Africa is a scandal," writes
curator Simon Njami in the catalogue for Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a
Continent. Not many people would disagree. Africa, the poorest continent, with
the most terrible problems of war and disease... But Njami doesn't mean that.
His catalogue essay is written in another language, that of curators: he means
"scandal" in a theoretical way. Africa is a scandal because it is
"hybrid", because it is inherently transgressive, because... no, let
us leave it there.
Suffice it to say that Africa Remix flails around to find an
Africa that can claim its place in the world of biennales, glossy art magazines
and proliferating theory. That it ends up discovering the same old realities of
injustice and poverty probably says more for the honesty of African artists than
for the thinking behind the show.
found Wednesday February 9, 2005
Patrice Felix Tchicaya's 'Fin de cycle (End of Cycle)' (2007)--a video installation with sound, three DVD projections and mirrors
(c) Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, museum kunst palast; at the Johannesburg Art
Africa calling for modern
There's plenty to admire in
Africa Remix. But Jonathan Jones wonders if a whole continent can really be
captured in a single exhibition
Hayward Gallery Southbank London
10 February - 17 April 2005
Samuel Fosso, (Central-Afrika) Le Chef, 2003. Courtesy the artist Centre d'art et de
culture Georges Pompidou, Paris
The good news: Bodys Isek Kingelez is in
it, and he is a mad genius, a visionary architect of futuristic worlds, which he
builds in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. His work is
full of loving detail, crowded with formal and chromatic surprises: skyscrapers
in opulent yet neat shapes, neon lights, spacious highways and parks. Kingelez
is a true modern artist as much as a contemporary one. He has an ideal of city
life, a cartoonish utopianism that may, underneath, be an ironic and pessimistic
joke about the failure of real cities, anywhere, to be as lovely as his dreams.
Pessimism clings to a lot of the work here despite itself, or despite the
promotional claims made for it. Goncalo Mabunda welds together pieces of guns to
make sculptures, including a rusting Eiffel Tower. This Mozambique artist seems
on the face of it to be uplifting and redemptive - swords into ploughshares,
automatic weapons into chairs. But there is a gloom and a wretchedness to these
objects, with their cargo of the slain.
Recycling of one kind or another is the dominant aesthetic in Africa Remix.
This is subtly different from the cult of the readymade in current European and
American art. The Duchampian object selected and isolated by the artist is by
definition historyless, made new. The recycled or collaged object is the
opposite: a lump of memory. To make art from scrap is to make a lugubrious
monument to its previous users. So Dilomprizulike's human figures made from
rubbish and El Anatsui's curtain of reused aluminium and Titos's aeroplane of
trash are grim and sombre things, for all their creative verve. They are
hand-me-downs, inherited houses full of bad memories. Willie Bester makes this
explicit in his For Those Left Behind, a monument to victims of apartheid forged
from scrap metal of that era - guns, badges, chains.
Unfortunately, Bester isn't very good, and in general this exhibition lacks
quality control. I don't just mean it has bad work, but it aspires to the
condition of an art fair or festival, in which a large number of artists of
wildly varying merit display one or two works. So there is only one - brilliant
- cityscape by Kingelez, and just two works by the terrific Congolese painter Chéri
on this limited showing, Samba's Le Monde Vomissant is a startling painting. An
African-faced Earth spews out the indigestible continent of America. There is a
list of some other vomit-worthy places. It's strange, grotesque, funny - but a
very incomplete representation of the art of Samba, who paints Hogarthian scenes
of everyday life full of gross jokes, surreal rage and lyricism.
Chéri Samba (Democratic Republic of Congo), 2004. Acrylic on canvas. © Hayward
This kind of painting has real popular roots and purposes in Kinshasa, and it
could have been shown in far more depth. The reason I like it is not out of a
crusty affection for painters but because Samba seems to tell us about African
contemporary life, rather than setting out to fit into a global art system. You
see this in his touching image The Bankrupt.
Samba and Kingelez are well-established names in French and other museums on
the continent. The organisers of Africa Remix would probably say they are more
interested in discovering the new. But they don't discover anything very much.
You could, of course, and logically should, define the "contemporary"
as any art being made now, and an exhibition that really showed us a broad
cross-section of images and artefacts from Africa made in the past couple of
years might juxtapose traditional art made for tourists with living folk objects
like painted coffins and with Kingelez's utopian cities. This is not that
exhibition. It uses "contemporary art" in the way it is generally
used, to mean art aware of modernism and its aftermath. But who defines
"contemporary art", and why should it matter more than, say,
"tribal" or popular art from Africa? And why should African art have
to fit a sterile and middle-class western idea of the culturally pertinent?
The exhibition's preference for that which asserts its right to be called
truly contemporary and sophisticated means that it includes lots of photographs
and lots of video. The image chosen for the publicity is Jane Alexander's
tableau of human and animal hybrid figures on a bed of red sand. It has
obviously, irritatingly, been selected because, in a photo, it looks like an
African answer to the Chapman brothers. There's also lots of work made by
artists of African origin who live in Europe and the US. London artist Yinka
Shonibare, shortlisted in last year's Turner prize, contributes an installation
commenting a bit tritely on colonial history, and New York painter Julie Mehretu
contributes, er, New York paintings. And the emphasis on modernity inevitably
favours the most western population in Africa - who are white South Africans. Do
they really need the leg-up?
Africa resists this kind of exhibition because it is one vast and terrible
reminder that life and death are more real than art - more real than video,
anyway. By insisting on the urban and the technological, Africa Remix
misdescribes the continent. What do we say about the masses who live outside the
city and have no art magazines? That they are the objects of history, and only
city-dwelling elites are its makers? In the end, the anthropological collectors
at the British Museum, routinely disparaged for imperialism, do a better job of
sampling the different pasts and presents of rural and urban, traditional and
The Hayward show is a relentlessly upbeat advert for an African contemporary
art it is determined to invent. But that's enough criticism. In the end, this is
a subject I probably shouldn't even be writing about. What do I know? Racism is
limitless. Recently I was asked to write about Yinka Shonibare for the New York
Times. The editor asked if I could connect his work with "tribalism in
fashion". I couldn't. But who knows how many ignorant things I've just
written. Maybe Africa really does need its installations to be acknowledged as
much it needs a war on poverty.
· Africa Remix is at the Hayward Gallery, London SE1, from tomorrow.
Details: 08703 800 400
LONDON, UK.- Africa Remix is a South Bank Centre-wide season of
cultural events commencing from February 2005, featuring artists, musicians and
performers, bringing the South Bank to life in a dynamic celebration of
contemporary African creativity. The main focus of the season is the exhibition
at the Hayward Gallery, Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, 10
February - 17 April 2005.
Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent is the largest exhibition of
contemporary African art ever seen in Europe. Featuring more than 60 artists,
the show includes painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, photography, film
and video, many created within the last five years. Artists from 25 countries
across the continent, from Algeria to Zimbabwe, are represented, as well as
African artists now living in Europe and North America.
The exhibition is an international collaboration between four major galleries:
Museum Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf, where it opened in July this year; the
Hayward Gallery; the Centre Pompidou, Paris, where it will travel after London;
and the Mori Museum Tokyo. Simon Njami (writer and founder-editor of the
Paris-based journal, Revue Noire), leading the curatorial team, has travelled
extensively throughout Africa over the past decade. The selection brings
together internationally renowned artists and an emerging generation of artists
whose work will be shown in Britain for the first time.
Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent is arranged around three broad
themes. City and Land explores the contrasting experiences of urban and rural
life and the distinctive dynamism of African cities. This section of the show
includes new work by the outstanding South African photographer David Goldblatt;
a spectacular eight metres high 'cloth of gold' made from thousands of bottle
tops by Ghanaian El Anatsui; and an assemblage made from found materials by the
Nigerian Dilomprizulike, known in Lagos as 'the junk man of Africa'.
History and Identity focuses on matters of power and authority, modernity, and
tradition and collective identities. It includes the Central African
photographer Samuel Fosso, who has been representing himself in multiple guises
since the 1970s; an installation by this year's Turner prize nominee,
London-based Nigerian Yinka Shonibare; and South African Jane Alexander, whose
haunting sculptural tableau, African Adventure, mixing human and animal forms,
was originally conceived for the British Officers' Mess in Cape Town.
Body and Soul addresses issues of individual identity, religion, spirituality
and emotion, sexuality, the body, the portrait, and the gaze. The New York-based
Egyptian artist Ghada Amer creates delicate, transgressive imagery from cotton
threads; Kenyan Wangechi Mutu, also living in New York, has recently risen to
prominence with her fantastical mixed media collages. Egyptian artists Abd El
Ghany Kenawy and Amal Kenawy have produced a poignant atmospheric video
installation on the depths of hope and memory.
Also at the Hayward Gallery, a commissioned selection of 60 tracks of current
African sounds, from Algerian hip-hop to traditional Malian kora music, produced
by the world music broadcaster Lucy Duran with Theodoros Konkouris and DJ Dudu
Sarr, that will be playing on a juke box. Visitors will be able to listen and
relax in a specially designed lounge area in the Hayward's pavilion, decorated
with vibrant African furniture created by Malian Cheik Diallo.
Also as part of the Africa Remix festival, a major programme of music,
literature and performance is also taking place at the South Bank Centre across
the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, including free
events on the Ballroom. Confirmed artists so far include Dizzee Rascal, MC
Solaar and Ty, Baaba Maal, Koffi Olumide, King Sunny Ade, Helon Habila and
Teofile Chantre. More information regarding the Africa Remix performing arts
programme will be available soon.
found at http://www.artdaily.com/section/news/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=12617
read also in French : Africa
Remix, grande exposition d'art africain à Londres
African masks from Known Collections
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