Breaking the curse
June 22, 2007
Recently, Achola Rosario Odido of Uganda, East Africa, wrote,
"Here in Uganda women are supposed to be seen and not heard--a
kind of passive doll who only calls attention to herself to get
a man and then retreats into the marriage shadows. We have very
few women artists. They give up after marriage, or do not put
themselves forward. I market myself aggressively. I'm called a
show-off, celebrity wannabee, and a 'Westernized Girl' (i.e.
spoiled). My hard-hitting socially-conscious painting style,
dreadlocks and tattoos on a pretty face do not alleviate
matters. Do you have any ideas how the curse of discrimination
might be broken?"
Thanks, Achola. It often comes as a shock to "Westerners" that
women in other cultures have such a hard time. We are inclined
to believe that our "progress" is more or less universal. Our
eyes have now been opened to the injustices suffered by women
in countries like Afghanistan. It remains all the more
important for Westerners to act responsibly within our own
cultures and not allow ourselves to be spoiled or even to
Cultures that limit free learning or are unable to provide
higher education tend to foster and imbed chauvinism and gender
prejudice. Some of these tendencies lie deep in tribal roots
and traditional practices and cannot be extirpated in one or
two generations. In our culture and yours, the only thing we
really have to work with is ourselves. Your dreadlocks and
tattoos may actually be interfering with the acceptance of
yourself and other women artists. It's my personal prejudice
that art can be as wild as you want to make it, but artists
themselves, male and female, at least need to consider having
an understated presence. Curiously, in our culture it's mainly
the weaker artists who resort to the likes of dreadlocks and
tattoos. Stuck with inability, they resort to showmanship.
I believe that quality art eventually triumphs over all. In the
long run it's art that measures cultures. My theory has many
flaws, not the least being its complete failure in some
environments. Nevertheless, responsibility is our greatest need
and obligation--more than ever these days. Our human family
needs to work to reduce fear, ignorance, hatred and prejudice.
Horizons need to be cleared by enlightenment and education.
Beauty and grace need to triumph. It's not just the future of
art, it's the future of all of us on this blue and beautiful
PS: "Whatever women do, they must do it twice as well as men to
be thought half as good. Luckily, it's not difficult."
(Charlotte Whitton, former Mayor of Ottawa)
Esoterica: I can see my inbox already lighting up with
alternate points of view. Among them will be protests from
female artists who feel they have a rough enough time in
Western Cultures. Here in Canada women got the vote in only
1917. In Australia it happened in 1902, the UK in 1928, the USA
in 1920. In these countries there are now far more women
artists than men. On the other hand, sales success and popular
acceptance is closer to 55-45 in favor of men. Cries of "You've
come a long way baby" are still not enough to generate
satisfaction all around. In art and in civilization, time and
patience are our partners in progress.