Rhythmic Elements: An interrogation of contemporary African resilience
Curated by Tafadzwa Gwetai
The ‘Rhythmic Elements’ exhibition interrogates the modern visual tempo of contemporary Africa and what it means to be African. Through colonization and encounters with foreign ideologies, Africa was not only exploited but also exposed to new ideas. In essence, the colonial agenda was designed to destabilize the livelihood and most importantly the spiritual foundation of Africans. Consequently, to an extent, Africans have absorbed all forms of colonial and spiritual influence that are intrinsic to the African identity. This characteristic informs the premise of the ‘Rhythmic Elements’ exhibition. It aims to explore the gradual formation of African identities that have merged over time – resulting in ‘evolved’ and ‘devolved’ generations.
The quest for understanding oneself and asserting a stance is a general human quality. Our existence is always constantly being challenged, hence naturally resilience is a common trait. Similarly, notwithstanding colonial dominance, Africa sustained resilience. This African resilience within the continent and in the diaspora has resulted in a juxtaposition of cultures coexisting. There is a hidden beauty that exists with every struggle and these are the ‘Rhythmic Elements’ that have woven themselves through the strength of time and perseverance of layers of inherited truths. These woven bonds have foundations based on inherited inequalities, inherited poverty, inherited race wars, and inherited spirituality which sometimes leads to self-doubt. Thus the African psyche is pushed to question its purpose and existence and can therefore redefine and reinvent itself into a modern African identity – adopting foreign elements and maintaining African traditional customs.
Our scientific musical understanding of the term ‘Rhythmic’ is the patterning of musical sound, as by differences in the timing, duration, or stress of consecutive musical notes. Within the ‘Rhythmic Elements’ exhibition, these differences or attributes of the ‘Rhythmic’, applies to the modern African identity whose ever-evolving. These ever-changing identities occur in the backdrop of an ‘African heartbeat’ that vibrates to the life ‘Rhythmic Drum’, one that has created a living social tempo inhabited by a people with a brave renewed character, despite hardship. Although colonial systems altered African belief systems and ways of life, the beauty and strength in the contemporary African is a lived embodiment of resilience against this disrupter. Today we live in a world where history has been distorted to suit some, fake news is ‘justified’, truths are doubted, and religion has become a weapon of choice. These conditions give rise to a generation of new self-made identities as humanity attempts to make sense of it all. Within the African context, these structures also include the architectural landscape. African townships are colonial designs, strategically placed in locations where prosperity is not an option. Regardless, out of these very townships, a reinvented African was born and they overcame and continue to fight challenges with elegance and pride. That is African resilience in action.
Rhythm is an essential ingredient in human existence and with no underlying ‘rhythm’ to this existence then there is no authentic drive for life. Rhythm is the one integral element in all art forms where ‘rhythm’ can exist without ‘melody’, but ‘melody’ cannot exist without ‘rhythm’. Rhythm is created by a pattern of stressed and unstressed contexts. Rhythm also dictates the speed of change and movements, it is the beat and the pace.
One has to be in sync with this ‘rhythm’ that steers our context and circumstance. Asserting African Identities within this concept of rhythm and considering the colonial struggle that Africans have faced throughout history, these connotations can be applied to the visual senses affecting mind, body, and soul. The physical and supernatural forces are always present in the affirmation of one’s being. Therefore, as a direct result of our visual experiences and cultural encounters, Africa and Africans today are faced with the dilemma of either preserving what appears to be an unattainable past or sacrifice this past for a modern reinvented identity and resiliently uphold their sense of self with honor. Attitudes that can only be distinguished or described as their ‘rhythm’ and grace. African resilience is a distinctive trait that has been evolving and our 21st-century contemporary times reveal even more layers of where we come from and how our current stance on existentialism defines the new African. Africa has become an amalgam of all nations, cultures, and religions from across the globe and our belief system has evolved and now we question and challenge ‘hidden truths’ because we have freedoms that we never experienced on the continent before.