As visually stunning as these three works of art are by UK-based university student Alexandria Robinson, I can help but find elements of of these pieces a little disturbing and problematic.
According to the description on her Behance profile, she was given the task to “visually interpret a tribal poem, using an imaginative use of imagery and typography”.
The use of the word ‘tribe’, which is used to describe the poetry, ethnic groups that are illustrated, and the title of the project - ‘TRIBE’, is the first factor in this project that struck me as both problematic and distasteful. Why is ‘tribe’ such a problematic word? Apart from its link to colonialism and use as a racist descriptor, as this article in Pambazuka so aptly puts it, the word ‘tribe’ “promotes a myth of primitive African timelessness, obscuring history and change”.
After reading these ‘tribal poems’, I immediately began to wonder: who wrote these poems? No credit is given to any author(s)/writer(s) on her profile, and after googling the words in search of a literary source, with no results, I can only assume the were penned by the artist. In the second illustration that contains a poem about Masai people, they are described as a “fierce tribe” whose mission is to spear lions, and who will turn to violence and “split your brains” should you get on their bad side. Colonial rhetoric that’s incredibly reductive, I wonder where she drew her inspiration from.
The other two poems, simplistic in nature as they are (I’m guessing that was done to fit the nature of the artists work) sit well with me.
I want to appreciate the artist’s work - really, I do - and also wonder if I’m overreacting (am I?). Please feel free to share your thoughts!