Arts Imitating Life, An Act Of Freedom Of Speech In National Development And Cohesion

Posted: July 22, 2014 in Essays
Tags: , , , , ,

How many times haven’t we read a book and felt we were one of the characters or at least, we knew someone who was like that character? How many times haven’t we thought of this country (Ghana) as we read a book whether it was Ayi Kwei Armah’s post-colonial existentialist view of the then new Ghana in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born or Nana Awere Damoah’s witty commentary of the present-day Ghana in I Speak Of Ghana? And oh yes, this is not a book review so I will spare you the book titles.
Nevertheless, permit me to narrate a story of my childhood. I, like many other children of my generation, grew up watching Chinese, Indian and American movies. I took a particular interest in the American movies because I liked war scenes. One major theme that was pretty much tackled was the US-Vietnam war. Even though it is a public secret that the US lost the war, the US won in every movie that I watched. Just last year, in my final undergrad year at KNUST, I noticed a different trend in American movies. In Olympus Has Fallen (2013) for example, the undefeatable US that I knew from my childhood days get defeated, but their response is even more profound. The caveat was that those plots were “based on true life story (ies).” As a Ghanaian breathing far away from the US shore, I was constructed to appreciate that:
1. The US was/is undefeatable.
2. Even if they get defeated, they will get back stronger and better.
Hollywood taught me this. By the way, the first Black American President of the US that I saw was in movies. Thankfully, he appeared as African-American.
Let’s talk about the Catalan photojournalist, Joan Fontcuberta. This dude fakes miracle and causes sensation. He hasn’t done it once. He has done it twice. I think he is magical.
This brings me to why I am here. What I am talking about is not neuromarketing or his cousin, brainwashing which the US uses Hollywood for. I have to save myself from being blacklisted (I need to be in the US for my grad studies) so I will not go into it. Seriously, here is my point. I am talking about the power of arts, generally and the concept of arts imitating life in particular.
Our socio-political and cultural histories are dotted across in novels, collections of poems, movies, arts galleries etc. Read Money Galore by Amu Djoleto and/or Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born and you will realize that the base of the social construct of the Ghanaian has not shifted much. Do you want to get a peep at the average Ghanaian psyche? Read Kwesi Brew’s Ghana’s Psychology Of Survival. And how can I forget how everyday Ghanaian lives come to reality under Prof. Ablade Glover’s brush? Nana Kofi Acquah’s majestic lens brings splendid insights into lives in Ghana and elsewhere. There is no greater critique of our being than what our arts provide. In furtherance, like the Hollywood experience, we can construct a nationalistic pictorial view of our country devoid of partisan acrimonies. Yes, in the last sixty years, our artists have done much about our predicament. In ushering on our life as a country, our artists should begin to imagine, give us their artistic impression of the future. Last year at the Chale Wote Street Festival, an artist brought out his artistic impression of Jamestown’s future. His art was to imagine a fully automated fishing industry at Jamestown. It might look simplistic and not ambitious. But if you know Jamestown, you will appreciate the extent of imagination of the artist. Such positivity is what we need in our arts. We need to construct our world, work towards it and achieve it. This is how much our arts can aid in national development.
On the side, it will be the failure of the politician not to be artistic or literary, to say the least. Towards the end of last year, something happened on social media. It became a trend and finally, it was compiled and edited by Nana Awere Damoah into an eBook. I am talking about My Book Of GHCOATS (which I contributed to, anyway). It was a collection of fictional quotes that were wrongly attributed to persons, either dead or alive. Beyond the obvious humor, there were serious, subtle commentaries on the state of the nation. I reproduce some of them here;
‘’ The number one wealth creation strategy in Ghana is politics. ~ Warren Buffet [Pathways to Wealth,Ghana Version]

To every action by rain and thunder, there is an equal and opposite reaction by ECG. ~ Sir Isaac
Newton, 1544-1601 [Electricity: The Ghana Experience]

Brazil won the World Cup many times while wearing a jersey embossed with a picture of its president;France, Italy and Spain too. Why can’t Ghana do the same? ~ Joseph Sepp Blatter, 1990

Kelewale is a genius that cures jaundice. Starving me of it like boarding Ghana Airways with momoni -the engine will stop. ~ Mahatma Ghandi on why he went on hunger strike, in his book Kelewele; Secrets to Longevity, 1943.’’

On this note, I will go back to the ‘’boys abre’’ slogan. I will argue that it was a political slogan. When it was put into a song by Guru, it gave everyone the artistic license to voice his/her frustration without being afraid. Like the eBook project and in these two cases, artistic license gave us the dignity to be humans, to freely express opinion under the cannon of the arts powered by artistic license. That is how the masses of different classes responded artistically to political environment. It is instructive to note that almost all of us who were involved in the eBook project were also somehow involved in the Occupy Flagstaff Protests which happened on 1st, July,2014, several months after the project. It is also important to mention the spoof/satire site, Yesi Yesi and The cartoonist, The Black Narrator as also another of those media that have allowed, in the confinement of artistic freedom, commentaries on state of the nation. So artistically, we have been evolving on a scale of political environment. It is for nothing that in the traditional setting (especially in Asante), there are periods to freely insult chiefs. It helps leadership to pick signals.
Arts will always evolve and it will always imitate life. In these various, in these artistic spaces, we as a people respond to the pressures of life. We define ourselves and life. It is that artistic freedom, that very act that will help us to construct humanism. Above all, it is this that deservedly, makes us humans – ability to create, think and respond to basic stimuli. Democracy needs that sanity more than anything else.

May God bless us all. Thank you.

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