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Monday, 15 June 2015 09:50

AfroFest Bridging the Cultural Gap in Russia

IMG_1476By Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW, June 15, 2015 (Buziness Africa) -- For the second time, Moscow played host to “AfroFest-2015” that brought together more than 20 African countries. The festival, which took place from June 6 to 7 in Moscow and from June 13 to 14 in St. Petersburg, was supported by the Department of Culture of the Moscow Municipal Council, a number of African Embassies in Moscow and business companies (such as Turkish Airlines, Royal Air Morocco), diaspora communities and non-commercial organizations.

This annual large-scale cultural event is an open noncommercial project, in the sense that means anyone who feels can participate in the project. Noncommercial means that the earned income is spent on the development of the festival in particular, and on development of culture and arts as a whole.


AfroFest started in 2014 as a festival of African culture with the main goal to promote the culture of African peoples in Russia. It brings together the best bands from the African continent. The festival provides a platform for new dancing skills from famous teachers and dancers from around the world.


Some of the festival attractions include exotic food shows, traditional arts and crafts exhibition, exclusive fashion collections by famous African designers, cultural workshops and master classes as well as film shows. For this year's festival, some of the African countries represented at the festival included Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Djibouti, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, Madagascar, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe.


As part of the festival, the Embassy of the Republic of Ghana in Moscow organized a group of famous Ghanaian artists and a jazz musician who mounted a big decorative exhibition that attracted many visitors both in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The famous artists are Wiz Kudowor, Kofi Gamamiwosror Agorso and Larry Otoo.


In a short discussion, Wiz Kudowor, who is one of Ghana's most favourite artists and has won many prizes including the Osaka Triennale Bronze Prize and the Ghana Airways Silver Jubilee Art Contest, explained that the main aim of their participation was the desire to promote the artistic and cultural pedigree of Ghana, and also to raise the awareness of the people of Russia on the contemporary art practices of Ghana.


“The reactions to the artworks were rather very positive. There was a lot of excitement towards the paintings due to the fact that the colours gave the visitors to the exhibition something to warm themselves with and gave them a feeling of being in Africa according some of the visitors. The quality of works presented were unprecedented and unexpected and not the usual expressions that are presented to represent Africa. The themes in the exhibition covered the social, political and spiritual,” Kudowor told Buziness Africa.


IMG_1624According to his biography, Kofi Gamamiwosror Agorsor is a famous Ghanaian artist and jazz musician who travelled throughout Africa and the world. He is also a priest, whose responsibilities include counselling couples to help them deal with problems in their relationships. Being one of Ghana's finest artists, he has been at the forefront of Ghana's art scene for the last twenty years. Agorsor's themes, like his techniques, are diverse. The works are largely influenced by African culture with its rich and vibrant colours and dynamism.


In September 2013, his first solo exhibition in Dubai, titled “Eternal Feeling”, reflects his experiences and his observations about human nature and human relationships. Agorsor's acrylic paintings are filled with the vibrant colours of Africa, but the emotions they speak about are universal. The figurative and abstract works express his admiration for women and his faith in the power of love.


Without doubt, Katerina Baginskaya, the founder of Baginskaya Gallery and Studio based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, told me in an emailed interview: “Agorsor, talking about his personality, I was amazed at how an artist of his caliber can be so humble (yet full of dignity). Agorsor is kind and generous, he radiates positive energy, is always optimistic and cheerful.”


Dr. Kodzo K. Alabo, Ghana's Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation & Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), explains that the presence of the famous Ghanaian artists at the African festival shows a true reflection of their collective enthusiasm, interest and commitment in helping to strengthen friendly cultural relations with Russia.


“Indeed, this is the first time a group of renowned Ghanaian artists are putting up exhibitions in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There are six painters in all and public reactions to the quality of art works that they have put on display speak volumes,” Dr. Alabo wrote in an emailed interview with Buziness Africa.


He added: “First, the exhibitions have helped disabuse the minds of people who have come to believe that nothing good can come out of Africa. Secondly, the excellent art works have endeared our artists, especially the three that made it to Moscow and St. Petersburg, to Russian lovers of art. Thirdly, through the meeting of interests that the exhibition engendered, we can say that art has brought Ghana and Russia closer together. Herein lies the power of culture as an instrument of soft diplomacy, to which I am strongly committed!”


The African continent - one of the most beautiful and mysterious regions in the world. For centuries, its tropical forests, an amazing fauna, enchanting culture and unique flavor beckon travellers and inspires artists to create masterpieces, written in the festival's catalogue.


According to official press release, organizers said the “AfroFest-2015” is an international event that will help to enhance people-to-people friendship, create grounds for social interaction, raise the cultural awareness and display the diversified African culture to Russians.”


Events Managing Director, Anastasia Deriglazova, told a media briefing that “the time has significantly changed. That change has brought along many opportunities such as promoting foreign culture to Russians. That the African groups are here to demonstrate the most varied aspects of their traditional culture at the African festival.”


On one hand, there are huge challenges bringing African culture to the doorstep of Russians. But, on the other hand, “Russians need to know what is not said about Africa,” Dr. Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, Ambassador of the East African country of Rwanda, said in a telephone interview with The Moscow Times.


IMG_3072She sees the festival as an important opportunity to show off her country and to “change attitudes” toward a continent that is often exoticized. Russians often pander to stereotypes and “portray Africa in the jungle,” she said. Mujawamariya said she would like to see “improvement in other areas such as trade, commerce, education and agriculture.”


“Russians don't know what Africa is,” said Serge Phocas Odunlami, President of the House of Africa organization that hosts the annual festival. He said he hoped that the occasion would continue serving as a “bridge” between Russian and African cultures.


The House of Africa website says that the African cultural festival is organized primarily for the expansion of cultural horizons, breaking stereotypes and attitudes formed over many years. The aim of the event is to familiarize citizens with the Russian history, customs and traditions of Africa.


Globally, the festival - is an opportunity to promote cultural and business relations between Russia and Africa. The result of such relations: the creation of new businesses, tourist destinations, the exchange of students, cultural integration. Last year, the African festival attracted some 20,000 visitors. (Source: Buziness Africa)



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