From `The Journey Home'
TYRONE GETER is one of the few black American artists to resettle here in Africa. Many have visited, but circumstances often prevented their settling permanently. This was the case with another American, Tom Feelings who in his ``Black Pilgrimage'' (New York: Lothrup, Lee and Shepherd, 1972) has mentioned how his stay in Ghana was interrupted after two years by the coup that toppled President Kwame Nkrumah. However, his expectation is to return to Africa to live permanently. It is interesting to see how many of his artistic impressions of Africa tally with those of Geter, who currently is a member of the African American Master Artists in Residency Program at Northeastern University in Boston. For example, during the period Feelings was in Africa, he indicated the remarkable impression the tropical colors made upon him as an artist.
There were many new things for my eyes to feast on - the palm trees in the warm sun, and dusty pastel-colored roads - all the wonderful colors of Africa. I had to change my whole palette, use more vivid colors, and put more light into my paintings....
This intensity and brightness of color in Africa was also experienced by Geter, who often stated that he was impressed by the different color combinations used in the clothing worn and household decorations, etc. These were colors that were rarely, if ever, used together by Europeans. As he said: ``I have always felt color here was different ... In fact it is probably different in any tropical place where the intensity of the sun is so great that the colors become so intense and so bright.''
Tom Feelings was also highly impressed by the nature of the people:
... One of the first things that struck me when I went into the streets and villages to draw was the glow in the faces. It was a glow that came from within, from a knowledge of self, a trust in life, ... All my innermost feelings about the beauty of the Black People I had known came to life, and I was happy.
And again, speaking of one child he had drawn and contrasting her with children in America, he stated:
I chose this little girl to draw because she represents what I would most like to remember about West Africa. She has all the warmth and spirit I so longed to see in Black children in America. I knew that spirit was in the young Black children at home, but it was buried deep under layers of frustration and alienation. I saw none of this in the faces of children I drew in Ghana....
Geter's long stay in Nigeria has led him at this point to want to look for essentials. Essentials that related to the point of origin when the expatriated African in the Diaspora had been at one with his homeland. As Geter said in an interview:
The more you learn about Nigeria, you know, the more you want to see something that is a bit closer to reality a bit less Western-oriented ... I am concerned about some things I think have happened to Black Americans; we have lost much of our culture, or only know it instinctively, because of the whole slavery history.
It was in the villages that Geter saw scenes that touched his artistic nerve centers. Staying there gave him a chance to know the people and their families intimately. Speaking about this experience he stated:
I could take those images and make them fit into my own statement, I could do anything I wanted with them, I could make them fit my own way of seeing things, my own feelings about life. Since then, I have always gone to villages.
This statement gives the impression that the community in the village exuded a primordial harmony from which Geter the artist was enabled to get closer to the basic elemental feelings for Africa reawakened in the artist through exposure to subconsciously familiar archetypes. However, there are also elements in this statement that call for a degree of caution which Geter himself hinted at when he stated:
Well, I have discovered that in many ways I know absolutely nothing. ... You know how we Black Americans can be when we come here. We are very nationalistic and we want to do so much for the Continent but sometimes you find that what looks like it may have been good for the Continent back in the United States is not good for it here, not always, but sometimes, and you can run headlong into a lot of opposition ... I guess I have learned a lot about patience....
THE over-exuberance, the unrestrained enthusiasm, the zealousness for action to give Africa a prominent place in the comity of nations, - all these urges coupled with a certain opinionated dogmatism have often led repatriates into frustrations when they could not attain their goals overnight and forgot to turn and reexamine their own position in the scheme of things. The trunk of the tree stands firmly on its roots. If a branch should break off, perhaps another will grow; nevertheless, the trunk continues to flourish. On the other hand, the branch depends on the trunk for its nourishment. If it is cut off, it will surely die or wither away. The branch needs the trunk more than the trunk needs the branch - but they all need the roots.
Perhaps the repatriate, owing to his long exile, now gives more importance to the roots than even those who are closer to them, since they often take them for granted, or forget their essentiality. The nourishment for growth must come from this basic source. This is why Geter felt he must leave the university campus. As he put it, `` ... The university environment is very Western, at least for me ...'' He wanted to get closer to the forgotten roots of the village organization that still contained a milieu more authentic and closer to the image in his mind.
There is an Islamic tradition that says, ``love of one's fatherland is part of faith.'' From the time the first Africans were violently torn from the shores of this continent up until today, there has existed in the hearts of many a desire to return to their motherland. It is true that the whole world is the home of the human species, but nevertheless, some places are more attractive, more congenial, and more appealing to some people than others. And so is Africa to us.
This essay is from a proposed book called ``The Journey Home'' by Mr. Mahmud who is university librarian at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria.