The role of Christianity as a tool of oppression in Africa is questioned in this visual project
August 15, 2018
The quiet violence of trying to find God in a face that does not resemble yours is an atrocity that does not get enough lip service. This is the reality for Black Christians across the diaspora. The legacy of Christianity in relation to blackness contains an uncomfortable history of the religion being used as a tool of colonization – a political tool. The separation Church and State is a new and fragile concept. Creative and writer Valerie Amani explores the notion of religion as tool instead salvation in her photo series ‘SEARCHING FOR ANDROMEDA’. The project was shot by photographer Guillem Gomis and styled by designer Kahvarah.
I found myself in an all-black African church, full of a people worshiping in a church that carried a large painting of a blonde haired blue-eyed Jesus Christ, and I couldn’t help but wonder – How the hell did we get here?
Amani was inspired to embark on a personal and communal journey centering the history of Christianity in Tanzania and Africa as a whole. The journey birthed a 3-part body of art that examines the rituals and implications of Christianity on the African continent. What Amani discovered was that “Religion has made room for complacent faith. Are we able to take full responsibility of what we believe and why we believe it?” What the creative also found was how the imagery and ritual at the foundations of religious practice can have a silencing effect on critique or dissent. So much so that Amani notes that “it is more than coincidence that in colonial East Africa it was vital to have a church built hand in hand with establishment of a colonial capital in 1872 Bagamoyo, Tanzania.” Religion was a prominent tool of colonization and when one takes into account that the iconography associated with Christianity is filled with Caucasian renditions of Jesus and God, then it is clear that establishing a God that does not look African can aid the dehumanization and enslavement of the African mind and body.
“The images capture Mother Andromeda and her oracle; a satirical alternative to Mary and the baby Jesus. The words in the images represent two sides of a coin; when you are listening to a religious message, are you really listening or being silenced? Are the religious images shown to us really there to empower or oppress us? In my understanding, God should transcend race, gender, and all physical boundaries. Yet those in power throughout history molded the image of Jesus and God, and in many cases made him a Caucasian man. Andromeda aims to challenges the fact that the widely advertised image of god, even in Africa, has a face that most cannot relate to.”
Amani goes further into exploring Christian ritualistic traditions by asking, ‘when your hands reach out, who are you reaching to? Is it the God the world has painted or is it a more inclusive and personal figure?” Religion is a communal practice but a very personal experience and Amani seeks to drive that point home by using her art as platform to discuss how a Black person adapting an exclusive perception of religion into their personal experience can carry on a legacy of oppression instilled when Africans were first introduced to religion. Amani concludes her thoughts by asserting, “this is a an open challenge to give back God to the individual; regardless of religion and society. Who is god to you? Does spirituality really require a face and a body; or just an open heart.”