Dashiki Dialogues: Dump old tendencies in the New Year

2014-01-01 11:00

As I write this, one of the­ godfathers of the black arts movement, Amiri Baraka, is in hospital in New Jersey in the US.

He went in suffering from diabetes, then had a mild heart attack, followed by a case of pneumonia.

This is according to various reports that cite his wife, Amina, as their source. We wish him a speedy recovery.

We receive this news as we observe Zim Ngqawana’s birthday two years after his passing in 2011.

The sagacious saxophonist and composer would have been 54 last week.

Then another jazz master reed man, Yusef Lateef, made his transition to the eternal part of our family on December 23. Needless to say, these are momentous times.

So the festive turkey or chicken your family indulged in could well be for a greater occasion.

So take heed and meditate on more than your tummy as we enter the New Year.

I want to offer that the accounts of births and deaths I started with commit us to a particular duty.

The lives of these artists challenge us to take up certain struggles for meaning in our individual lives and the broader human experience.

It is with the bravery and rigour exemplified by these great creatives that I hope we reflect on the passing year as we invoke them to chart a fresh path into the new one.

There are a few shortcomings of the past four seasons that could have seen us enter 2014 as stronger and wiser people.

I believe that our arts scene had a chance to guide public debate on key issues last year in epoch­-changing ways.

Alas, those opportunities were missed and our remains are beset by old tendencies.

The first opportunity was accidentally offered at an ANC fundraising auction, where a generally ­unheard-of painter outsold the most revered living artist of the mainstream.

Sifiso Ngcobo’s kitsch portrait of Madiba sold for R3.7?million.

For a while, the sale upset the dominant art world power structure.

For a moment there, the ­highest-earning work of art was established away from the traditional centres of art power. It was a moment of liberation that we should have ran with.

The ANC fat cats had stumbled upon something useful.

However, it was not followed up. A few months later, talk of high-earning art was back in the mainstream when a Jane Alexander piece sold for a record R5.5?million.

There was the controversy at the Joburg Art Fair when an Ayanda Mabulu painting was taken down in case it upset market sensibilities.

We could have had a conversation about a Joburg Art Biennale or the discursive and polemic role of the art fair in a democracy where people die for demanding a better life for all. It is a dashiki we should look at wearing as we dialogue with opportunities in the New Year.

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