Let’s Talk Art and Culture!

“When we talk about the value of arts and culture, we should always start with the intrinsic – how arts and culture illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world. This is what we cherish.”- Arts Council England

The World Youth Alliance Africa Arts Forum (AAF) has been an event I have attended religiously for the past two years like clockwork. To me, it is a fusion of all I believe in as a creative since my understanding of Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, mostly in a visual form such as a painting or a sculpture, producing works primarily for the aesthetic value or emotional power. However, there are other ways creatives express their skills (through poetry, spoken word, rapping, singing and even dancing for instance). As an African I strongly believe in cooking as a form of Art. I am more convinced of this especially when I watch my mother in the kitchen, as she not only cooks but also expresses herself through spices and herbs.

Art and Culture in Africa

I read an article titled African Art and Culture Cannot Be Separated on All-About-African-Art.com which stated that:

“The first African art were terracotta figures that didn’t bother with normal human representation. That’s because African art doesn’t focus on recreating the world in another form, but rather concentrates on explaining the world to reduce the fear of the unknown… Art and Culture are blended together to create an explanation of the universe which would not be possible otherwise.”

Art was not necessarily used for aesthetic value in Africa. Art and culture during traditional African communities was a functional and necessary part of everyday life and it would be impossible to understand African culture without an understanding of their art.

I read an excerpt in the Certified Training Program Manual during my internship at the World Youth Alliance by one Christopher Dawson on the Dynamics of World history which I now understand better. In this excerpt he said and I quote: “…In reality a great art is always the expression of a great culture, whether it be manifested through the work of an in­dividual genius or embodied in a great impersonal tradition. For society rests not only on the community of place, the community of work, and the community of race, it is also and before all a community of thought…”

The 2018 Africa Arts Forum:

The World Youth Alliance believes strongly in culture and through the Africa Arts Forum, they give an expression of the inherent dignity of each individual person; as art provides a window into the complexity, integrity, and beauty of human nature and the natural world. They believe that art is an act of love that provides a voice for what would otherwise remain hidden. Art can play a crucial role in understanding human life regardless of the difference in religion, race or culture. Hence Art can be used to express the dignity of the human person

During the Africa Arts Forum this year, my experience was different; I was able to unlearn what I have always believed to be true, I was able to detach myself from my inherited ways of thought and education and the unconscious influence of my beliefs and I immersed myself in the different artistic representations displayed trying to understand the artist’s perception, what they are trying to express through their art work, their poetry and even their food. I was able to see again as my ability to see had declined. In quoting Josef Pieper “…Before you can express anything in tangible form, you first need eyes to see…” I was able to learn how to see again by trying to put myself in the artist shoes.

I strongly concur with what WYA stands for and as a creative, I acknowledge the fact that Art can influence a society by: changing its opinions, instilling values and translating experiences across space and time. Arts gets us to the place where we get to understand a society and a people by opening our eyes to the intrinsic.

 “…It is here that Art comes to our help, for Art, in the widest sense of the word, is the great bridge which crosses the gulf of mutual incomprehension that separates cultures. To understand the art of a society is to understand the vital activity of that society in its most intimate and creative moments…”- Christopher Dawson


Written by Leila Kamweru, a WYA Africa intern alumna from Kenya.