Less than 1% of all art created around the US President-elect Barack Obama will stand the test of time. This is firstly because the real Obama story is sweeter than fiction. Secondly, 99% of the Obama artists will take–and some are already taking–the easy route. They will in their art concentrate on the obvious romantic elements of Obama’s story and be blind to the alternative ways or different perspectives of the story. They will mostly stop at the rosy part where Obama lives happily ever after at the White House. FRED MBOGO
The truth about this prediction follows from the familiar pattern in history where the Nelson Mandelas, Diego Maradonas, Kwame Nkrumahs, Martin Luther King Jrs, Che Guevaras, Kipchoge Keinos, and so on inspire so much hot art that turns cold in three minutes! It seems only mythical characters in the mould of Lwanda Magere, Oedipus, Hamlet, Shaka Zulu, Gor Mahia, or Cleopatra, ever inspire good art.
Perhaps it is because this latter group has characters that are more complete where they are not just do-gooders. They possess elements of bad mannerism in themselves. These characters have serious weaknesses that make them complete so that artists can take advantage to play around in the process of providing some spicy conflict. The Mandelas are saints who single-mindedly, without entertaining distractions, worked towards their goals. They didn’t “in the process of achieving their set objectives” engage in controversy, hurt or kill somebody without reason or steal somebody’s sweet-hearts, as the tabloids would love.
For purposes of clarity, we could borrow from South Africa’s history in comparing all the “do-goody” Mandelas to the sometimes ‘wicked’ but charming Winnie Madikizela Mandelas. The good artist will prefer Madikizela Mandela’s story since, in her life, she seems to have started out as working in the fight against apartheid without eventually letting her character fade in some distance or acquire ‘godly’ status. Some allegations link her to theories explaining the disappearances of certain people. Others have written extensively about her relationships with other men while she was married to Nelson Mandela. Controversy followed her well into the Thabo Mbeki government in various shades.
Following this comparison it becomes easier to recommend a reading of an unauthorised biography of Madikizela Mandela than that of Nelson Mandela. For in Madikizela Mandela’s there is greater colour than in Mandela’s bland old boring moralisation or unwavering focus.
This all suggests that the artist creating art around Obama needs to present material beyond the common hero-worship. Obama has up to now mostly been a do-gooder. Many lazy artists in need of some quick money making venture will end up crafting some worship song, prayer-like play, or idol shaped carving. Already shops are selling music on Obama that tells us nothing new. Almost all these music will face some premature death as the idea of Obama as President of America gets lost in the daily struggles of survival.
For one’s piece of art to last, there will be need to distort the real picture. One can play with possibilities of blowing Obama’s flaws out of proportion. Or just create a situation where Obama gets fixated with the feeling of being the boss at the White House. He could get overwhelmed, or side-tracked or bewitched even! How he gets out of such trouble becomes the source of pleasure for the art consumer. But is any artist daring enough?
The announcement of Obama’s victory on November 5, 2008 has brought more than a casual celebratory mood in Kenya. Babies and streets from Mombasa to Kisumu in Kenya have been named Obama. An Obama day “November 6, 2008” was hastily set up by President Mwai Kibaki so that Kenyans could stay home and savour the moment. Creative business types have come up with machinery to quickly manufacture Obama merchandise: t-shirts, sweaters, ties, pin-up posters, and all manner of daily gadgets. Corporate bodies have not been left out as they have bought up space in local dailies to express their congratulations. This can be dizzying.
In the dizziness the cheap artist will quickly be employed by the business type to create something of Obama and from thence the good art shall go down the drain of history. The artist is after all seeking to be exploited by the business type if only so he can earn a plate of food! It is sad that from then on the Obama story will cease to excite since too much of the same thing will be on offer.
For art lovers this is frightening. There is possibly nothing one can do to make the artist think! Unless one be a teacher of art, or better still have resources that will give the artist some space to create something that can last a lifetime- the problem being whether that can make any economic sense given the realities of the greed for profit.
Maybe the best thing to do is not to let art interfere with the reality of Obama’s story. This means that nothing should be created around the phenomenon. Instead potential art lovers should be let to savour the real story without any interference from the predictably boring craft that will be spawned. The only way to enforce this is to ban all art made in the name of Obama!