have experienced a hangover of the false promises of a globalised cosmopolitan world in which boundaries of race, ethnicity, class or religion were no longer important. Despite the tremendous hopes sparked by the 1990s’ democratization process on the continent, many Africans continue to be confronted with economic and political distress on a daily basis.


The life of African artists is not the one of the Afropolitan that the Western world would like to believe. Their mobility is still constrained by the rules of the market and the increasing fears built in our Western fortresses. The videos convey these often-traumatic experiences of migration and exile, and dislocated identities in the face of the delusion of globalization. They are therefore powerful political denunciations of the fault lines of our systems and definitely offer alternative and more complex views of the world.


These videos certainly belong to the globalised world of incessant flows of materials, information, and images. But their intrinsic ubiquity, their simultaneous negotiation of multiple cultural systems and temporalities defy the structures of the contemporary art market which long ignored African art production and then started catching up in a clear attempt to control its internationalisation. Indeed, video art is a very astute arm of resistance against these market structures. It offers its own modes of production and reception. It can be easily transferred, downloaded. Not surprisingly, at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London last year, there was a complete absence of video art. Video art from Africa do not need to be put on the market to be accessed and valued. They simply need a virtual platform to be visible, as the one in motion masterfully deployed by Kisito Assangni. As such, this exhibition materializes the internationalisation and democratization of arts and information networks of the past decade, but also denounces their fault lines. No one should wonder that the new generation of African artists increasingly favour the video medium to fight against ignorance and intellectual perfidy in the interconnected world that we all live in.