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Culture in Development Education


02 / 1994

Over the last years there has been an increasing concern among NGOs in Europe to develop new ways and means for creating a deeper understanding of the peoples’ cultures in other parts of the world through development education activities. In a growing number of European countries, efforts have been made to express this concern by way of organising Cultural Festivals which create space for the arts from non-industrialised countries. Cultural events are seen as means of attracting attention to the richness of cultures in the South as opposed to the image of misery often propagated by the media. However, by reducing "culture" in the broad sense to artistic performances as an expression thereof, these positive initiatives clearly raise many important questions for development educators :

- To what extent do artistic manifestations of a culture provide a deeper insight in and respect for that culture when viewed by people from another culture ?

- To what extent do artistic expressions of a culture retain their meaning or message when cut off from the socio-cultural context they are rooted in ?

- Do cultural events change or - on the contrary - confirm stereotypes of other people and their cultures in the South ?

- Do cultural events conceal the realities of political and economic injustice or - on the contrary - raise interest in these questions ?

An excellent opportunity to look into these questions was offered by the Festival "Images of Africa" which was organised for the second time in Denmark during the month of June 1993. Over 400 African artists, including dance and music performers, cartoonists, painters, photographers, and around 50 intellectuals such as novelists, social scientists and journalists were invited to create another image of Africa in a huge range of events over a three-week period. Listening carefully to peoples’ remarks on the sense of this festival, reveals that for most of them it has little to do with charity nor with a concern for international political and economic injustice. Indirectly Danish as well as other Europeans indicated that Europe is becoming aware that it is looking for something it can hardly define. Cynics might immediately retort that again Europe is looking for the latest "raw material" to be exploited. However, leaving it at that would be missing a double chance for working towards a more balanced relationship between Africa and Europe : - firstly, the chance of finding out what exactly people are looking for, not in abstract terms but in their daily lives; - secondly the chance of finding out whether cross-cultural communications is indeed a way to meet that need.

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The impression retained from the reactions of all the categories of actors involved was that the effect of the unfiltered art-for-art’s sake performances was restricted precisely to what it intends to be : it touches people "at the gut level", and the higher the quality the more it does so. Striking evidence for the presupposition that the arts as such - albeit of high quality - create a better understanding of the cultures of people in the large sense or an increased interest in the background of economic and political North-South relations was not found. For this purpose, a large amount of decoding of the background and the invisible meaning of what is presented, seems to be indispensable.


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