Cultural researcher impressed with Zimbabwean artists

researcher_palmbergMai Palmberg, a Finnish cultural researcher who has done work about Zimbabwe, said her first reaction about Zimbabwe artists was: How do they have the strength to continue in a situation where everything seems to fall apart, from the availability of bread to decent behaviour among fellow citizens?

And yet they continue; if it is not possible to paint in bright colours, the artist paints in grey and brown nuances; if the leading actor moves abroad, someone else is there to fill in. Not to mention people who persist and continue to create and spread culture: publishers like Weaver Press in Harare and Ama Books in Bulawayo, the Amakhosi theatre in Bulawayo, the Book Caf in Harare, Harare International Festival of Arts, musicians like Oliver Mtukudzi and many more, and the Delta art gallery.

Culture has a wondrous toughness. The authorities and the economic crisis disturb it, but do not have the power to destroy it. If Zimbabwes soul isnt completely eroded before its nightmare is over, it will be thanks to people in culture, she said in an interview published on the Nordic Institute of Southern Africa website.

The Institute is a centre for research, documentation and information on modern Africa in the Nordic region. Based in Uppsala, Sweden, the Institute is dedicated to providing timely, critical and alternative research and analysis of Africa in the Nordic countries and to strengthen the co-operation between African and Nordic researchers.

Palmberg said the cultural image of Africa was tainted by the public image of Africa, which still was condescending, paternalistic and very generalising.

But it is not everybodys image. Anders Ehnmark has used the image of a river; while the image of Africa flows with its negative expectations, there are also many tributaries that produce other images that are more representative of Africa. The tributaries are growing stronger thanks to improved knowledge as well as increased exchanges and contacts.

She said there had been exchanges and contacts since the missionary activities in the 19th century and today there were a great number of solidarity and aid organisations, in addition to a range of collaborations between artists and cultural workers in Sweden and Africa.

Palmberg and Carita Backstrm are the co-editors of KulTur i Afrika (Culture in Africa), a book in which they share their and other researchers recurring encounters with African authors, pictorial artists, musicians, filmmakers, dancers and actors.

She said that African artists no longer regarded themselves as teachers that had to explain and defend the states development policies and uniting efforts.

The diversity of artistic expression was striking, from contemporary dance to cinema, arts and literature.

Especially womens entry onto the literary stage has changed the agenda. Feelings and emotions found in peoples little lives and everyday struggles have been intertwined with the larger world of politics and conflicts. Chimamanda Adichies book Half a Yellow Sun about the civil war in Nigeria is a brilliant example of this.

Many African artists rejected western judgments of what authentic African culture was about. With pride and self-awareness they knew themselves when to borrow where they think it was appropriate. African cultural creativity could not be referred to as exotica. It belongs to the global discussion about culture, roots and identity.

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