The Biennial phenomenon and the globalisation of cultural exchanges

Raphael Chikukwa

The subject I would like to talk about is this so-called globalisation issue, which I feel the developing world is not part of, because there is lack of discrimination of information. In Africa we have no access to information from the international contemporary art world — all you read about is the West and South Africa. The rest of Africa does not exist in the contemporary art world yet the African man painted on his body before he painted on rocks. Picasso was inspired by African Masks. So we must re-visit this issue of globalization because Africa and other parts of the world are discriminated against and yet the West is busy talking about so-called “Globalisation” which serves only their interests. Now I am here talking to you, but remember what one has to go through to get to the West, one has to declare one’s relatives, parents cats and dogs to get the visa, let alone the immigration hassles in the airports and at the borders. And compared to the people in the West — when you have to come to Africa — you walk in and walk out and here we are talking and talking about the happy face of the global village yet there is no freedom of movement from people in other parts of the world which are not the West. If ever we want to make this so called Globalisation a dream come true, so that we all have a piece of this cake, it must be fair.
I have been in contact with Flash Art asking them if they would like a correspondent in Africa and they told me they have one in South Africa. So unfortunately everything lands in South Africa and it ends there.
In 2001 I was a curator in residence at the Centre Pas-Quart in Biel, Switzerland and managed to go to the Venice Biennale. Getting to the main Pavillion, I was surprised to see all the flags from around the world including my country’s flag and others from the forgotten nations. Getting in to see the works and there was art from the West and if I am not mistaken South Africa was representing the whole of the African continent. Going back and reading more about what was happening in the global art community, I discovered that there is a lot we can do for each other, but if we keep quiet, no one is going to hear us. In our Shona language they say, “Mwana asingachemi anofira mumbereko”: A child who does not cry will die on its mother’s back. This conference should find a way forward because the happy face of the Global Village must not only be for the chosen few. I was one of the helpers at the second Johannesburg Biennale in 1997 which was closed before the due date, because the local community felt that there was lack of representation of Africa and the art actually shown there was for the élite. Most South Africans felt that it was supposed to be an opportunity for the South Africans and the rest of the Africans to be heard by the West not for us to hear from the West. This Biennale was just like any other Biennale and it gave Okwui Enwezor a ticket to curate Documenta XI and we are all happy for an African brother to be the first African to curate such a major event.
The West has a lot to learn from Africa and Africa has a lot to learn from the West. There is more to see and learn from Zimbabwe. To my fellow brothers who have created new homes here in the West there is a need to plough back home and stop looking down on your own continent, Africa. This issue of seeing the same people, the same names in exhibitions and international forums should come to an end for art is all about sharing. I hope we will all be part of this happy face of the Global Village.

Excerpt from the Proceedings of the “Local ceramic traditions and globalisation of contemporary art” conference, 19/20 October 2002, Fortezza del Priamàr, Savona.

Conference proceedings Local ceramic traditions and the globalisation of contemporary art