This was taken from here:
Last week, Africa Is a Country, a blog that documents and skewers Western misconceptions of Africa, ran a fascinating story about book design. It posted a collage of 36 covers of books that were either set in Africa or written by African writers. The texts of the books were as diverse as the geography they covered: Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique. They were written in wildly divergent styles, by writers that included several Nobel Prize winners. Yet all of books’ covers featured an acacia tree, an orange sunset over the veld, or both.
“In short,” the post said, “the covers of most novels ‘about Africa’ seem to have been designed by someone whose principal idea of the continent comes from The Lion King.”
“For that vast continent, in all its diversity, you get that one fucking tree.”
What makes the persistence of these tired and inaccurate images even worse is that we’re living in an era of brilliant book design . This is what the author of this article has asked. he turned to a reputable source to get some answers as to why is so hard for publishers of African authors to rise beyond cliché?. He talked to Peter Mendelsund—who is an associate art director of Knopf, a gifted cover designer, and the author of a forthcoming book on the complex alliances between image and text. He was able to provide some valuable insight into how the publishing industry got to a place where crude visual stereotypes reign supreme and exert their dominion on countless forms of media.
- The first reason Mr Mendelsund came up with was “laziness, both individual or institutionalized. Like most Americans, book designers tend not to know all that much about the rest of the world, and since they don’t always have the time to respond to a book on its own terms, they resort to visual clichés. Meanwhile, editors sometimes forget what made a manuscript unique to begin with. In the case of non-Western novels, they often fall back on framing it with “a vague, Orientalist sense of place,” Mendelsund says, and they’re enabled by risk-averse marketing departments.
- The deeply ingrained problems of post-colonialist and Orientalist attitudes. We’re comfortable with this visual image of Africa because it’s safe. It presents ‘otherness’ in a way that’s easy to understand. That’s ironic, because what is fiction if not a way for you to stretch your empathetic muscles?”
how to solve the underlying problem?
Certain books are allowed to stand on their own; others—too often those by African,Muslim, or female authors—are assigned genre stereotypes. Mendelsund suggests that designers should start by initiating conversations with editors about what makes a book unique, so that they have something to respond to visually. And if that fails, and designers are pressured to use an offensive stereotype, Mendelsund says, “We can tell them that it’s racist, xenophobic, whatever.”
I think it is important to realize that there is a 500 year body of literature created to justify the colonization and exploitation of Africa. A five hundred year PR campaign has and will have a major effect on the minds of generations to come. Within our own culture how we view and depict African Americans has not changed much from a century ago. Those antiquated views influence policy in such a way as to perpetuate in many ways the continued suffering and marginalization of an entire segment of the population.
One of the great things about this article is that it shows how what can be seemingly innocuous like a book cover can in fact have a deeper significance than imagine when viewed under a different light.
Do you know any other examples like this