'Hello, this is Africa': Traditional and indigenous artforms in South Africa
by Doreen Nteta
Article reprinted courtesy of Artslink.co.za
There are some words, in arts circles, which cause raised eyebrows. If you
mention "traditional" or "indigenous", people roll their eyes heavenwards.
They will say, "we are talking about the arts here". To use the young
people's language, "hello, this is Africa". So, when the Arts Council wants
to promote traditional and indigenous artforms, the practitioners of the
Eurocentric arts get very fidgety. They think, now there'll be less or no
money to promote these artforms. The art critics imagine they will be out
of work, as these artforms are perceived to require a different form of
criticism from that applied to Eurocentric ones.
The indigenous people of South Africa comprise approximately 80% of the
total population. A recent study commissioned by BASA and the NAC reveals
that among black South Africans traditional dance and festivals were the two
events rated highest. Opera and ballet were the least favoured activities.
Considering the fact that we are dealing with the art of the majority here,
is it not fitting that their art should occupy a premier position in
promotional activities? I think it is the right thing to do.
Included in traditional and indigenous artforms is language, craft, music,
dance and the culinary arts. To promote these artforms is to affirm the
people's identity and to ensure that their history is preserved. Because
traditions are often vested in older people, it is important to research and
document them for posterity. They should be taught in schools and displayed
and demonstrated in museums.
The revival of indigenous arts such as crafts can and does bring great
economic benefits through trade and tourism. Their uniqueness makes them
marketable especially to tourists who want a unique experience. South Africa
does very little to promote indigenous artforms. It does seem, however, that
there is no better time than the present. A library and archive of
traditional and indigenous artforms is overdue. There are private
initiatives, but this does emphasise a need for a national facility and
programmes. Also needed is a contemporary galley of traditional crafts.
Experts and scholars must be engaged to run workshops, demonstrations, and
classes in order to ensure that traditions do not die. The Arts Council must
support initiatives aimed at teaching traditional arts to young people.
Doreen Nteta is the CEO of the National Arts Council (NAC). The views expressed in this column are her own, and are not necessarily those of the NAC or of Artslink.co.za