Socialism has mistakenly become pivotal in the discourse around social cohesion surrounding African peoples. Furthermore, it has been deemed a characteristic intrinsic to African culture. However, this is untrue and moreover detrimental when it shows in the arena of politics. Socialism’s shadows can be seen with the introduction of dictators, cronyism, and nationalism into African borders. In turn, African economies and people have suffered the loss of true liberty as their economic freedom have been suppressed through socialist regimes. As international and African societies become privy to the scars of socialism, a turn is being made towards entrepreneurship and free trade to catalyse economic growth and better lives for people.
The potential for Africa to thrive economically does still lie within local groups at large. Albeit international exchange plays an enormous role in economic prosperity, African countries’ success will come from the people themselves basically through the autonomy for free enterprise and communities supporting local businesses. In South Africa, the Zulu saying: “ubuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” holds true – “a person is a person because of other people”. Prosperity is not possible without other people. My success is our success. The saying goes hand in hand with the notion that we live to learn, experience and pass on beauty to our children. It must be said that this beauty comes in many forms – whether as a family business, farm-land, an heirloom or art-work. Africa has the potential to succeed beyond our perceptual boundaries due to this social coherence. Perhaps this is why countries in Asia see booming markets and economic richness?
Following many years of civil war, South Korea was economically sterile. The government called to its’ people to donate whatever they could afford to the state to kick-start their economy. Many South Koreans donated their gold and other valuable pieces spirited by national pride in the desire of building their nation up again. Now, South Korea is known as a global technological power-house: hosting international heavy-weights such as Samsung. This kind of generosity and selflessness, I believe, is present in African people. Unfortunately, this sense of loyalty has been abused and has provided an opportunity for the infection of dictatorship in many parts of Africa.
I perceive the rejection of dictatorship and the creation of freedom and liberty could be fostered through gallery spaces; where freedom of speech and self-expression is pivotal to its existence. Art creates conversation, between people, through spaces and through time. Today we refer to art works which ‘speak’ to us, reminding one of what it means to be human, to love and perhaps even find further existential meaning. The value of art goes beyond these sociological means and delve further into an economy on the politics of knowledge. Galleries and museums alike hold the potential to educate and discuss architecture, politics, gender, social norms and political regimes. This reduces towards a dialogue surrounding freedom of speech – who can talk and when. Yet with the liberty for public expression, artists and curators alike participate in an economy of representation and identity politics within ‘neutral’ public spaces such as galleries, stimulating greater acceptance of others around us.
Through investing in these local conversations, via the creative pursuits of galleries, artists and curators alike, there is more power to influence immediate communities and jump into the global art economy. This creates potential for Africa to become a locus of culture and economic, cultural prosperity. This is seen with the currently-building ZEITZ-MOCAA in Cape Town, South Africa which opened earlier in 2017. Not only have private investors collaborated to build this power-house of a museum but they have also lent a hand to other artistic and curatorial endeavours through the economic support their establishment provides and represents. New African cultural models can be imagined through these scopes and realised with the help of both government and private investors.
Moreover, these growing institutions allow for African academics and cultural representatives to have higher claim in the international art community. As seen with large art fairs, the Venice Biennale and Dokumenta in Kassel, Germany; artists are being showcased, invested in and praised through the scope of the country they represent. There is incredible potential in this industry as it is already growing and may reach exponential heights, leveraging the collective efforts of African people. Socialism is thereby dismissed and replaced with a contemporary model of free enterprise where the arts represent not only freedom of speech but the gravity of African identity within a global market.
*Ally Martinez is a Local Coordinator at African Students For Liberty, from South Africa.
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