In light of the recent international furore about the Swedish Minister of Culture’s eating the African cake moment and the current visit to Finland of the Vice President of South Africa, I thought I would share my collection of pictures of representations of Africa that I have taken in Oulu. I love Oulu. Really I do. This year, Oulu won the prize for Europe’s most intelligent city. It’s a lovely place. But this collection of photos shows that some of that intelligent thinking needs to be put into how Africa is represented too.
How this works: every time I have seen a publised image that represents Africa during my time in Oulu for the last 5 months, I have taken a photograph. This could have been an advert or sweet packaging, whatever it was, I look a photograph of it. I didn’t just take the “negative” ones, sieving the “positive” ones out. Just, every time I saw an image that was obviously using images of Africa, I took a photo.
This is a Finnish game that I found in the University of Oulu’s teaching faculty coffee shop. I’ve also seen this game sold in shops. Basically, all players start in Morocco and work their way down to (my hometown) Cape Town. You collect “diamonds” along the way and the biggest diamond is in Cape Town and the person who gets it is the winner. Basically it is a race through Africa. Sound familiar? If you know anything about Africa and colonialism you will know something about the “Scramble” or “Race” for Africa (If you don’t know or you want to be reminded you can click here). A child’s came that reproduces a horrible time of the world’s history? Hmmm. Would there be a game glorifying Auschwitz, Apartheid or September 11th? No. Most probably not.
So, the concept of the game is problematic. Furthermore, taking a closer look at the board, you see an Africa that is full of forests, animals and bandy-legged silly looking black figurines dancing around. Sigh.
I would suggest Finland builds a bonfire and burns this game and at the same time tries to get to the bottom of the thinking that allowed this game to be in circulation for so long.
This is a chocolate covered marshmallow treat that is like a South African “Sweetie Pie”. This type of sweet was invented in Denmark and is now made and sold all over Europe and beyond. The early 20th century style drawing of the two scantily clad African people kissing seems strange until you understand the story of the sweet a bit more and then it seems REALLY strange. While this sweet has been in existence of about 200 years it has recently (2001) been renamed. Why? Because before the renaming, this sweet was called “Negro kisses” in various languages. Due to public reactions to this name, producers changed the name to just “kisses”. Ah! now the picture of the kissing Africans makes sense. So, they changed the name because it was perceived as racist but kept the picture that harks back to the name they felt was racist. hmmmm. Everything changes, everything stays the same.
I was thinking about the fact that I only really found pictures of Africa on edible products. Why are there no images of Africa or African people for other products like household tools or school stationery or whatever. It’s all on consumables. Maybe this is reflecting a deep unconscious sense that Africa is up for the taking, rich in resources and should be, in various ways, “consumed”.
The next section is on advertising printed posters:
This poster says “The culture of Ambaland’s nation”. It was just a picture and a title. It was a bit confusing. But what made this poster significant for me was that it was placed on the front door of the Natural History museum of the University of Oulu. There are no people in this museum, only stuffed animals. You walk through this door to get to the museum. So, the first thing you see when going to the museum about animals, is these two naughty looking African children. This draws together the idea of dead animals to look at and an underdeveloped Africa. Oh dear.
“Ah!” I said when I saw this picture. Finally… an African person who is represented as happy, beautiful, clean and in a position that a non-African model would also be in. But, then I thought again. This child is not represented as being in Africa. The super warm clothes, the bubbles, the white snowy background all point to an African child in Finland. (Note: In Africa it gets cold, we wear warm hats and jackets and we have bubbles that kids and adults love to play with too). So, this child is portrayed as happy, healthy and beautiful BECAUSE they are in Finland.
This is a picture that I saw on the autobank that I drew money from the other day. It says, “Children in developing countries need your help. Donate 5 euros via this ITM and help in this way”. It then repeats this in Swedish (Finland’s other official language). We see a dirty, sad, ghostly teenage girl staring straight at the user of the cash machine (unfortunately the light from the building is masking her eyes a bit). She doesn’t beg, but her gaze implores you to act. You are not told where the money will go or what it will and won’t do for this person/s. Do you as the donor want those things to happen? The thought being put forward is that doing something small, no matter what it is, is better than doing nothing at all. Really? No, surely not.
So, contrasting this picture of an African girl with the picture of the African girl in the pink jacket is interesting. Both are African girls. Both images are being used to attack your eye and your pocket. Both are calling you to act, to do something. The importance in difference, for me, is their geography shown by the clothing and demeanor of the girls. The image from the banking machine may well have been taken in Europe but the viewer is lead to believe that this girl is in some random dark “developing country”.
And so, the Africa that is shown in Oulu is unfortunately a dirty, poor, needy Africa that is a place of hidden resources that are up for the taking and that really only with European aid can Africa be helped. This is not the resourceful, intelligent, fascinating, confusing, beautiful, dangerous, generous, hopeful Africa that I know which is sad because there is soo much more than is shown here.