For too long, we have considered Africa as a type of art but not an objective of art. Until recently, exhibitions of African artwork were rarely concentrated in museums of colonial origin or so-called tribal art museums. No African artist had been displayed at the Louvre until an artwork by Chéri Samba was presented there three years ago during an exhibition.
The times, they are changing: we are now talking about, and rightly so, returning some of the African masterpieces to museums located in sub-Saharan African countries. These are artworks that were looted during the time of colonization. But what types of museums are we talking about? Are they well maintained? Well kept? Are these buildings worthy of the artworks that they ought to host? Without risk of theft or degradation?
More generally, we can pose similar questions on the presence of all forms of art in these countries: Why are there so few cinemas? So few concert halls? So few bookstores? So few art galleries? In particular, foundations for contemporary art are very rare. One of those too rare examples is the admirable Zinsou foundation in Benin.
Why is this continent of more than a billion inhabitants, thus deprived, especially in its sub-Saharan part, of access to the culture available to all of the rest of the world?
Is it because her level of development is lower than that of the rest of the world? Probably not: there are almost no cinemas or bookstores in major cities of the Continent, such as Dakar, Abidjan, Lagos, or many others, whose standards of living are much higher than that of the rural hamlets. In contrast, there are museums, cinemas, concert halls and art galleries in parts of Asia or Latin America— though a majority of these countries are still sorely lacking in cultural facilities—that are just as poor as their counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa.
Is it because the sub-Saharan climate is not conducive for such facilities? But then, how does one explain the majestic presence of architecture in Cambodia or painting in Mexico?
Is it because of the heavy presence of the Islamic religion and its iconoclasm? There are, however, museums, movie theatres and concert halls in the Maghreb, the Gulf countries, Pakistan and Indonesia. And the areas dominated by Christianity in Africa are not faring any better than the others.
Is it because art, as we define it, is too much of a western concept to find its proper place in the African universe? This may undoubtedly be the case for literature because Africa was deprived of writing for a long time, and did not find it useful to name the authors of its masterpieces. But for the other fields: Western art, from dance to painting, from music to dance, would be nothing without African art.
Unless Africa is busier living than commemorating, creating than preserving or perhaps taking care of its affairs. Or perhaps she is more concerned with the outflow more than the stock, with the present more than the past or the future.
This is undoubtedly the core function of art: to leave a mark. But then again, one has to want it.