June, 2010

I’ve been wanting to publish something about the Cape Town based artist Faith 47 for some time. So I sent her some questions, including one about what the word “culture” means. It is a word that is wide open to so many interpretations. Here is her (unedited) answer, nutrition for thought at this peaceful coming together of nations that is the World Cup:

i see culture as a double sided coin..

– on the one hand it unifies..
it creates a sense of community and a value system with customs that allows for a community to exist in harmony with its surroundings..

– but on the other hand it separates..
it creates a sense of other.. of those not within your own culture – it alienates you from others and their value systems… resulting in things like patriotism and xenophobia.

i grew up in south africa where i never felt a belonging to any culture or religion…
this was sometimes unsettling but it forced me to see things objectively and to decide on my own ideas on life
– which are always changing…

so the breaking away from culture can be liberating
– and we see that in the sense of the punk movement for instance
as they were [be it consciously or unconsciously] breaking away from a stagnant system that was based on economic global domination and also a value system of empty consumerism etc..

the breaking away of culture can also be very destructive when we look at it in the sense of the effects of the loss of traditional cultures to western consumeristic cultures.
and the pull of urbanization on traditional cultures..

and then there is also the problem of traditional cultures not developing with the times..
customs such as female virginity testing, labola, having many wives.. these practices create conflict between the urbanised youth who cannot or will not fulfil these practices and therefore creating friction with older generations.. these kind of situations result when the initial motivation of the custom gets lost and distorted due to the dynamics of modern urban living..

so i think the word ‘culture’ is a very complicated and loaded thing.. unifying and destructive depending on what you’re looking at..

but one thing is true and that is that humans are instinctive creatures of culture.
so there is something inherently human about culture.
it would be best if we are able criticize and evolve our own cultural value systems on a continual basis…

Photos, courtesy of the artist, from Faith 47’s series “The Freedom Charter” .

“When I was a little girl it was horrible here, because there was no electricity or water. I used to get up at four in the morning to fetch the water. It was from four to six. There was only water between four and six. So I had to be there at the tap at four o’clock, either in Central, or down on America Street. I’d fill five barrels of water and four buckets. You don’t know what a bucket is? It’s a big wooden tub they washed the laundry in. So to do the laundry I had to get all the water for the whole day, and the next day I had to go back at four o’clock and start all over again. It was hard but it was nice too. It’s not like that nowadays. Now there’s water, electricity, sewers. Before there was nothing like that. Houses weren’t made of brick; they were made of wood and had tin roofs. When it rained or was windy, it made a lot of noise and everything would start swaying, so we’d cover our ears because we were scared. It was fun. I like that childhood memory.” (Salête de Franca da Lima, Women Are Heroes 28mm/JR).

Dona Salête died earlier this year. She was one of the women featured in JR’s Women Are Heroes project and a popular member of the community in Providência, Rio de Janeiro. JR pasted this fitting tribute to her in Los Angeles last month. Salête was a buddhist and I’m sure that she would have enjoyed it. She was 70 years old.