An artistic tour of Africa

March 1, 2007

Walala Wasala: the fabric of African politics & Images of Western Sahara

Bundoora Homestead Gallery, Melbourne

Until March 25


Free admission

Walala Wasala and Images of Western Sahara are both great exhibitions worth the trip to Bundoora homestead. You could easily spend two hours soaking up the history portrayed in these works.

Walala Wasala features textiles from 13 African countries. It features images such as Robert Mugabe — Zimbabwe Ruins with the cross hatching of pins penetrating through black cloth, which is to me symbolic of the struggle and pain the Zimbabwean people are going through.

Images and themes include nationalism, HIV, health issues, mobile phones, light bulbs, Samora Machel, Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana — symbols of everyday life woven into the political identities and struggles of people finding their way after colonialism. One piece of particular note is George Bush & Bin Laden. It is a brave piece for the gallery to include with the two identities repeated across the cloth. And to quote the accompanying texts: "People will rise up against the dominance in whatever ways they can. The denial and lack of understanding of different world perspectives and how and why people have arrived at where they are in social, religious, economic, political and national communities leads to intolerance and destruction in whatever forms this may take.

"This sentiment continues to find expressions in daily discourse across Africa today."

For the royalists, Princes Diana is immortalised for her spirit of Ubuntu — the acknowledgement that we all exist in relation to one another. She is admired for her supportive work on fighting HIV/Aids and land mines elimination.

This leads us into the second exhibition, Images of Western Sahara. The photos are by Simon Thorpe, a British photographer who places his lone subjects in the stark landscape of the liberated zone of Western Sahara. It is a surreal setting with proud faces and brightly coloured traditional attire. It takes a while to recognise the missing limbs caused by the many landmines that wait to fulfill their sole purpose. The accompanying story is of Salem Eldeha Alem, one of those photographed. "While setting up their camp one of Ahmed's children gave him a lump of metal. Not knowing what it was Ahmed examined it and while doing so it exploded in the palms of his hands. Had it been a few minutes earlier this would have been in the hands of his young and inquisitive son."

The paintings by Chaia Kemash and Abdi Omar of everyday life in the refugee camps capture the reality of today's existence. Lahsen Lebir, who works with calligraphy over a contemporary background, has a more conceptual response to his environment. The works command greater respect when you consider their place of execution, in the harsh realities of the camps that have been the homes of the Saharawi for the last 30 years — forgotten in this new era of bringing "democracy" to the world. They wait for their vote of self-determination promised in 1992 by the United Nations and Morocco when hostilities ceased.

Western Sahara is just another example of a nation's wealth being exploited and of convenient silence when countries such as Australia can financially benefit from the resources imported, such as phosphate, from the disputed zone.

Georgia Vlassopoulos, who has travelled to the region, presents graphic black and white photos covering many aspects of the culture, archaeology, and reality of these people's existence, present and past.

If you wish to save the expense of travelling to Africa then these two exhibitions are a must. Enjoy a coffee or meal at the gallery and travel from country to country through the exhibition. I would be surprised if you do not come out with a deeper understanding of the complex issues and a feeling of respect for the hard road travelled by many of the African peoples that are becoming part of Australia.

[Ron Guy is an artist and member of the Australia Western Sahara Association, Australia East Timor Association, Socialist Alliance and the Australian Workers Union.]

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