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The Arts of Being Beautiful in Addis Ababa and Dakar

Tshikala Kayembe Biaya


Beauty is a quality on the definition of which there rarely is agreement. Is this because the aesthetic canons of yesterday appear anachronistic when compared with those of today? Or do concepts of beauty vary intrinsically from one society to another or even from one race to another, so that there is no such thing as universal beauty? There is no obvious answer to these questions. Despite appearances, neither beauty contests nor fashion parades have succeeded in solving the problem in any definitive way (Barnard 2000). On the contrary, as has been shown recently, such events have been the target of strong opposition. What is considered beautiful in one culture may easily be perceived as pure ugliness in another, especially when relations between the two cultures are marked by violence and domination. So Immanuel Kant, in his well-known “observations on the feeling of the beautiful and the sublime”, found only foolishness and vanity in birds’ feathers, cows’ horns, shells and other everyday objects with which some black people like to adorn themselves (Kant 1990).

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West Africa Review. ISSN: 1525-4488 (online).
Editors: Adeleke Adeeko, Nkiru Nzegwu, and Olufemi Taiwo.

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