Africa Film WebMeeting

Message from: (
About: Is the message corrupting the messenger

Mon, 8 Apr 1996 10:36:34 -0400

Originally from: <>
Originally dated: Mon, 8 Apr 1996 10:36:34 -0400

Muhonjia Khaminwa writes:

>I am interested in starting a discussion on the subject of
>how the use of "art" forms by people who are involved in what
>(no matter how well intentioned) is propagandizing or
>disseminating a particular message, affects the artistic
>value of the medium.

My observations and comments . . .

I think Muhonjia Khaminwa points to a fine illustration in the wearing of
kanga or leso ("a wrap that women along the East African coast tie around
their waists"). I would assume no one forces a woman to wear such clothing ,
and that if she does, it is by personal choice influenced by her community
friends, family, values, mate, etc. It is a personal choice, an expression
from the heart and a form of personal (and perhaps artistic) expression.

But, if someone trys to usurp the kanga as their own personal (ie.
governmental, etc.) logo for communicating their own ______ (fill in the
blank) it becomes, in my opinion, propaganda. Here a beautiful, freely
ascribed, potentially artistic symbol is "prostituted" for propagational
purposes (be it selling Coca-Cola, or amassing political or even religious
power, engineering social change, etc.).

In its pure, unadulterated form, the kanga or leso would appear to be a
beautiful symbol used by many woman, a common and recognizable mode of
expression within the community, part of the rich vocabulary of community
interaction and elevated by some to an art form . . . but manipulated by a
few (the extra talented, the gifted, might we even say the exceptionally
beautiful(?), the wealthy, whether from inside or out of national community
boundries) to gain individual advantage, it becomes a public symbol usurped,
and the "artistic" expression is indeed corrupted.

There is a place for commercial "art" as long as it is identified for what
is. This is often the case, sometimes not -- I think people eventually come
to recognize an advertisement when they are confronted with one. The artist
creating the work may be very talented, but their reward is the money with
which they are compensated-- the work itself is rarely acknowledged as
It is functional work designed to capture and hold attention and has been
devalued by the medium (one can think of exceptions, but not many). The
extreme example, in my opinion, is pornography where the natural sexual
beauty of people is used by a few to make money.

I also think there is a place for pure mass propaganda, again, if it is
clearly labeled and recognized by the public (ie. AIDS awareness). The
I see is the hidden propaganda such as American TV programming and movies.
series are acknowleged as being the "filler material between the
and so some claim its harmful affects are somewhat mitigated here in the
but I disagree--look at the price we are are paying . . . violence, broken
homes, materialism, greed, sexual perversion, AIDS propagation (!), suicide,
demonism. Not all of this can be ascribed to mass media, but I think much if
not most can. If these same programs are being used by other cultures as
filler material to promote social programs (ie. family planning), I would
say, "Watch out! You may have a tiger by the tail, so don't be surprised
it turns around and takes a bite."

I would also argue that pure art is not free from corrupting influence . . .
look at the life and works of Dali, or Gauguin, illustrations of the despair
of Western culture. . .

Jim Ackert

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