By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large
HARARE, Zimbabwe – A panel discussion held Wednesday at Harare’s premiere creatives hangout, Book Cafe brought together artists and art enthusiasts to discuss the issue of art versus commercialism.
The discussion titled “A Lexus or Justice: The Role of the Modern Artist” is part of the second annual Shoko festival which opened up on Monday and will running until Sunday.
One of the discussants, US-based hip hop artists and emcee, Mike Crenshaw, said that he uses his art responsibly to advance social causes.
“I use my art consciously and with responsibility. The fact of my commitment to art is better that owning a Lexus. It’s an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than me yet being complete with myself,” he said.
Award-winning South African musician and poet, Nomsa Mazwai, described her art as a way to express herself.
“I use my art as a way to express myself and my social condition. The world is going through a revolution. I’m concerned with what it means to be an African in 2012. That’s why I create so we can open up debate. It’s never about bling or shiny things,” she said.
Mazwai said that artists that are focused on material things were caught up in the capitalist economic system.
Another discussant, Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe National Director, MacDonald Lewanika, said that the discussion of art versus commercialism is not easy to resolve.
“The role of an artist is multifaceted. While wanting a Lexus may be regarded as a self-serving fetish of an artist, it is possible to own a Lexus and still be conscious. However, society expects art and artists to teach something positive to society,” he said.
Crenshaw added that social responsibility is a major aspect of his work, and that he is concerned with issuses os education, shelter, and education.
“As human beings, we are organic and complex – within that context – my subjective positive position is that my art is connected to my social responsibility,” he said.
The issue of artistic privilege and choice in the conduct of their work and their lives also came under the spotlight. Lewanika said that artists were free to choose how to practice their art and live their lives.
“Ultimately, it’s about choice but that choice needs to be taken seriously. As you perform your art, you’ve a responsibilityt to exercise it responsibly,” said Lewanika.
Mazwai said that she is using her advance African solidarity.
“As an artist, you doing your art out of a desire to share your system. My art is to fulfil a higher purpose to unify the continent,” she said.