Our vision of the world is blurred. It is not as black and white as mass media or politicians want us to believe. Societies are not slick accumulations of perfect Instagram feeds. The world has become so complex and we have to process so much information on a daily basis, that it can be hard to understand the complexity of it all, let alone read between the lines or know who is speaking, or even more importantly: whose voices are not heard?
In our digital age, theoretically there is space for a multitude of opinions, perspectives and thoughts, but the truth is that the dominant socio-political paradigm still heavily relies on a Modernist, colonial worldview. Not so long ago, European scientists and philosophers ventured abroad in search of what they called “the new world”, worlds which they later claimed to have “discovered”, and over which they claimed ownership, as if these were new, untouched, uninhabited. They started to classify the peoples who had been living on that land for centuries based on their “advancement” and their physical features. They considered themselves superior because, in their perspective, only their worldview was relevant and of value. There was no acknowledgement of the fact that different people have different paradigms.
It may sound awkward to many, but I fear that a big part of the population in the West is still led by this colonial worldview. Why? Because the period is still recent and not much has effectively been done to dismiss this racial classification of people. African cultures and beliefs have been dismissed as “primitive” or “oriental”. And even though they were present for thousands of years before the European colonial project destroyed them for their own benefit and gain, they have been overlooked ever since. To this day, the idea of “otherness” pervades as a lucrative business. Hence the dismal way migrants and refugees are being treated. As a dark skinned man, who was born in Africa and grew up in Europe, I have often experienced strange behaviors from people who consider themselves “white”. As a rightful response to how they are overlooked, movements celebrating “blackness” are increasing in multitude. Think of Afropunk, Curlfest or Melanin Fest.
As an artist, I ask myself what do we have to celebrate as dark skinned people (especially people from African decent)? Is it the color of our skin and the curls in our hair? There are artists who take major Renaissance masterpieces and replace the figures with black figures, in response to the lack of black representation in museums and art history books. Although this is important work, I think we have to go beyond, find common ground and celebrate cultures in general, and in plural. With common ground, I don’t mean sameness, I mean being-in-common, where there is space for difference, as well as respect and interest. It’s time to show the richness and inspirations of not only African cultures, but all the world’s cultures. Because in an era where it seems acceptable for a few individuals to claim all the riches, to subject everything and everyone to their taste and to their way of life, for their own profit; arts and culture are the only things that keep people alive. We are all one people.