It’s funny how one of the most practiced rituals of any event is often the most difficult, the issue of transformation. We are lucky to live in a multinational town, full of students from across the globe. Yet, it is foolhardy to believe that Latin American flair or Germanic cultural depth can be derived from a set of coloured banners or a questionable Facebook event photo. Can a barn become an Octoberfest? Can a pub become a rave? Can a hairdresser’s become an art gallery? On this occasion it was time to investigate the latter.
And so I ventured out onto South Street and, drawn in by the beacon-like lights before me, walked to the Spoiled Salon, only to find it reshaped by a new sense of purpose, by the SAASUM Pop-Up Gallery. Inside I found a twisting gradient of imagery, celebrating the beauty of Africa through human, animal, and landscape shots. Perhaps most impressive of all were the pieces of artwork that stood alongside the images, providing a more conceptual understanding of the rising continent, such as the idea of ‘Simba’ or ‘Strength’. Africa is, as the gallery proved, a continent of incredible complexity. The much known Serengeti stereotypes would, you have thought, faded into insignificance after your eighth re-watch of Planet Earth 2. That could not be further from the truth, as images of nature’s finest creations still manage to summon a smile. Likewise, some of the most interesting pieces could consist of simply a piece of wall in Marrakech, or a group of smiling locals, both of which glow with a vitality that seems yet to have found its way up to our damp island.
Eager to stop boring you all with pretentious commentary I stopped myself to speak to the SAASUM Committee in an attempt to gain further insight into the event:
The Saint: What inspired you to do this sort of event?
SAASUM: Our theme this year is ‘Identity and Empowerment’, we think photos are really a reflection of that because, although you’re not speaking about it, you can just see how the photos are a reflection of the theme. So we have a lot of photos of the nature of Africa, and then we have two art pieces, which were both made by women. We think this plays a huge part in the African identity and also ties to empowerment, so the main thing was to just visualise what we mean by our theme of identity and empowerment.
And of course it was a unique way for students at St Andrews to give their opinion and their view of what they perceive Africa as, and how they view empowerment and identity within Africa. This is a unique way for the student body to give their opinion on things and for other students to come and see it.
TS: In your Facebook event description, you discuss Africa as a rising continent, would you care to comment on your opinion of Africa as a rising continent in the world?
SAASUM: Sure, so Africa on average has the youngest population of any continent, so through the growth and identity that’s going to come through this young population we’re going to see a lot coming out of Africa. We’re just hoping to capture a small bit of that and that’s reflected in our speakers at the Summit, the artwork you see here today, and the student body who comes from Africa and what they’re doing on campus. If you look at ACS they have a lot of great events going on so I would say even in St Andrews, which is a small Scottish ancient village way out where, you’re seeing that rise of Africa, and we’re just trying to capture it.
And so, after once again walking around the gallery, I find myself staring at the same piece of Moroccan wall. A successful auction is underway in the background, with anonymous slips of paper being wedged into boxes around the room as visitors try to snap up their favourite pieces. Around me there are glorious nature shots alongside well-crafted case studies of those the photographers had met during their time in Africa, and yet I couldn’t seem to move on from a piece of orange masonry. I have always found the phrase ‘A picture paints a thousand words’ doubly painful, firstly because of its overuse, and secondly because of how much easier pasting two images into a word document would be than writing my essays. However, on this occasion I am forced to swallow my pride, as each image seen on the Tuesday 6 February, far from being only a thousand words, was an education in itself. I look forward to the summit itself.