A Time is Away Herbal
Emma Dabiri, Don’t Touch My Hair (2020)
‘In opposition to custom, Mbembe insists that the idea of ‘tradition’ never really existed and reminds us there is a pre-colonial African modernity that has not been taken into account in contemporary creativity. Boom!
African cultures tend to be syncretic. While all cultures bleed, borrow and adapt, generally it is those of the European tradition – the British are a key example — who are overly concerned with strict categorization and the illusion of maintaining a sense of cultural purity. Indeed, we see this attitude across the entire globe now, the result of nationalisms and rigid binary identities that did not exist in the pre-colonial African context.
In contrast to the myth of a fixed, unchanging traditional Africa, most African cultures were far more fluid and dynamic than their European counterparts. Let’s take something mistakenly understood as a fixed and foundational concept – ethnic identity. Before the 1884 Scramble for Africa and the following European annexation of the continent, ethnic identity would have been constructed in a very different way from what we imagine today. In The Invention of Tradition Terence Ranger states that, `far from there being a single “tribal” identity, most Africans moved in and out of multiple identities, defining themselves at one moment as subject to this chief, at another moment as a member of that cult at another moment as part of this clan, and at yet another moment as an initiate in that professional guild:’
As a result of this, belonging is understood less as ‘a matter of restrictive labelling, and more of choosing between various semantic classifications dependent on the particular contexts and identities involved’.’
No. 7: Syncopation #2
Syncopation: this is not to be confused with the term’s musical association in ideas of harmonious fusion or amalgamation but an important space that leads to ways of looking and hearing that dismantle a linear trajectory, instead revealing contradiction, fluctuation and uncertainty. This is a space where things get mirky and parameter lines are made faint. Where things can be turned down or muted but cannot be turned off. A messy space where things merge, grow, collide, complicate and evolve new relationships, uses and meanings. Exposing a thinking and understanding of movement, transformation and uncertainty as intrinsic part of life and culture.
–Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom