By Rabhelani Mguni
There are times when we all need voices louder than our own to say what we are all seeing - October 7th and its aftermath is one such time. We have and need the affirmation of the individuals who do wonders - creators and performers of arts - to say something. While we witness the horrors that unfold before us like a raging storm, our so-called heroes and idols are on a boat in the eye of the hurricane, silent and fast asleep. To assume they are waiting for the right moment to calm the storm is delusion, and in this madness being "delulu" is not the "solulu".
Is this the end of an era? Have silence and indifference marked our stars and venerable creators as irrelevant?
At the time of penning this essay, hostages have been exchanged and the people not at the front have agreed to a "temporary" ceasefire. The irony of life. All this happens against a backdrop of silence, indifference and self-censure of many celebrated public figures of the arts and entertainment industry. Our idols have chosen comfort because they are witnessing what discomfort looks like, and they will not dare upset the powers. For us mundane creatures, screens can only beam the misery taking place in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, these creators are drinking champagne at the at the art galleries, undoubtedly paid for by the profits from these wars. Surely, we see that things have fallen apart?
To pretend all is good is to live in the last pages of a romance novel. Nothing is alright when the world is bleeding. Everywhere, their faces torment us; old men spending their first day alone, the whole family buried under rubble. You cannot mute the footages and news coming out from the front of this conflict. It's everywhere and on every page. No number of settings and algorithm-rigging can stop the outpouring news and updates from the most dreadful place to be alive today. This is not any conflict. The Israeli-Palestine "conflict" holds a mirror to every individual, showing us how wretched we truly are. We think we are of pure beliefs and inclinations, and then the Israel-Palestine comes as a test of those beliefs we are so quick to boast about. All is evident in the reactions of the people about this conflict, their political inclinations and faith on display, but are they genuine?
How funny is it that we have always celebrated our idols as open-minded, socially conscious and liberal? Now the curtain falls off and they cannot go on acting, the grandeur of their feigned beliefs and purity of politics has been muddied by their own distorted realities. Who claims there is peace and drinks wine as cities vanish in the split of a second?
The silence of the creative and artists is loud, booming even, and its emptiness legitimises the violence and misery. From Nazi Germany to the opioid epidemic, art has always been the tool that conflicts' beneficiaries and profiteers use. This can be done to to legitimise or mute any moral questioning of their wickedness. For a long time, artists have become embroiled in scandals for getting into bed with corporations and organisations with controversial backgrounds: oil companies, arms dealers, and pharmaceuticals. The Israel-Palestine conflict is a bit different, but they cannot claim oversight and practice plausible deniability here.
The days when art was an independent vocation are long gone. Artists are dependent on grants for living. Artists and other creatives know very well that the profiteers of human misery, who also often happen to be the grant makers, will reimburse them for their silence and indifference. The shareholders of the arts industry are all individuals and institutions that continue to be complicit in all atrocious events in the world. Does it shock us that some trace their history to the looting of art from the Orient, Sub-Sahara and Asia? That they have fortunes sourced from colonial exploitation and slavery? No? Then why are we surprised when the antiracist singer cannot see the mutation of white supremacy in the justification of violence against unarmed non-white civilians? At this point I no longer have the strength to assume that they are ignorant of the colonial ties of the affluent arts institutions, their silence and indifference defeats any doubts I have, and incriminates them to knowing exactly where those five and seven figure grants and stipends come from.
Idols are heroes who are free. They have control over their legacies and the voices of their artistry. These creatives and artists cannot be classed as idols; they are beholden to the stakeholders of the arts industry. They cannot be labelled as heroes and idols; they lost that right when they could no longer speak up to the powers that be. Artists became idols because they have throughout history held strong moral convictions and been the dissenting voice against tyranny, even when the world still adored its tyrants. In a nutshell, they have set the standard for an ideal world. Today, this historical fact is becoming too antiquated and dusty to use on the a large part of the present community of artists.
People get sad at the sight of injustice because they are often helpless to do anything except offer their thoughts and prayers, but artists must be enraged. A true artist has to be willing to reject conditional grants and royalties bloodied by the deaths of innocent people. Art must be a reflection of reality and the idealist imagination of the latter. At this point the silence and indifference to the ongoing conflict means the artists are creating no real art. Calling them artists is now value free because at the end of the day they are not producing art but out of this world fantasies. We no longer have idols but mimicries of what we need at this perilous time.
About the Writer:
Rabhelani Mguni is a writer and essayist. He lives in Bulawayo and spends time in Masvingo for school. The writer is undergraduate Gender Studies student at the Nehanda Center for Gender and Cultural Studies at the Great Zimbabwe University. His reading and writings are informed by his interests in social justice, liberation and social gospel theology, progressive liberalism, pacifism, romance, history and society. Some of his works have appeared in such publications like Lolwe, Novelty Fiction Gazette (Spring 2022 Issue), Kalahari Review, Olongo Africa and Odd Magazine.