is an African post-colonial piece of jewelry that is both post-colonial and also possesses gender and class implications.
One can see this piece of jewelry as being either Mother-Earth, Mother-Universe or Female Guardian Orisha. It has definite gender -- based connotations with a maternal warmth and sympathy emanating form the image. At the same time is authentic primitive African art and is also class-based since its origins are tribal and would expect a certain lower class of Africans to more likely wear this piece than the upper class. Its connotations, too -- since this is a fertility goddess -- are of people who desire to have children or who have suffered loss in childbirth. This has often been the case of the 'regular African folk -- the lower class -- who due to hardships of regular life have often lost children during or after birth as well as in their formative years.
This jewelry too is also symbolic of religious values and Christian culture: the female figure opens her arms in the shape of a cross.
The figure -- copper/bronze -- is approximately 2.5 inches long or 4.5cm and the arms are 2cm wide. It is an example of Modern African ethnic art forma and is post-colonial in that it not only addresses African pride but also incorporates gender and class in its image.
Post colonialism is the approach that addresses matters of identity, gender, race, racism and ethnicity asserting that the colonized nation / oppressors, specifically the West imposed unwanted belief system and values on a particular nation (generally, but not necessarily Africa), that many of these values are oppressive and unsuited to the specific nation (e.g. Africa), and that they wish to re-assert their own values. Post-colonial theory sees the influence of colonialism as the influence of the mighty over the more vulnerable and seeks to assert themselves by developing their own post-colonial national identity and challenging Western ways of thinking. Their ultimate goal is combatting the residual effects of Western ways of thinking on their colonial culture.
These impressions are indicative in this necklace. The necklace is profoundly and inherently African. Her female breasts and navel are accentuated and the entire form and style militates against Western historical trend towards inhibition of the human form, particularly the female. The art too differs to Western art form aside from which the West never inclined towards fertility goddesses. Both image and style are, therefore, thoroughly alien to the Western mindset and would well have been rejected in a colonialist era by the Western 'oppressors'. Wearing this jewelry openly shows identification of the wearer to pure African values and a certain combatting of Westernized influence on the African mind of the people.
Postcolonial theory challenges the dominant discourse of the West challenging "inherent assumptions," as well as critiquing the "material and discursive legacies of colonialism" (Dictionary of Human Geography, Blackwell Publishing, 2007). This necklace does both of these by challenging the West's inhibition of women as sex objects with pornography seen in a negative light as something that must be concealed. The necklace openly flaunts the woman's body but does so in a neutral way focusing on the fertility metaphor. The West may see this as pornographic. Africa, on the other hand, sees nothing wring in so doing. The woman is not a sex object. She is something hallowed; she is a goddess.
The necklace also questions the Western assumption of monotheism in a least two ways. In the first case, it openly implicates a belief in deities that can be appealed to for fertility. In the second case, it merges Christianity - a monotheistic belief -- with paganism -- a polytheistic set of rituals. The fertility goddess is delineated in the shape of a crucifix, proud body taut, breasts and navel pronounced, arms extending in a naive form of embrace. The integration of Christian ascetism and form with African naive and primitive art and liberal sensualist can be shocking for some. Not only is the image alien to Christian colonialism but it challenges that Christian colonialism by integrating the symbol of that colonialism (Christianity) with the symbol of pure African ethnicity (paganism and goddess-based practice).
In this way, the necklace incorporating both Westernized and African images epitomizes post-colonialism since, according to Mbembe:
It derives both from anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles on the one hand, and from the heritage of Western philosophy and of the disciplines that constitute the European humanities on the other. ( http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2008-01-09-mbembe-en.html)
The image too is crude and earth-based. It is made of earth-based material and resonates with a people's attachment to the earth. The image, therefore, is intensely evocative of the working ethnic African rather than of the 'lordly," cultured, effete, Western colonizer who imposed an alien identity on the nation. In this way, "it exposes both the violence inherent in a particular concept of reason" (ibid), namely in the African or Westernized way of reasoning, "and the gulf separating European moral philosophy from its practical, political and symbolic outcomes" since the necklace speak of an entirely different concept of gender where woman is close to the earth, is seen as nurturing, and as Mother of a new generation. It questions the political ambitions of conquering and submission and questions man's alleged superiority over woman, by showing woman as producer of man and inferring that peace and the natural productivity of birth and reproduction is more life-giving and affirming than the colonialist trend of conquest and oppression of one nation over another.
The image reminds me of the South African TBWA advert of the Himba woman from Namibia who, although she is thin and conforms to Westernized ideals of beauty, boasts elongated breasts that are swelled sideways in "a ridiculous manner" ostensibly due to a LandRover Freelander that the ad wanted to call attention to. The ad caused an outcry and caused South Africans to questions the myths and ideologies intrinsic in both the Afrikaans White culture and in their own.
Proposed that the image of the Himba woman was an allusion to the primitiveness of the African as opposed to the glamor, mobility, and sophistication of the Freelander. The image and advert too conveys the stereotypical image of the 'primitive' African who is predisposed to adventure and exploration -- hence the car -- and is allusive to sex and romance. The gender connotations in the Himba woman were sexuality and desire. The class statements uphold the image of the gentlemanly wealthy Western explorer; what you have in short is the capitalist image of the West against the primitive view of Africa with class and gender stereotypes in the image of the Himba woman.
Here too this necklace is a fetish of the other, but it portrays gender in a positive light as nurturer and giver turning Western connotations of primitive into a glorified ideal. The necklace too implicates an earthbound existence, challenging notions of the refined woman of the West. The necklace too is an inference of the natural productivity of birth and reproduction is more life-giving and affirming than the colonialist trend of conquest and oppression of one nation over another. In that way, it supports Membe's opinion that:
Postcolonial thinking stresses humanity-in-the-making, the humanity that will emerge once the colonial figures of the inhuman and of racial difference have been swept away (http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2008-01-09-mbembe-en.html).
The necklace's image is of peace and reproduction rather than war and destruction. Colonialism is war and destruction. Post colonialism challenges that by challenging the myth and ideals of the occupier. Its message and focus, rather, is on growth and humanity. A Rousseau, primitive-type of humanity that is close to the Laws of Nature and close to the ideal man that we were born to be.
The necklace is one more image of the new Afropolitan culture which is to 'be black' and not "white." It challenges Western ideas of gender and class and see themselves as fully fledged African even if they live in a different country (Mbembe, (nd))
The necklace, too, am be the representative of the new post-colonialist thinking (possibly called neo-post colonialism) in that attention has turned from the colonialist to the 'brother.' The questions are:
"What is 'today', and what are we, today?" In that the nation that has torn itself away from colonialist asks whether it has truly achieved it human ideals, or whether it is still, in some sense, contained by the Other way of thinking.
Memory is, above all else, a question of responsibility with respect to something of which one is often not the author. Moreover I believe that one only truly becomes a human being to the degree that one is capable of answering to what one is not the direct author of, and to the person with whom one has, seemingly, nothing in common. There is, truly, no memory except in the body of commands and demands that the past not only transmits to us but also requires us to contemplate. I suppose the past…
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