Faces of beautiful people peer at me from glossy magazine covers as I stand in a grocery store queue. From cover to cover, people with perfect features and designer outfits vie for our attention. I usually ignore these as they have to a propensity to make even a reasonably adjusted person question the creator’s fairness when crafting and dispensing our looks.
However, today one particular copy grabs my attention. It is a front cover picture of a public figure I know in person. Except on the face of this magazine, the person looks nothing like they do in reality. The crooked front tooth has been straightened, the excess weight trimmed, the sun-blotched skin looks flawless and their tired overworked eyes beams with radiance and freshness. This is the magic of photoshoping. I’m intrigued and amused at this picturesque transformation and I buy myself a copy.
As I gaze intently at this alter ego of an ordinary person whose polished version sells magazines, I wonder about the public or mediated image of Africa as often portrayed by mainstream media and the impact this has on us as Africans and the rest of the world.
A while back I attended a public lecture addressed by notable African scholar Prof Molefi Asante. He mentioned that many African-America children are happy with being black. They are in fact proud of it. However one thing they hate being identified with is being African and this is informed by what they see and hear about the continent. Months later, this poignant statement plays repeatedly in my mind. I realize these youth and indeed many adults too in and out of Africa have a good reason for their Afro-phobia.
Mainstream media regularly confronts us with nightmarish images of Africa and its people. It is ironic that in their marketing of Africa, it is the chaotic, the absurd and the ugly that sells. The dejected version of Africa is so ingrained that sometimes I wonder if the media producers cannot resist it but just have to add that sound of random gunfire; zoom the lens where the putrid flies linger on protruding rib-bones of hungry people or find mean looking men toting dangerous weapons to produce a final product that we can all gawk at with a mix of horror, pity and disgust from the distance and safety of our sanitized lives.
It is no wonder African children want to keep a far distance from this barrage of disturbing themes that are seldom balanced with the positive images. No one wants to be identified with that, they fear that what they see might become their reality too.
Therefore if the media can transform models and ordinary public figures with natural flaws into picturesque versions that make people diet to get that wasp-sized waist and invest hard earned money to buy perfect looks that we know are unrealistic, then why can’t we do the same for Africa? Is it not time we photoshopped and airbrushed the image of the continent in way that makes it attractive?
However, there is a twist in photo-shopping Africa. There is no need to gloss over it with unrealistic features. Africa has its various challenges but more than that, it has many beautiful and breath-taking natural images that do not need false appendages. What we need to airbrush off as we write and film Africa, are the flies that have been turned into permanent features on our faces, the sick people symbolised as hallmarks of our families and the weapons that all our friends seem to wear like its jewelry. That is what we need to edit, correct and minimize because it simply is not a true reflection of our lived reality.
Africa is a living, breathing museum whose rich culture, history and nature lies splendidly bare and real. The cradle of humankind. In our imaging of Africa, it is time we turn our lenses and pens to the wonders that Mt Kilimanjaro and Table Mountain are; the paradise that Bazzaruto Islands, Seychelles and Mauritius display; the rich and diverse cultures and the innovation and resilience that is in inherent in us.
That is what we need to zoom in on and add a dash of colour to magnify the splendor. The beauty of it is that we still discover that what we see and discover is just as real and breathtaking on our screens and magazines covers as it is in real life.
God bless Africa.
Pearl P Mashabane