Africa has a rich history of art and crafts. Even up to now, some of the tools and trades remain vastly authentic and rooted in traditional methods. You can find vast evidence of Africa’s mission to preserve authenticity whenever you look at instruments like mbira. I hope you’re ready to explore some strange developments in modern African sculptures.
Enter North Korea
Before I get to North Korea, how would you like to take a bit of a detour? Ready? Good… Some years ago when I was talking to an art teacher. He threw in a line, that hit me unexpectedly! “Most western cultures got confused when they came to Africa because our art here has a purpose…” obviously I am now paraphrasing here, to the best of my memory. But just bear with me… Josh added, “Africans made handcrafted and gorgeously detailed pots and calabashes. You need to be a true artist to do what our ancestors did. The pots were not only functional (as a pot should be) but also these were works of art unto themselves. All this was happening at a time that other parts of the world had very blend and “industrial looking” pots. Chunks of metal with no art or flair to them.”
Sorry, Josh for not articulating your well-phrased thoughts, but in my defense: that was more than 10 years ago. Essentially when colonizers came to Africa (spelt as Afrika in most Afrikan languages) they found art that was almost always functional. Instead of their 500 million dollar paintings that secretly get used to launder money. Sorry… I digress.
The bottom line is, most of the biggest and most vibrant pursuits that African artists had… were to craft functionality into their creations. The pre-historic rock paintings found in the “cradle of man” documented historic events, hunting strategies, types of wildlife (in any given area where the rock painting would be), and so on. Which means, once again.. it wasn’t just art. But functional and (in the rock paintings case) archival art. Its not to say there were no toys, stories or music… All that was there. And as bonus, it all had hidden or obvious functions apart from the beauty. The hand-crafted, creatively designed war shields below, could both hold your weapons and also save your life! How’s that for functional creativity?
Where does North Korea come into all this? Sculptures! The normally secretive nation has been involved in the construction of numerous, modern African sculptures. At what cost? It’s never easy to tell what African nations have to give in exchange for these multi-million dollar (debatably unfunctional) works of art. In Senegal, they have the tallest statue in Africa. It is pictured below and (it was NOT a gift) the nation was reportedly billed $27 million. After being unable to pay up the mula, its constructors got compensated in title deeds to “state-owned land”. Leaving a lot of Senegalese citizens very unhappy about the whole thing. Its a REALLY nice statue but the dynamics behind its conception leave a vinegary-taste in one’s tender mouth.
The tallest statue in Africa
And now behold: Monument de la Renaissance Africaine – which is the tallest statue in Africa. Taller than any of the Egyptian statues we know of (now that’s massive). It towers 52 m (160ft) above the Ouakam suburb, in Dakar, Senegal. Who built it? A North Korean company called Mansudae Overseas Projects. On the upside, the statue was designed by a Senegalese architect: Pierre Goudiaby. African presidents and leaders are notoriously known for going overseas for health treatments (whilst neglecting their own national health systems) and overlooking any local talents whenever work needs to be tendered. In this case, its good that Senegal got its own architect involved in one of the most popular, modern African sculptures.
When it comes to North Korea’s involvement in building massive African statues (at the behest of extravagant African leaders) the trail doesn’t end with Senegal. Namibia has also joined the bandwagon, and rumors of a Mbuya Nehanda statue in Zimbabwe seem to (possibly) point towards yet another North Korean conquest. After hearing about the pending statue project in Zimbabwe I thought to myself. Is Mbuya Nehanda’s statue going to be anything like West Africa’s Queen Moremi Ajasoro’s one pictured below?
It would appear as if African leaders do not desire to have these multi-million dollar monuments built by African companies. Even capable construction companies from sister nations like South Africa. I found this lovely article about statues talking about that very thing. I shall now leave you with a video of one of the African American sculptors I recently discovered! She hasn’t yet done projects as big as Monument de la Renaissance Africaine but I love her creations! She knows how to make a proper modern African statue. One that doesn’t come with that vinegary-taste in your mouth… previously mentioned above. I hope Africa wakes up… and starts making its own unique version of statues (if statues must be made).