Vernacular Contemporary Art as a Manifestation of ‘Glocal’ Personality?
By Bandile Gumbi
Glocal: a term I will love to hate, but seems to linger in my subconscious and has thus become part of my thinking.
The works submitted for the inaugural Kampala Biennale left me thinking, confirming, some assumptions I have, and made me continue contemplating the realities, expectations and dreams of what it is to be an artist in our time. How do we link to times before ours and those which are yet to come?
The realities of postcolonial African creative expression is one of amalgamation, where desires connect with a precolonial past-in-process that is unavoidably mediated by the present. One can say that this present is a collective of different cultural histories and technologies, in the sense of doing and being.
We cannot deny that the histories of the creators of the technologies are embedded and reproduced through consumption. Thus the reality of contemporary culture in whatever form or shape we live it, is the reality of engagement. We are therefore the people of the spaces in-between the desire mentioned above and the reality of not being able to escape the present.
In an attempt to understand what it means to be an ‘in-betweener’ or contemporary being, I try and look at the language we speak as it is encoded in our dreams manifest in the art we share with the world. Thus, I had to dismiss any assumptions of an easy language and dive into the murky waters of ambiguities and the sublime. I had to digest the language of development clothed as “progress”, as we have the tendency to swallow it whole without a proper chew.
We need to find a new language or maybe a new word order to speak about what we do and in turn who we are without being glib nor apologetic. When the script has already been written — with many directors and casts too willing to regurgitate the lines and perform on cue — this can be a daunting task.
Unaware in my process of consuming what the custodians of knowledge have placed before me and showed me how to find if it is not right in-front of my eyes, I came across a term that has stuck to my mind and now and again find itself been part of what I choose to share. If one interprets the term glocal whilst casting an eye on its futurist possible reincarnation which is related to the organic process of hybridisation (as complicated as this term is, as it does invoke images of racism and slavery) maybe one can start to have a glimpse of a form of vernacular language that us in-betweeners speak.
If I follow my thought process I have to at some point ask myself where does this come from, why an attraction to this particular term, glocal, in a world of too much information for anyone one person to digest, with so much choice that at times it is easier not to choose and to let life happen to one. I suppose, like all knowledge, it takes a historical process to distil and imbed, it is about who your people are what languages both verbal and otherwise. They spoke and still speak.
This term that I keep mulling over, superficially sounds and looks like a clever fusion between the global and the local. One soon realises that this is a schizophrenic existence. For the sake of sanity, there has to be a process of distillation or hybridisation or any other term that best explains to one and ones’ community what it is to be contemporary. For the sake of my sanity and those I consider my community I have chosen to interchangeably use the languages that accommodates glocal and in-between to best communicate these senses of self.
This global space is unequal and at its extreme, elitist. One can argue that it creates a culture represented by glocal individuals who attempt to translate and transcend the local. Stuart Hall when speaking on globalisation within the contemporary arts says, “We haven’t effectively grasped the singularity of globalisation as a concept. Instead, we have transferred some of the old humanist feelings we had about internationalisation to it. But globalisation is not internationalisation at all. It has nothing to do with inter-nations.”
In times of high proliferation of cultural goods those who have access to the technologies to consume and analyse the contemporary are able to absorb the ever changing knowledge systems that make up the glocal personality. In many ways is no different to the concepts that have come before.
Contemporary artistic practices prove that globalisation has brought the world together and glocal personalities are the contemporary creators of the current global. If one takes into account the argument that artists have similar concerns, the national realities would not feature in a global art market. In a sense, an artist practicing contemporary art in order to be successful needs to be globally mobile and have access to the currency of the information age and in close proximity to the contemporary art centres.
The term contemporary art itself assumes this kind of access. Since a work of art is given this particular value, it needs to demonstrate access to global information technology and some knowledge of the practises of the contemporary art centres.
So I ask myself what does the work in front of me say, does it even speak, am I seeing it? What tools do I marshal to have a conversation? I worry about the quality of that conversation. Do we speak past, over each other or is it possible to speak to each other?
Reference: Stuart Hall in Changing States – Contemporary art and Ideas in an era of globalisation
Bandile Gumbi is a KwaZulu Natal raised creative writer and artist. She served as one of the jury members for the Kampala Art Biennale.