TedxDar 2010 – Abdu Simba on Iconic Images and Identity

How do images shape our identity, Abdu asks. How do they tell our stories? Iconography is about telling stories. As the saying goes a picture tells a thousands words. They offer parables for our lives, they inform our sense of being human.

He goes on to talk about the visual narrative of Africa. One remembers the iconic images of malnourished children in Ethiopia. How about the narrative that reinfornce the caricature  of Africa as a continent of soldier-leaders. The Big Man of Africa as a trope comes out again and again and again. Should we be defined by these images?

No, fortunately there other sources of our visual stories. Drum magazine offered a counter-narrative. There we saw images of Africans that we were able to relate to. In film, we have the explosion and the huge popularity of Nollywood and Bongo movies and they have tapped into that yearning that we have as human beings to articulate our ways of living. They are severely limited as cinematic endavours but nonetheless we watch them because they give us a familiar vision of our lives. They speak to us and represent who we are than the images of the Rwandan genocide that have profilerated other narratives that are told about us.

What abt TZ? Looking at early pics of Tanzania, there is a poignancy there, why? Perhaps, because there is a sense, when we look at them, that we were something then. There is a sense of pride. We see images of Nyerere with Castro. Nyerere with Nkurumah. Nyerere with Jimmy Carter. We were at the centre of History. These visual self-definitions are also informed by a sense of nostalgia and a pathos that perhaps our best days are behind us.

Now, let me interject Abdu’s moving presentation with this: this elevation of the past, with Nyerere as its primary actor, is proving paralysing. We need to come to terms with the fact that the man has gone. We need to create our own iconic images, that tell our own contemporary stories of who we are. We can’t keep defining ourselves only through him. He is a significant part of who we are, but only a part. This need to hold on to his shadow is overwhelming the are other elements of our identity.

It is on this point that I regretably found Modesta’s presentation so disappointing. The suggestion from her seems to be that we need to resurrect Nyerere, or a Nyerere-like figure, if we want to be successful. Are we that starved of original thinking? Come on, people. Nyerere is the past. I am interested in hearing about the future. What do you have to say about that?


2 Comments on “TedxDar 2010 – Abdu Simba on Iconic Images and Identity”

  1. abdu simba says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your interject Shurufu. The elevation of the past is worrying, but it is happening. TEDX was an event organised by the best brightest Tanzanian minds and they did us proud. The organisers certainly reinforced my hope for our future.

    But they did choose Nyerere as a subject worthy of debate and analysis. And even printed an iconic image of him on the event tshirt! So who exactly is illuminating his shadow on our sense of self identity?

    I see no conflict either way. The past, present and future and part of the same continuum. And only the future is yet to be written.

  2. […] was a (shared) relief that the advertised Nyerere theme never really took off. Stories ruled and stuck in my […]


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