Credo Mutwa delivers a critique of prestigious exhibitions of African art
The Guggenheim and the Royal Academy of Art in London exhibited hundreds of beautiful examples of great works of art from the African continent in exhibitions entitled ‘Africa 95’ and ‘Africa, The Art of a Continent’ respectively. Note: The excerpts presented in this article are reproduced here for the purpose of critique.
Authour: Phillips, Tom
Publisher: Munich [etc.]: Prestel
Credo Mutwa reviews and elaborates significantly on the Royal Academy of Art exhibition catalogue. His critique clearly shows that the people who own and exhibit many of these great works of art from Africa do not know what they really are.
In old Africa, art had spiritual significance. Indigenous knowledge holders of Africa hold the most reliable knowledge of the true nature of Africa, of her life forms, places and people, of African history, worldviews, arts and healing, as well as the spirituality and cultural practices of this continent.
The Eurocentric versions of published works on Africa that have been purveyed as reliable knowledge are only useful to demonstrate the dangerous extent to which foreign agenda driven distortions can obstruct knowledge and education, and effectively disinform and imprint millions of minds.
Most of these African treasures are owned by foreign museums and private collections even today.
These are the comments Credo Mutwa made while paging through the catalogue of the Royal Academy of Art exhibition ‘Africa 95’.
‘Here is something I find very interesting…
This is the so-called Kenilworth head.
This head shows an African emperor, Zulu, the son of Malandela. This is the founder of the Zulu nation, King Zulu. He had sculptures of his face to watch over his territory, all over Natal and parts of the Transvaal.
If you were to superimpose the face of King Shaka, you would find it’s the same ancestry. A stone ring would have been placed on his head.
He established an empire in South Africa which extended all the way from Natal, right through to the Western Transvaal and parts of the Free State.
This head is one of about thirty, which are scattered, as yet undiscovered, in parts of my country. Because this king was cripple and could not be in all places at once, he made a strange law; that accurate heads representing him should be made by Hottentot people, who at that time were his subjects and that these heads should be placed in various parts of the king’s empire, usually on top of piles or cairns of heavy rocks.
When I was a boy, I saw a head exactly like this which had been dug up in the sand on the banks of the Tugela River. The head was exactly like the head I’m looking at here.
There is something I would like to point out here and it is this; this head shows pure Zulu features and not KhoiSan or Basuto features at all. The head is shaven, exactly as warrior Zulus of the Malandela clan used to do. The head has no ear plugs, because King Shaka and King Zulu never allowed anyone to pierce his ears.’Royal Academy of Art Catalogue Description
He opens the beautifully presented book where these artifacts are described as dance shields.
’This is not a dance shield. It is a circumcision shield.
Why is it listed as a dance shield, when every stupid mompara (ignoramus) in South Africa can tell you that this is a circumcision shield?
The young man puts his penis through the hole, the cut is made and the foreskin and first blood drops into the receptacle.’Royal Academy of Art Catalogue Description
‘This is not a beaded apron.
Here is a thing again which makes one rather sad. In front of me here I see a picture of a skin cloak, heavily decorated with beads. These beads are arranged into discs, some done in blue and white, some done in yellow and blue, some done in white and pink beads.
Let me tell you that this is an astrologer’s cloak. It belongs to an Ndebele woman of long ago, whose profession was studying the stars and using them as a means of divination. What is most remarkable is that this cloak represents a number of stars which Africans regard with deep reverence.
The cloak represents the Orion constellation. The blue discs symbolize the outer stars of the constellation, while the three discs symbolize Orion’s belt and there are the two other stars, outside the constellation.
This depicts stars, constellations and star systems. The Milky Way is up there. If you were to hold this against the night sky, you would identify every star. These are the Pleiades, as they come out to the east.
My maternal grandmother had a similar cloak exactly like this and she used to call it Nganyezi or star cloak. Whenever it was time for ploughing, whenever the Pleiades constellation rose in the east, then my grandmother would come out wearing a skin skirt and her star cloak on her shoulders and she would blow a horn early in the morning telling the chief in his village far away that she had seen the stars of spring and that the time for ploughing had arrived.
This depicts stars, constellations, star systems. We had professional astrologers and we had pure astronomers. They had things by which they instructed their apprentices. This shows where particular stars are to be found.
I remember my grandmother’s cloak hanging in her hut and how she would put it on to blow the horn to announce that the Pleiades, the nine sisters, had appeared in the eastern skies. Whereas this is made with trade beads, my grandmother’s was made of beads, seeds and metal beads of various kinds.’Royal Academy of Art Catalogue Description
STAR CLOAK 2
‘Again here in the next page we see a similar cloak showing the Pleiades rising from the east. It is an astronomers cloak and like the cloak on the preceding page, this cloak was worn by a woman.
The zigzag pattern denotes that this is the property of a royal woman and must not be touched by the uninitiated.’Royal Academy of Art Catalogue Description
‘This skirt portrays the solar system and reveals the planets our people know. It belonged to a sacred priestess.’
Royal Academy of Art Catalogue Description
OGBONI KING AND QUEEN
‘They are not an ordinary king and queen. They are God The Father and God The Mother.
In many cultures in Africa, God the Mother is depicted as having a beard. The male is the captive of the female and the female is the captive of the male.
Here is the moon symbol of the female. There must have been a sun down there, symbolizing that the female is in the male and the male in the female.’Royal Academy of Art Catalogue Description
‘This Is not a scepter, it is a sacrificial or circumcision knife blade.
These are thunderbolts. The European Jupiter holds thunderbolts. The African God also holds thunderbolts. God the Father is the keeper of thunderbolts. God the Father is also female, there are opposing moons.
That is the blade of a sacrificial or circumcision knife. It was a ritual weapon.’Royal Academy of Art Catalogue Description