An Open Letter from Tanatsei Gambura


To my “art is dispensable” friends and foes:

Your assertions have long been stifling to those of us whose job on this planet is to create the lives and societies that we want to live in, the lives and societies that you want to live in. Many a time, you remark that creative arts are hobbies, that they are not essential for human survival and do not develop the modern world. However, human beings have never in history existed by mere survival, which is to say with food, water and shelter alone. In fact, it is the exact opposite of that reality that humanises us. Creativity, innovation and social understanding have been the defining factors in separating human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom. To claim that creative arts and culture are not essential for survival is to both erroneously say that humans exist to survive and that they can do so without the art and culture.

An artist myself, I have had disapproving word after word hurled at me for the path that my life is taking, especially because I am regarded an intellectual or an academic. I will clarify this once and for all: those two identities are not mutually exclusive and are, in fact, one identity. The foundation of creative arts is critical inquiry and the expression of selves through them. An artist like me, just like anyone else in the world, should have the freedom to decide and choose the path in life that is most fulfilling, without the burden of stigma, ignorant judgement, and secondary treatment.

We need to redefine how we quantify and qualify value. Too often, you criticise that which you know little of. Go out, engage and learn. Support the creative and cultural sector by paying artists without using the word “exposure”, funding arts initiatives, allowing your child to study theatre and consuming creative goods yourself. The arts are intellectually critical and socially imperative, politically rousing and economically viable. They examine the past, interrogate the present and craft a future.

Yours in faith,

Tanatsei Gambura.

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