FRONT PAGE / POSTS
Cross-Cultural Design FAIL
by Lucia Neva| London, UK
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
tags: africa, art & design, consumer culture, culture, global vectors, global/local
Cross-cultural collaboration is a trend that continues to spread and open new pathways. A wonderful example is the latest trend in world music: Afro-Cuban music. "AfroCubism" (Nonesuch, November 2010) is an album that grew out of a project aiming to find a cultural synergy between Africa and Latin America. The transnational collaboration between Malian and Cuban musicians was intended to demonstrate that music has no linguistic barriers. Alas, political barriers got in the way: a problem with Malian passports and Cuban visas meant that the collaboration was delayed for fourteen years. In the meantime, "Buena Vista Social Club" — a collaboration between Cuban and American musicians — became a global success.
Historically, Cuban music was built on the foundations of African immigration, and West African music was hugely influenced by Cuban music. It is not strange to hear stories of people in Mali dancing and singing to the rhythms of Cuban songs in the Sixties. Cuban music was heard more in the African continent than the other way round, but the connection between the two cultures was always there.
Musically, "AfroCubism" demonstrates the project's collaborative spirit and reveals the cultural synergy between Mali and Cuba. Unfortunately, the cover design entirely fails to connect with the project's original idea. Unless you are versed in the history of Modern and African art, the primary associations derived from the design are disengaged from the emotional narrative built behind AfroCubism — i.e., the historical synergy between Mali and Cuba. The concept behind the graphic design seems intended to attract the European public, which contradicts the spirit of the project.
The semiotic genesis of this particular design — geometric shapes, modern colour schemes, clear drawings of bodies deconstructed with instruments moving around — shouts "Cubism." Although the association with Cubism can provide a multiple and constantly shifting viewpoint that could be applied to a collaborative, cross-cultural project, such association seems to be just a linguistic excuse to portray the Cuban part of AfroCubism. The immediate associations of Cubism are far removed from Cuba-ness, creating a cultural distance effect with regards to the basic associations of AfroCubism. The relationship between West African masks and their influence on Picasso’s work is clear and it helps the connection with the Afro part of the title, but where is the primary association of Picasso and Cuba?
I'm not judging the aesthetic value of the cover, nor the dexterity of its well-known designer (whose work I admire). However, the "AfroCubism" cover is a good example of the importance of design and semiotics in the portrayal of cultural identities and experiences. Graphic designers and semioticians are central in the execution of many ideas that are consumed around the globe; therefore, they are actors in the quest of the authentic. Though their background work is invisible to the public, the results of their work help to construct new cultural experiences and connect to individuals at a deeper level. The responsibility for the creation of designs that connect with people and cultural realities is high and will be higher in years to come, especially if we take seriously the spirit of collaboration.