Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Space in between.
Who am I ?
‘We can no longer imagine “ourselves” in such a binary opposition; the other is among “us” (self) and even more, “we” are the other’ (Ulrich, 2007)
Life has placed me in an in between space, my desire to identify with a place I call home is plagued with my understanding of me. Who am I Then!? I was born into a world dominated by the centrist influence of the west, I am a child of the colonized, cultured in the values of the colonizers to understand the urgency in decolonizing my mind. I am a post-colonial hybrid.
I propose a topic that relates to my experience and upbringing in Nigeria and UK, and how I developed my artistic practice in between these binary divides of culture and identity, west/others, white/black, to create a form of artistic hybrid to fill that divide. This paper will briefly refer to the contemporary issues around colonialism, post colonialism, culture, identity and hybridity. I will be looking at it from the works of Olu Oguibe’ s ‘In the Heart of Darkness’, Ngugi Wa Thiong’ O, ’Decolonizing the mind’ Frieze Magazine, Decolonizing Culture: where do we go from here. A brief review of the work of Homi Bhabha ‘The Location of Culture’. Quotes from Yinka Shonibare, Edward Said’s Orientalism, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. The title of the dissertation will be;
Space inbetween. The key word will be “Hybridity”
This easy will examine culture distortion, identity and hybridity within the context of post colonialism. I will examine how artist and writers of African origin, explore cultural identity, hybridity and post colonialism with reference to the contemporary circumstances surrounding globalisation. I will review an easy by Olu Oguibe, ‘In the Heart of Darkness’ it was published originally to introduce a special issue of Third Text, edited by Olu Oguibe, concerning areas of African Art. He disagreed with the continual denial of modernity to Africa or Other cultures by the West and argued against ’the underlying necessity to consign the rest of humanity to antiquity and atrophy, to cast the West in the light of progress and civilisation’ (Wood, 2018). He believes that, it is inconsequential to always counter discuss on the discourse of the centrist, because that gives credence or recognition to their argument. He argued that instead of moving the discourse forward as suggested by Ngugi, we should be dismissive of the idea of a centre by superseding it in a discursive term. He believes that discussing African modernity/ modernism based on existing idea of a centre, is unjustifiable because it disregards the ‘disparities’ within Africa cultures.
Decolonizing the mind’ Ngugi Wa Thiong’o was a colonial era writer who viciously campaigned together with other African writers on the need to preserve the African culture and Language. He decided to write in Gikuyu, his native vernacular in 1977, after he published ‘Patel of Blood’, all his later creative writing has been written exactly in Gikuyu language. He suggested the necessity of abandoning the western language and its universal appeal. Ngugi feared that the African writer who is already deracinated and decultured will be forced to write in an imperialist language, thereby risking being absorbed into the imperialist culture, bearing in mind the word of Franz Fanon, that “language is a technology of power.” (Bhabha, 2004). In 1962 African writers conference held in Makerere Kenya. Obi Wali in his presentation said that African literature has come to a dead end unless African writers start writing in African language. Ngugi Wa Thiong O welcomed this suggestion, but Chinua Achebe insist on writing in both English and Igbo his native language. He argues that even though we inherited the English language through colonialism we should not ignore the positive aspect of it. In replay to Obi Wali he said;
“We may go on resenting it because it came as part of a package deal which included
many other items of doubtful value and the positive atrocity of racial arrogance and prejudice, which may yet set the world on fire. But let us not in rejecting the evil throw out the good with it.”
He anchored his argument on the fact that English allowed for communicating across the different African languages and will also reach broader audiences in the West; he went on to say that English is the language of power; that it could be Africanized so that it carried the African experience’ (Ngugi, 2018). Achebe and Okara had the idea of developing a hybrid language.
Homi Bhabha argues that Hybridity is the result of various types of colonisation, which lead to what he called cultural collisions and interchanges. He believes that hybridity has displaced every attempt to fix and control indigenous culture and the deception of cultural isolation and plurality. Bhabha is opposed to binary divide theory of Edward Said, he chooses to approach the issue of post colonialism in a deconstructive way, he acknowledged that post-colonial culture is hybrid which is recognisable by the coloniser and the colonised. He went further to say in a discussion, how a postmodern art work of artists create metaphor for the ‘interstitial space in society’(in between space), citing the work of some artist who successfully displaced the binary opposition, he referred to the work of Renee Green, ‘Sites of Genealogy’. Renee Green used the museum building as metaphor, while the stairwell is the “in between” space that connects the lower and the upper floors. The stairwell now becomes the liminal space between the designation of Identities. Bhabha used quotes by Green in an interview with Miwon Kwon, she said;
‘I used architecture literally as a reference, using the attic, the boiler room, and the stairwell to make associations between certain binary divisions such as higher and lower and heaven and hell. The stairwell became a liminal space, a pathway between the upper and lower areas, each of which was annotated with plaques referring to blackness and whiteness.’ (Bhabha, 2004).
Symbolically, the stairwell initiates the process of interaction between the lower and the upper level. This open-ended passage prevents fixed identities and cultural purity;
‘This is the place where the crossing over of time and cultural differences occurs and where new signs of identity are formed’ (Bhabha, 2004).
This cultural collision leads to hybridity.
Frieze Magazine, ‘Decolonizing Culture: where do we go from here”. Okwui Enwezor did not only present the other side of contemporary art story, he together with others successfully focused the contemporary arts beyond the myopic influence of the West. as the artistic director of Hause der Kunst, Munich. In 2016, they staged ‘Postwar: art between the Pacific and the Atlantic’ (frieze, 2018), co curated with Katy Siegel and Ulrich Wilmes. The works of about 218 artists from across the world was in exhibition, giving insight on the development of contemporary art since the end of the world war. His idea of internationalism was highly criticised in Germany: he is questioning if his programme is not compatible with the present political climate.
The heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad touched on areas that has raised questions on colonisation and imperialist adventure in Africa. The story starts from river Thame, the writer described as
‘tranquil, resting, peacefully at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its bank.’ (Conrad, n.d.).
Although the actual story took place in river Congo which in Conrad’s description is the exert opposite of Thame. He compared going up the river Congo to travelling back to the earlier beginning of the world. Although what worries Charles Marlow the most is not the difference between the two rivers, but the linkage of common ancestry, as Thames too was once the heart of darkness, but it conquered it. By visiting the Congo river, he fears the risk of re-enacting echoes of the past and running to past forgotten darkness. Chinua Achebe was critical of Joseph Conrad portrayal of Africa in his novel as the other world, the opposite of Europe and by implication, of Civilisation. He was convinced that by comparing the rivers and casting one as good and the other as bad and the derogatory words used to describe the indigenes is racially motivated.
‘I am talking about a book which parades in the most vulgar fashion prejudices and insults from which a section of mankind has suffered untold agonies and atrocities in the past and continues to do so in many ways and many places today. I am talking about a story in which the very humanity of black people is called in question.’ (Achebe, 2019).
Conrad’s account, projected in a character named Charles Marlow, generated so much reactions and reviews from so many theorist, artist and writer like Chinua Achebe, Olu Oguibe. ‘Heart of Darkness’ has provided a rich study for students of colonial, post-colonial and Cultural Studies. Joseph Conrad was once accused by Achebe of being racist but Ngugi Wa Thiong ‘O does not completely agree with Achebe’s description of Conrad but postulates that Conrad is biased but admires his ability to capture the hypocrisy of the ‘’civilizing mission’’. Conrad through his character in the novel Charles Marlow criticise imperialism, he compares it to violent robbery accompanied with murder and land grab from other race.
It is obvious that internationalism is unavoidable, “Homogeneous national culture” no longer holds sway, we are interdependent upon each other. Cooperation and sharing between cultures is the way forward. Ethnically cleansed, pure national identity is unachievable, the complexity and interweaving of history should and cannot be overlooked anymore. In a tribute by a Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah to Chinua Achebe said;
“He taught us a way of integrating what we know from being African with what we have become, hybrids of a kind” (jaggi, 2000)