This Week in African Art and Culture (October 4 – 10, 2020)

This week in African art and culture, London is abuzz with various contemporary African art exhibitions and events, including two exciting exhibitions at Gallery Rosenfeld and Unit Gallery, and at 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London, the modern and contemporary African art auction by Bonhams and Sotheby’s (which is not included in this round-up, as we are awaiting the auction report). 

Also exciting in this week’s report are news of a short story coming soon by one of Africa’s most celebrated authors as well as the nominees for the Best African Act category in one of the world’s biggest music awards.

Ndidi Emefiele’s Here As In Heaven Opens at Gallery Rosenfeld in London

Above: Installation view photo from Ndidi Emefiele’s Here as in Heaven at Gallery Rosenfeld

In Ndidi Emefiele’s new and ongoing exhibition, titled Here as in Heaven at Gallery Rosenfeld, are exciting works reflecting on the perception of women from an inward perspective as opposed to the outward, which is usually the case.  

This latest body of work by the Nigerian artist represents a major shift in her visual expression. Previously, her paintings were suffused with humor, carrying serious undertones relating to women’s strength and absolute self-sufficiency, in stark contrast to the way society has generally viewed them. The artist’s works exclusively feature women, and men are only noticeable by their absence. 

These new works address profound questions of life and death that affect us all. Although the inspiration behind these paintings is highly personal, her ability to touch those who encounter these works derives from the heavy emotional connotations they carry.

Emefiele recently lost her sister, who was also her best friend. She was consumed by this event such that after constantly making art since the age of four, she suddenly lost all desire to paint. It took about a year to gain courage to get back into the studio. During the course of the hiatus, Emefiele’s work had undergone a radical transformation, where the humor and playfulness were replaced with profound melancholy and wistfulness in a bid to come to an understanding of the tragedy of losing a loved one.

In one of the large-scale works titled, They Came to See God, two women are standing on a beach; one is looking directly facing the viewer in such a way she seems present, while the other is painted in deep-blue hue, looking away towards the horizon. This piece is indicative of the artist’s current thoughts about herself and her late sister. The rich blue color in which the sister is painted suggests that, although present, she is no longer “physically” there. 

In another large painting, Rehearsing Death, we see many characters on a crowded beach, yet here again, although some of the bodies are fully painted, others are already in the process of disappearing into another dimension.

Here as in Heaven will be on view until Nov. 13, 2020 at Gallery Rosenfeld, London.

Of Color and Blackness in The Medium is the Message Exhibition at Unit Gallery, London

Above: Installation view photo from The Medium is the Message exhibition at Unit, London.

The Medium is the Message is a group exhibition showing at Unit Gallery, London. It is primarily focused on the power artistic pigment holds when trying to express an identity free of cliché. The exhibition takes this direction in order to avoid curatorial emphasis being placed on the pigmentation of skin, which can often reinforce such clichés.

Curated by Azu Nwagbogu, renowned curator, founder and director of the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF) based in Lagos, Nigeria, this exhibition brings together artists who collectively navigate a world which stigmatizes Blackness while simultaneously celebrating its cultural products. This exhibition is not focused on a narrative but rather on the raw constituents of painting, to explore how Black identity can be expressed strictly through the medium. The works in this exhibition depict many facets of Black existence including play, solitude, contemplation and an array of human emotions. It is a collection of work that spans the entire canopy of human emotion without fawning over exoticism.

The artists featured in this exhibition include Tiffany Alfonseca (Dominican Republic/U.S.), Edozie Anedu (Nigeria), Wonder Bhule Mbambo (South Africa), Sthenjwa Luthuli (South Africa), John Madu (Nigeria), Manyaku Mashilo (South Africa), Sungi Mlengeya (Tanzania), Ludovic Nkoth (Cameroon), Collins Obijiaku (Nigeria), Emma Odumade (Nigeria), Dawn Okoro (Nigeria), Eniwaye Oluwaye (Nigeria), Ojingiri Peter (Nigeria), Talia Ramkilawan (South Africa), Ngozi Schommers (Nigeria), Katlego Tlabela (South Africa), Zandile Tshabalala (South Africa) and Barry Yusufu (Nigeria). 

The exhibition will come to a close on Nov. 14, 2020.

Abdoulaye Konaté Presents New Textile Works at Gallery 1957 in Accra 

Above:  Abdoulaye Konoate in front of his work at Gallery 1957.

Now showing at Gallery 1957 until Dec. 18, 2020 in Accra is a solo exhibition by the famous and acclaimed Malian artist, Abdoulaye Konaté. The exhibition features new, large-scale, site-specific commissions, in which the artist uses the Ghanaian Kente cloth in his works for the first time.

Questioning the way in which societies and individuals, both in Mali and beyond, have been affected by factors such as war, the struggle for power, religion, globalization, ecological shifts and the global AIDS epidemic, Konaté’s fabric-based installations are delicately cut and sewn to present a powerful language of color and texture. Employing woven and dyed cloths native to Mali, here presented alongside materials found in Ghana and beyond, the artist has created large-scale abstract and figurative compositions, referencing West African textile traditions where material is a means of commemoration and communication, balancing global political and social reflections with his own local and cultural history.

Many of the works incorporate abstract shapes and geometries—as seen in Gris au Kente (cercle et triangle) and Jaune Kente (arc et triangle)—while others introduce glimpses of figuration. In Coucher de soleil (Ghana), Konaté presents a reworking of more traditional landscape painting, with a Ghanaian horizon glowing across his large-scale textile.

In several works, Konaté includes West African textiles with motifs used in the artistic traditions of the African region known as the Sahel, a vast area on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert that includes present-day Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. Lengths of material in jewel-like blues and greens or arid reds and golds overlap both literally and metaphorically—reflecting the interweaving of material cultures and wider societies across the continent.

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Commences London Edition 

Above: Work by Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, one of the artists showing at 1-54 London.

1-54, one of the most prominent art fairs dedicated to contemporary African art since it was established seven years ago, has commenced its London edition of the fair on Oct. 8, 2020. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the fair was scaled down from its usual, teeming physical capacity to an online presence powered by Christie’s to enable virtual attendance, and a physical presence at Somerset House in London, in which an intimate exhibition can be experienced. 

Featuring 30 international exhibitors representing a selection of the best contemporary African art, the eighth edition of the 1-54 London includes a robust program, featuring 36 international exhibitors and over 110 emerging and established artists from Africa and the diaspora. Some of the artists showing at the fair include Stacey Gillian Abe, Kamuanga Ilunga Eddy, Padeu Marc, Godfried Donkor, Modupeola Fadugba and Lewis Nate. 

Also showing at the fair is a retrospective show on the celebrated late French-Moroccan photographer, video artist and activist Leila Alaoui, which will be on view until January 2021.

Other highlights of the fair include the 1-54 Forum. Titled I felt like a Black guy from New York trapped in Peru and curated by Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba, editors-in-chief of Contemporary And (C&), the Forum took place at Somerset House with a simultaneous online broadcast. Discussions involved creative voices from the Afro-Latin American, Caribbean and African art scenes to explore new interests in Latinx art and artists. Along with other questions, the curators inquired about the impact that visibility/invisibility had on Afro-Latin American creatives and their work within their respective scenes.

While the physical aspect of the fair will close on Oct. 10, 2020, the virtual exhibition will be extended until Oct. 12, 2020.

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung Receives “Order of Merit” from the State of Berlin

Above:  Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung.

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, founder and artistic director of SAVVY Contemporary, an art center and discursive platform, has been given the “Order of Merit,” the highest award of the State of Berlin by its mayor, Michael Müller. Ndikung has received this award for his extraordinary contribution to the development of Berlin into a cosmopolitan, colorful and solidary metropolis by virtue of his work with SAVVY Contemporary.

The awardee said that this award is a recognition of the work SAVVY Contemporary has done over the past 10 years, emphasizing the importance to say that there is still a lot to be done, with the support of a very motivated, intelligent and hardworking SAVVY Contemporary team as well as with the people of Berlin and beyond. Most importantly, he said that this medal is dedicated to the people in Anglophone Cameroon, who are in a state of war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in and outside the country.

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung has worked as a curator, artistic director and consultant for various international exhibition projects or festivals around the world. He is currently the artistic director of sonsbeek20-24, a four-year contemporary art exhibition in Arnhem, the Netherlands. Ndikung has also worked as the curator-at-large of Documenta 14 in Athens, Greece and Kassel, Germany in 2017; guest curator of the Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar, Senegal in 2018; and artistic director of the 12th Bamako Encounters, the photography biennale in Bamako, Mali last year. 

Together with the Miracle Workers Collective, he curated the Finland Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2019 and was visiting professor for curatorial studies and sound art at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. He is currently a professor at the Master of Arts in spatial strategies program at the Weißensee Art Academy in Berlin and has also received the first OCAD University International Curators Residency Fellowship in Toronto in 2020.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Announces the Release of New Short Story Zikora

Above: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Popular Nigerian author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has announced her latest fiction work, Zikora. The story will be released on Oct. 27, 2020 as part of Amazon Original Stories.  This is her first work since 2013, when she released the novel, Americanah.

Zikora is a short story about a Nigerian lawyer living in Washington, D.C. who has been abandoned by her highly celebrated partner after learning that she is pregnant. She must grapple with the loss of her relationship, while her demanding mother shows up to help her prepare for motherhood.

MTV European Music Award 2020 Announces Nominees for Best African Act

With the 2020 MTV European Music Award coming soon, African music lovers and fans are excited about the nominees for the Best African Act category. They include Master KG, Kabza de Small and DJ Maphorisa from South Africa, Burna Boy and Rema from Nigeria, Sheebah from Uganda, and Gaz Mawete from Democratic Republic of Congo.

Burna Boy won in the category last year, beating South African musicians Nasty C and Prince Kaybee.

The 27th edition of the awards, where the winner of the category will be announced, will take place on Nov. 8, 2020.

Compiled by Roli O’tsemaye

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