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Across Africa, the creative industries have long been shunned for not being ‘respectable’ career path, and those working in them dismissed as wasting time. But opinions are changing as Africa’s creativity commands more attention and respect on the international stage. Leading to sustainable careers and the earnings and investment received contributing to the growth of local economies, thus benefiting Africa’s development. So for creators and storytellers, the title question of this article is an important one, as our work is all about communicating: ideas, stories, experiences and challenging the status quo. Art, design, literature, film and other forms of creative expression play an important role in Africa’s development, changing the narrative for the better and communicating this to the rest of the world. 

…the sophistication of a society, a culture, country, region and a continent is determined in part by the visual messages that come of it. – Tapiwa Matsinde, Atelier Fifty Five

Why?

Because, the sophistication of a society, a culture, country, region and a continent is determined in part by the visual messages that come of it. History tells us this. Centuries ago Africa was home to some of the most sophisticated and civilized kingdoms of the time from Ancient Egypt in the North, The Kingdoms of Benin, Ashanti and Mali in the West, Kongo and Kuba in Central, Buganda in the East and in the South, Mutapa/Munhumutapa, Zimbabwe and Mapungubwe to name a few. Mighty kingdoms whose enduring legends spread far beyond their borders and drew scholars and fact finders from near and far. And how do we know this? Primarily because of the surviving examples of African art, design and artefacts, now mostly held in museums, galleries and private collections around the world.

So given the power of visual communication to enhance or diminish culture, it is no surprise that invading forces will always try to destroy the local culture and creativity first by imposing their own. And as we all know such acts have marked the story of Africa’s development. And as time passed whilst the ingenuity and talent remained and products still got made. Instead of the magnificent symbolic creations for royalty and varied cultural use, products instead became mass-produced items destined for tourist markets that told another story. One of survival and the loss of former glories. 

And this is what communication does, it can build or destroy communities depending on who is telling the story. But the last decade or so has seen a reversal, a marked shift back to reclaiming the richness and transformative powers upheld by Africa’s art, design and creative cultural legacies.

And in this present day, the power of communication is causing significant change to Africa’s development. This time aided by the Internet. A tool that has democratised the dissemination of information, allowing people to communicate ideas quickly and freely. To tell their own stories; to change the narrative. And the outpouring of creative messages have been those of pride, and a forward-thinking positivity that has lit the continent on fire. A creative fire that has spread beyond Africa’s borders into the diaspora and its supporters. What is happening across Africa is not a trend as some have suggested.

…the story of Africa’s development is being rewritten daily and we as communicators have a responsibility to keep that creative fire burning. – Tapiwa Matsinde, Atelier Fifty Five

If we look at what is happening in creative Africa today, the story of Africa’s development is being rewritten daily through an increasingly sophisticated level of innovation in art, design, literature, photography, music, film. And we as Africa’s communicators have a responsibility to keep that creative fire burning.

– Tapiwa Matsinde

[Image credit: The image shown is by JD Mason on Unsplash]

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