Written by Brooke Quach.
Photos by Brooke Quach.
When you walk into the entrance of the Blanton’s “Making Africa” exhibit, one of the first things you may encounter is Chimamanda Adichie’s most popular TED Talk: “The danger of a single story.” Adichie dissects how “the single story” can “flatten” another group’s experiences by constantly exposing the public to negative tropes and stereotypes. These representations of systemic problems and oppression are rarely coupled with the stories of everyday resilience, and this lack of exposure perpetuates an incomplete narrative. By erasing resilience from the narrative, we muffle, redefine, and distort the holistic experiences of marginalized populations. She defines the “single story” as an incomplete assumption; a product of the collective, public impression we have of a certain place or a particular group of people.
When we think of Africa, we do not ever think of the contemporary designs and arts that are being created. The representations of Africa that we are most often exposed to are the stories of genocide and exploited people; of poor starving children who cannot possibly make art; a lack of infrastructure and violent colonial legacies. These manifestations of memory are what define our collective thoughts and consciousnesses we have of Africa, and the Blanton Museum’s new exhibition intends to help dismantle these embedded notions by exposing audiences to the contemporary and revolutionary arts being produced throughout the continent.
“Making Africa” is an invitation to view the continent and its art through a new lens. The second thing you’ll probably encounter in this exhibit are Cyrus Kabiru’s “C-Stunners.” These pieces of art are forged from scrap metal and trash, and they also represent the resilience and future the continent holds. While the spectacles communicate the obvious and significant theme of “the new perspective,” the context and motivations behind the creation and materials of these glasses also tell a story of sustainability and innovation. Kabiru was unable to afford to buy glasses in his childhood, but because of this, he was forced to design the vibrant and unique frames found in“C-Stunners” from the scrap metal he found on the streets of Kenya. His recycled artwork essentially gives “trash a second chance,” and while Kenya may evoke the single story of poor infrastructure and pollution, Kabiru’s collection of “C-Stunners” are the product of resilience and innovation.
In the past year, the diversity in artwork by people of color at the Blanton Museum was extremely diluted by European art and the Ellsworth Kelly exhibit, but “Making Africa” is a step towards diversifying Blanton’s art scene.
It is a retelling of Africa through design and art, with an emphasis on the future and potential Africa holds in the international art scene.
The exhibit delves into the individual experiences that can repudiate the traditional notions that bind Africa to its single story. While a significant responsibility is put on the individual viewer to perceive these notions in a different light, this installation firmly demands all viewers to reflect and undo false, preconceived notions in an honest effort to move towards a brighter future.