Sunday, May 27, 2012

Looks Like Liberian Art, Is not Liberian Art

In April the excellent website African Digital Art featured the graphic design work featured in the opening credits of the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell. The illustrations are the work of Olaf Hajek, a Berlin-based artist. 

I was a bit surprised by this-- I had noticed the very atmospheric artwork in the film's opening, but hadn't thought afterwards about the artist. I had presumed that a local Liberian artist had done the work--especially given how quintessentially local the art evidently is. 

But it is not a local, Liberian artist. Instead, this is the work of a Dane, Olaf Hajek. As is so often the case, the sentiment is best encapsulated in the comments section of the ADA post, from an African Digital Art visitor named "Lars:"
Nice visuals, but they bordering on a rip-off of local artists work. Why not use a Liberian artist? There are plenty of capable billboard and cartoon artists in Liberia who have emerged in recent years to become artists of international standards. In fact pic #2 is lifted from an anti-rape billboard still visible in Monrovia. The producers would have done better to use photographs of actual street art, rather than pay a European to cut and paste them under his name. This is not xenophobia, its simply common courtesy to offer a shot to local talent who have survived the hell portrayed in this film, and now struggle to make a decent living.  What a shame. Opportunities like this to do right by local artists do not come by too often.

Via the BBC, above is that anti-rape billboard, which is prominently situated on Tubman Boulevard near the Airfield. Veteran Monrovian ex-pat Chris Herwig's Flickr photo stream has several more images of it, ©2007. As you can see, the pair is indeed copied entirely: even the color of the clothing has not been changed by the Danish drawer. I would be interested to investigate the professional disposition of Hajek in this situation: would Hajek have so readily reproduced an exact copy of a fellow European's handiwork? Does he not recognize this (unfortunately nameless) Liberian artist as having equal creative protections other artists' work? 

Completely aside from that issue, Lars is totally right, what a shame in terms of missed professional opportunity. Despite a handful of individual, noteworthy talents, the contemporary Liberian art scene is moribund, restricted by a dearth of patrons, supporters, and venues outside of a tiny clientele for paintings and woodwork, and the occasional commercial opportunity such as a billboard or sign. 

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