I wrote this a few weeks ago at the Bankside of the Thames after my visit to London’s Tate Modern Museum. It was an overcast (regular?) day in the city and a bit cold, but I enjoyed the chill on my face. I made it a solo date – art is a very subjective experience anyway and while there may be overlaps in what is seen, felt, appreciated it’s never quite the same for any two people. I spent about two and a half hours browsing through the collections. Reminded me of New York’s NAMA, then again, it’s modern art.

Some of the pieces were breathtaking – I gravitate towards the minimalist and the surreal with mellow tones – others can be best described as ” bold and structured”. And then there was Picasso who I always recognize. Can you imagine having a mark of work or art so distinct even the occasional art gallery goer can tell it’s you? I look out for African influences wherever I go, so I particularly delighted to encounter this Picasso sculpture –  inspired by African artists. Naturally, I took a shot:

 

London Tate Modern Museum
Fernande” – A sculpture by Pablo Picasso
Evernote Camera Roll 20140920 164656
The Picasso piece

Then there are the pieces that jolt you or make you question. Like the piece below from a collection inspired by burnt plastic. Who knew a burn could be such a thing of beauty? Or that a tea stain could inspire art?

 

Evernote Camera Roll 20140920 165226 London Tate Modern Museum Evernote Camera Roll 20140920 165226

One artist or collection in particular seemed to be geared towards eliciting some discomfort or questions with her jarring red paintings which ran similar to blood. After reading the notice it was clear why – the collection was inspired by womanhood, reproduction and all that goes with it. This was my favorite of the bunch – the moment of “check in” onto the crazy ride called life – or quite simply, birth:

London Tate Modern Museum

After pursuing two of the three floors of free collections I stopped by the cafeteria for the beautiful view of the St Paul’s Cathedral just across the Millennium Bridge. But before I got a clean shot I had captured an intimate moment between an Asian couple. I approached them later and asked if they would like a copy of it and proceeded to email it to them.

Speaking of which, I had an interesting mini debate the other day. The question? Who owns a photo – the photographer or the subject? Apparently people can get sued in the UK for taking photos of others without permission. Although photo credit goes to the photographer the subject being photographed shares in the ownership. Note, I haven’t verified any of this, mere speculation. If you can confirm or denounce please let me know. Anyway, the couple didn’t seem to have a prob with my unwitting shot of them:

London Tate Modern Museum London Tate Modern Museum

In the coffee area is what is called the “Bloomberg Connect” – a number of large screen computers were gallery guests could release their creativity and the inspiration they got from their visit. What makes me happy and most alive? Being surrounded by creativity, beauty.  There were some pretty cool things up there, but Nataly from Moscow caught my eye; I took a shot of her working on her piece and the aftermath when it was put on the big screen. Some talent, huh?

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London Tate Modern Museum

After my rest  I found Rumi on the final floor. As always, he had something insightful to share:

Distance and nearness are attributes of bodies.
The journeyings of spirits are after another sort.
You journeyed from the embryo state to rationality without footsteps or stages or change of pace.
The journey of the soul involves not time and place.
And my body learnt from the soul its mode of journeying.
Now my body has renounced the bodily mode of journeying.
It journeys secretly and without form, though under a form.

Jallaludin Rumi (1207-73) Masnavi.

All that said, the trigger for this post was the Tate Modern museum shop. Browsing through the many books, I came across two books under the fashion section – Fashion Africa by Jacqueline Shaw and African Textiles by John Gillman. The pages contained visuals and text on African textiles and contemporary fashion labels including Ghana’s own Christie Brown a brand well-known online and in social media circles. What a great way to immortalize their work, I thought!

African Textiles at London Tate Modern Museum
A spread of West African textiles in John Gillow’s African Textiles

I recently had a  refreshing discussion with Ghanaian blogger and spoken word artiste Mutombo da Poet about our (lack of) information access, content and documentation in Ghana, and by extension Africa. London is a city of historical richness, so much so that their history is literally etched on their buildings and incorporated in the general landscape. Are we using our architecture, environment, resources in a similar way? To tell our stories about everyday living?

Our history is in the making. How are we documenting it?

Sure we have the internet and social media today and can find information relatively easier than in the past –  but the breadth and depth of the information out there leaves much to be desired. In many ways our information sphere is becoming a broken record and in areas like quality and verified information, it seems we’re actually regressing. The terrain remains unexplored, the possibilities untouched – but that means it’s also ridden with opportunity.

My visit to Tate left me with questions; some of which have been recurring over the past year. Would love to hear your thoughts; leave a comment below:

  • How are we Africans documenting our respective histories, if at all?
  • What roles do art, culture, and information play in advancing our societies?
  • Where is the merger between digital content and traditional content (books, newspapers, libraries)? How can we explore it?
  • How can we ensure that we are not only building content online but also creating books, libraries which the majority of our populations can access?
  • How can we be more creative in capturing our stories, identities, culture, art, history?

African art enthusiast? Visit AADAT by Ghanaian digital art curator Sharon Obuobi. She’s onto something and miles ahead of most of us when it comes to preserving and celebrating African art and culture. Until the next, happy musing!

Written by Jemila Abdulai

Author

Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.

3 Comments

  1. Great piece! I have been stealing pictures a lot recently, and it hits me every now and then – what will be the implications when i take a picture of a ‘hard-nut’ without asking permission? That nut can take me on and i agree. On my INSTAGRAM (@fotombo), I didn’t ask for permission before taking most of the pictures. I think both the subject and photographer should own the photo, but the photographer should have more rights to the picture though, esp, when it comes to street photography. I am one, i should talk in my favour.
    Talking about not just documenting but letting it reflect in our everyday lives, Ghana has started by painting the flag on walls. Thank you :)

    • Lol. I’m oft to agree about sharing rights to a photo – but given the informal nature of the creative industry in Ghana and many other African countries how feasible is it?

    • Anakwa Dwamena Reply

      @Mutombo I always wondered how you get such candid photos on your instagram I assumed more Ghanaians would be confrontational about it — especially when our surroundings don’t look so good

      I think the one space where we have been successful in recording our history is in music. FOKN Bois Broken Language alone is document in itself.

      Nkenten’s mmfa shoe mmba ha speaking of photography [http://kobigraham.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/nkentens-w%C9%94n-mmfa-shoe-mmba-ha/] blew me away as well.

      I doubt that any formal govt organization (that we have now) is capable of capturing our history. For one the average individual is freer, faster and has access to simple tools like the cell phone camera, tumblr, twitter, or instagram where it is not only easy to share immediately but find like minded people to create networks. Only initiatives that can learn from this will succeed. I live in D.C. and know much more quickly what is going on over instagram and tumblr than from any newspapers or the Ghana museum website.

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