Steering Africa’s Creative Output

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By Neo Mashigo

As we take stock of yet another year creeping by, May signifies a great deal more than just payday for the salaried among us. Africa Month gives us a yardstick to measure our progress as a continent, and commit to rolling up our sleeves to be the difference we’d like to see on the continent.

In my position as chairperson of the international brand showcase that is the Loeries, I look to promote the very best of African creativity. The Loeries is an African show about creativity trying to change the world. The organisation has become overtly African, recognising that even just a few years ago, it wasn’t. It has identified the immense need for Africa to express itself creatively to the world, and is rewarding those who tell their stories authentically and creatively.

The Loeries as an organisation measures itself against the percentage change in terms of its entries and winners. We’re hard on ourselves. We know it takes sweat and determination to shift things, but we’re noticing a distinct improvement. We’re also encouraging other African countries to have their own shows and awards, because for change to be real or lasting, it has to happen everywhere.

But how do we encourage creativity among our people? As a leader in the industry, it’s a difficult question to answer, and the solution isn’t quick or easy. But it is within our grasp.

From the early days of our education, we’re fed literature from a Eurocentric point of view. Dick and Jane play with Spot. Snow White (could there be a less politically correct name in all literature?) frolics with the seven, erm, small people. Rapunzel lets down her flowing blonde mane. The implication, from so early on, is that stories come from people other than us; we can share in them, but we aren’t qualified to be the subjects.

When I was in school, I read the stories of Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and I was inspired. I was enthralled to participate in narratives that resonated with my own cultural references. I gobbled them up. They inculcated in me a love for reading, for the creative process, for stories. They showed me that I could be the protagonist in my own story, that I could craft it and share it.

To be creative, a person needs an environment that allows it, that gives them the time and space they need to reflect, and represent themselves and their culture authentically and surprisingly through their craft. The media and advertising space has recognised that we need to open doors for younger people through bursaries, specifically creatively, throughout the country so children can be inspired, and in turn inspire future generations.

A lot more still needs to change in the industry, but I’m confident that we’re on the right track, and that in time, we’ll recognise what needs to be thrown out and what needs to be nurtured and developed.

What we also need is a recognition among ourselves that our destiny is in our own hands, and that to foster creativity and new and unfamiliar modes of expression, we need to be prepared to roll up our sleeves and get involved.

We need to mentor, guide, show, impart our learnings on those eager to share them. We need to reinvigorate the way we teach, decolonise the syllabus, and inject it with imagination.

As Africans begin to take up the mantle and craft stories ourselves, about ourselves and from our perspectives, we are beginning to debunk those preconceived ideas and stereotypes that are foisted upon us. We are beginning to tell a different story, one of an emboldened, creative and prosperous people who hold their destiny in their own hands.

The annual Loeries Creative Week takes place in Durban from 15 to 21 August, with the awards ceremonies on 20 and 21 August.

As African creatives, we have a duty to steer the ship closer to home shores. Africa’s rise has already begun, and the stories we tell will shape not only the perspectives of generations to come, but provide Africa’s people with new stories they can relate to. Let Africa Month be a measure to show us both the strides we’ve made and the work ahead of us.

– Mashigo is Chairperson of the Loeries and executive creative director of I See a Different You