Desmond Tutu: An Inspiration for a Broken Nation | Cultural | Reports on the arts, music and lifestyle of Germany | DW


Desmond Tutu’s impact on issues of faith, politics and social change has traveled far beyond his native South Africa. “Arch Tutu,” as many South Africans call the spiritual figure, has inspired people from all walks of life, especially many artists and creative minds around the world.

The former Archbishop of Cape Town in the Anglican Church was seen as an iconic ambassador of the new South African soul, constantly communicating the values ​​he had come to embody. Among other things, he achieved this level of recognition and support by attracting various artists to join him and accompany him in his quest to unite people despite their differences.

Desmond Tutu’s image spans half the height of the Cape Town Civic Center

In Cape Town – the city he called his home during the second half of his life – many statues, murals and even a huge portrait of the Nobel Prize winner spanning a dozen floors across the exterior of the Civic Center building serve as constant reminders of the pivotal role Tutu played in South Africa’s transformation towards democracy.

Painting by Desmond sold in Cape Town

Tourists can buy Tutu paintings in Cape Town

But its influence can also be felt and seen on much smaller scales.

Hobbyist painters selling their canvases to tourists on St. George’s Mall, Cape Town’s central shopping street, are also known to capture its image in their artwork, while DJs across the city – and even across the country – continue to this day remixing the Archbishop’s scholarly speeches and sermons from the 1980s to match the mellow electro beats of the present, pumping a Kwaito musical version of Tutu’s unique voice.

There is even a popular South African pop group based in Pretoria named after him: Desmond and the Tutus.

An inspiration for a nation torn apart and beyond

Tutu’s hopeful message of forgiveness and reconciliation first touched South Africa in the 1980s, as the country’s apartheid regime began to shake and a new era of governance began. democracy was increasingly becoming an achievable reality. Around this time, he began to preach endlessly that everyone in the country should let go of feelings of revenge and retribution, and encouraged South Africans to focus on rebuilding a shattered nation instead.

This pacifist position, which came at such a pivotal point in history, has since also resonated with many artists, who have discovered a model in the spiritual leader of the nation.

Mural by Brian Rolfe in Cape Town depicting a close-up of Tutu's face

Desmond Tutu was considered a father figure to all South Africans, which was also expressed in art

In fact, Desmond Tutu has also often been called the “Father of the Rainbow Nation” – not just in several of his public appearances; in Cape Town; this intimate moniker also graces a striking piece of street art on Cape Town’s Longmarket Street, created by local artist Brian Rolfe, where his image is shown alongside similar portraits of Nelson and Winnie Mandela.

Deconstruct the visual language of oppression

If Mandela is seen as the mastermind behind South Africa’s transition to democracy, it would be worth saying that Archbishop Tutu provided the heart of this equation. Tutu lived according to the Christian teaching to love his neighbor as himself – to the exclusion of absolutely no one. In 2013, for example, Tutu said, “I would refuse to go to a homophobic paradise. No, I would say ‘Sorry, I would much rather go to the other place.'”

Bronze statue of Desmond Tutu at the Cape Town waterfront complex

Flag at half mast behind this Cape Town waterfront Tutu statue sums up a grieving nation

His passionate activism for minorities, especially South Africa’s LGBTQ + community and people living with HIV / AIDS, has earned him accolades not only internationally but also at home. Many South Africans – and artists in particular – view the former head of the Anglican Church in South Africa as a liberator, whose gentle nature has helped change an entire culture both inside and out.

Johannesburg skyline

Many South Africans say that in terms of design Johannesburg is an ugly city with beautiful people

By the time South Africa became a democracy in 1994, decades of austere conservatism under the apartheid white minority regime had left the country with a glut of figurative and brutalist ideas in the visual arts and architecture. , at a time when much of the rest of the world followed a much more inclusive aesthetic in art. The sanctions that had been imposed on the apartheid regime had meanwhile further isolated the country from access to visibility and knowledge of international trends, making entire cities appear soulless.

Tutu played a fair role in helping South Africa to emerge from this difficult heritage while opening the country to contemporary trends and ideas – especially in terms of culture – by presenting South Africans with a new principle to follow: ubuntu .

Colorful image of Desmond Tutu in a Malawian hospital with several patients in front

In Malawi, this mural by Desmond Tutu adorns the wall of a children’s hospital in Blantyre

Transforming art with Ubuntu

Tutu’s basic philosophy on ubuntu – a term used in the Zulu language to roughly describe the concept of “we’re all in one boat” – has inspired some of the biggest names in southern art and culture. – Africans to set sail in a new direction.

Effigy of Desmond Tutu seen swinging from a chandelier in an art gallery in Cape Town in 2009

I want to swing from the chandelier: this art installation from 2009 sums up the playful spirit of Tutu

Abstract concepts in thought such as forgiveness, reconciliation and peacebuilding suddenly became the vanguards of the new emerging creative scene in the country. African designs suddenly mingled with European influences, creating new styles of fashion and music that are still prevalent today. The language of the oppressive regime – Afrikaans – could suddenly be reclaimed and restored for the purpose of nation building in music and literature.

After all the atrocities of apartheid were over, Ubuntu made South Africa the continent’s hippest place for arts and culture, despite lingering structural challenges left by the country’s racist past.

This uplifting and transformative spirit of ubuntu permeating all aspects of the human condition – and in particular the arts and culture – was perhaps best summed up by the late Archbishop himself in a handover ceremony. award held in London in 2013: “God longs for us to know that we were created for togetherness.”


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