Africa has a long history of visual arts, from sculptures to paintings and everything in between, which is deeply rooted in the continent’s rich culture. Unfortunately, the history of African visual art, especially sub-Saharan art, remains little known today, in large part due to colonialism, looting and a lack of proper infrastructure and local bodies tasked with preserving important historical pieces.
Considering that 90% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s material cultural legacy is stored or displayed outside of the continent, according to a 2018 French-Government commissioned report, questions about how best to preserve Africa’s heritage for the benefit of all Africans remain. The time has come for Africa to take full ownership of its cultural heritage, including various artworks located around the world, and take control of how, when and where they want to share these important pieces of the continent’s history with the rest of the world.
Given its rich culture, as well as its diversity, Africa has the potential to become a major cultural exporter. To achieve this, Africans must first be empowered by reasserting the value of their art, and especially visual art – here returning looted African art to their rightful owners has an important symbolic role to play. In this context, the idea of ownership is particularly important as one must own something before deciding to share it with others. However, Africa will need to address the challenges that come with preserving the continent’s material cultural legacy by investing in proper conservation infrastructure. Furthermore, exporting African culture through art can play an role in reshaping the continent’s narrative internationally. Cultural exports, and the influence popularity brings, has been successfully used by countries around the world as a model for soft power. For too long African leaders have neglected the role of art and culture as instruments of international soft power. Now is the time to review this position and begin to use art for the benefit of the continent’s growth and development.
“The time has come for Africa to take full ownership of its cultural heritage, including various artworks located around the world, and take control of how, when and where they want to share these important pieces of the continent’s history with the rest of the world.”
– Dr Yaya Moussa
Beyond the various artworks now sitting in museums around the world, the continent, today, possesses even more artworks worthy of being showcased on the global stage, and we must seize the opportunity to do so. The level of creativity across the African continent is unmatched, however, most aspiring visual artists lack opportunities to master their craft, let alone to make a living out of their art. African art and artists are seen as more desirable outside of the continent than in Africa itself, when it should be the other way around. Therefore, before even considering the case for African art exportation, we must ensure that we are identifying as well as nurturing African talent. We must celebrate both our art and talent here on the continent to ensure they feel valued. Preparing the ground to ensure that only quality art and artists emanate from the continent is key for successful cultural exportation, and ultimately more accurate global perceptions of Africa.
In tandem with cultivating African artists, investing in suitable structures, both physical and digital, to showcase the breadth of African art is indispensable to position Africa as a major cultural exporter. Exporting culture has never been easier than it is today with the internet revolutionising the way we access culture and intensifying cultural influence. Africa must take full advantage of the opportunity the internet represents to valorise and share our cultures through visual art, regardless of the medium.
When I launched Africa Prime, a video-on-demand (SVOD) streaming platform curating pan-African content, my vision was, and remains, to showcase African talent on a global stage. There is a certain power that comes with people sharing authentic stories about themselves, their culture and the place they call home. Later, I created the Africa Prime Initiative, the philanthropic arm of Africa Prime dedicated to identifying and nurturing African visual artists and creatives, to cement my commitment when it comes to sharing the best that Africa has to offer around the world.
Although there is still work to be done to turn Africa into a major cultural exporter, the potential is there and it is left to us to harness it.