It is painful to see the richness and value of traditional art forms unknown to contemporary Botswana society. Traditional art seems to be ignored or underrated by the new generation of artists and art critics. Their concepts and researches are heavily interested in the modern contemporary art. The implications are many, the most obvious being the total neglect of traditional art such as lekgapho (floor patterns), decorated homes, decorated pots as well as the visual works left by early settlers (rock paintings). This forms part of the visual heritage found in Botswana as a trace of the development of the contemporary art in Botswana.
In addition, traditional dressing, accessories that men and women used, forms a rich legacy of traditional art among Batswana of various ethnic groups even before institutions of higher learning and other schools introduced art in the curriculum. In the late 70s, Batswana in the remote areas used to decorate wooden musical instruments, spoons and utensils with patterns made by burning the wood with hot metal rots. After looking at the historical trace, one has to be aware of how we could preserve it for the coming generation in order to get a picture of the contribution and value of art in the society. The recent exhibitions of traditional pottery held at the National Museum, Monuments and Art Gallery as well as Thapong Visual Arts Centre’s gallery gives evidence of the richness of traditional art forms in Botswana. One will realise that in the media, traditional art is not getting the publicity it deserves like other art forms such as visual, performing arts and music.
Traditional art is used here to pass on the massage of the late visual imageries, which before colonization were the guiding and controlling force on Batswana’s perception and philosophy of life. But these days, postmodern art, or art for art sake which is non traditional forms of visual representation, has taken control. The art lovers would agree if one says traditional art should be institutionalized that is being taught from the grass root level. In this era of shortage of jobs, artists could create traditional art forms and make a living. The local community should be engaged in commercializing traditional art. It is not only an important aspect of commercializing but it also defines us. It depicts a sense of belonging and reflecting our identity as Africans. Any way our disadvantage is that we did not have influential art critics who could write more on the traditional art form. Even if they were there, they could have been over shadowed by the western art critics. This put us in an unfortunate position which results in lack of appreciation of art forms.
Consciously or unconsciously, comparing Botswana’s traditional art forms with postmodern art, one could simply understand Botswana’s philosophy, religion, culture and psychology. There is no need to struggle to interpret or find meaning unlike in abstract art. It is not easy for ordinary audience to relate well with art for art sake which is highly receiving good publicity.
Due to the high rate of promoting art forms such as pop art, but forgetting about the traditional art, the generation to come may undermine the traditional art. Stereotypically, the youth may think that the old timers had no feeling for beauty. It is important to pass on the skill to the youth in order to impart the African art.
It is not easy to resist the attraction of traditional art when one sees the objects. The local audience thinks it is created for the tourists. One would agree that the traditional artifacts have been finding their way to the west from early times which will leave us without an inheritance but due to western market and cost of living we are forced to part with our legacy.
Opportunities could be created for traveling exhibitions of traditional art forms organized jointly by the private sector, NGOs and the government that will expose the local traditional art internationally.