This week in African art and culture, we bring you highlights from an art fair focused on contemporary African art that took place in Paris.
In Lagos, a solo exhibition from one of Nigeria’s most exciting emerging artists is on view. The exhibition explores the nuances and complexities of being. In a similar fashion, Johannesburg gives us another solo exhibition of an artist who is drawn to land as the central point of departure for his work.
One of Africa’s most respected and revered writers has been conferred one of the most distinguished awards in the United States, and even globally.
These and more exciting activities, even in the music industry, have been compiled for your quick fix on what’s happening in the arts and cultural sector in Africa.
Above: Morné Visagie | Installation view at AKAA | 2021
Highlights of AKAA Art and Design Fair Paris 2021
This year, AKAA (Also Known As Africa) Art and Design Fair returned to Carreau du Temple in Paris, after a break brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, for its three-day physical fair, which came to a close on Nov. 14, 2021. With 39 international galleries and more than 100 artists from all over the world, the fair has become one of the most anticipated art fairs annually.
In a sales report that came out shortly after the fair rounded up, record-breaking news came forth that a young South African artist, WonderBuhle Mbambo sold his works Another Strange Dream (2021) and A Coat Found in the Museum of Shame by Kids (2021) for €100,000 (U.S. $113,570) and €75,000 (U.S. $85,178), respectively. For the former, it was the first time AKAA recorded a figure of that amount for a single artwork during the art fair. An outstanding record for the young artist and his gallery, BKhz, led by Banele Khoza.
For this year’s edition, the fair, led under the artistic directorship of Armelle Dakouo, presented its first artbook. The artbook is a poetic invitation to rethink temporality after the experience of a latent time and a constrained expectation, referencing what has been experienced in the last year. Three authors, Julie Crenn, Dénètem Touam Bona and Armelle Dakouo approached the book through the work of 17 artists, their relationship to time and the imprint it leaves in their plastic creation.
The theme of this year was “À rebrousse-temps (Against the flow of time),” inspired by Senegalese poet and storyteller Birago Diop’s memoir with the same title.
Some of the participating galleries at AKAA include 31 Project (France), AFIKARIS Gallery (France), Circle Art Gallery (Kenya), Galerie Carole Kvasnevski (France), Galerie Number 8 (Belgium), Galerie OH (Senegal), Galerie Vallois (France), Galerie Véronique Rieffel (Ivory Coast / France), LouiSimone Guirandou Gallery (Ivory Coast) and MAGNIN-A (France).
The program also featured talks, film screenings, performances and other activities to connect various artistic disciplines and art professionals worldwide. “I am passionate about this memoir and about the subject of time,” Dakouo told me during our tour of the different exhibitions at the fair. Since the pandemic began, time took on a new significance and has become a recurring topic in her life and work.
Above: Olawunmi Banjo | Installation view | Sense of Self | 2021
SMO Contemporary Art Presents Sense of Self by Olawumi Banjo at The Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi
At the Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi, Nigeria is a solo exhibition by Nigerian artist, Olawunmi Banjo, presented by SMO Contemporary Art. Titled Sense of Self, the exhibition is a collection of 20 paintings exploring three central themes: accepting self, letting go of the past, and embracing present moments. It is her ode to our life-long journey towards self-realization and actualization, “clarity coming by aligning with the core of our inner being.”
Rendered in cool, yet vibrant colors, the subjects in Banjo’s paintings are enthralling, the figures woven together by electrical wires, in acrobatic dance poses, leaping through time and space, propelled by a colorful surge of electric energy.
“Olawunmi’s works are pleasing to the eye, but below their deceptive compositional simplicity there are insights into the complexity of the individual human—especially women and children—and their relationship with others,” explained Jess Castellote, curator, writer, and director of the Yemisi Shyllon Museum. “What we are invited to see in her works is what is invisible to the eyes, the interior struggles, pain, longings, joys and hopes of human existence.”
“Olawunmi Banjo’s works speak to a deepened self-awareness, breaking through the intense pressure of technology, social norms, and the constant need for external validation,” remarked Nneoma Ilogu, the exhibition Curator and Manager at SMO Contemporary Art. “Banjo’s gaze is inward and upward. Her acrobatic figures leap and fly through space despite being tethered to a visible reality.” “
Banjo consistently presents her work with a signature style: pastel backgrounds laced with strands that are centered in the middle of the canvas by bodies extending beyond themselves, often flying, in deep thought or search for something more.
“Art gives voice to the voiceless, inspires, energizes and shapes minds and societies. Art is the medium through which I create, add value and convey messages to people,” said the artist. “I have found surrealism and realism useful in depicting my ideas, enabling people who view my works to grasp the message embedded in each piece.
“My most recent body of work are paintings of expressive wire figures, which is my way of describing a being and the countless energy that flows within each one of us. The various expressions of art are a unifying force in bringing together people from diverse backgrounds to share a rare but meaningful experience in life.”
Banjo has exhibited in both solo and group shows in Nigeria, as well as numerous international exhibitions and art fairs including The Invisible Hands at Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art (YSMA), Lagos, Nigeria (2021–2022), Stasis by SMO Contemporary at Temple Muse, Lagos, Nigeria (2019), Re-Art Meets Africa, Ihlienworth, Germany (2018), Mind Revolution II at Praxis am Traveplat, Friedrichshain, Berlin(2015-2016), Mind Revolution at Nike Art Gallery, Lagos, Nigeria (2014). She was a nominee and finalist at the Global Art Awards (painting category), Armani Hotel Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (2017).
Sense of Self is on view until Jan. 15, 2022.
Clive van den Berg’s Underscape at Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg
Following the recent survey exhibition of Zambian artist Clive Van den Berg at the KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts, Goodman Gallery is presenting Underscape, a cross-section of paintings by the artist who considers the “distemper” of our lived experience in relation to landscape at the Johannesburg gallery.
On the nature of this theme in his work, Van den Berg notes: “A swelling of earth, a hollow or dispersed pile of stones that once marked a grave or embattlement, are the grammar of my landscape vocabulary. These vestigial mutterings of geography are the prompts that I respond to in making my work, a kind of interstitial speech, connecting the remnant to its repressed or forgotten source… I grew up in Luanshya, a small mining town in Zambia and now live in Johannesburg, one of the largest of all mining towns. Perhaps it is the occasional shaking of the land, its stuttering as a shaft collapses or a plate realigns, or indeed the sudden appearance of sinkholes, those most compelling of negative spaces that first made me curious about that other landscape, the underscape.”
For Van den Berg, land serves as a powerful marker for the anxieties contained in both the personal and the political. The artist seeks to unpack this by separating the idea of land into the spheres of “above” and “below” ground. Using this dichotomy, the artist is able to differentiate between what we idealize on the surface and what exists unresolved below. Historical depictions of land, which were primarily filtered through Western perception, sought to possess the territory by recording its surface image. In turn, Van den Berg confronts the tradition of South African landscape painting, by peeling “the surface off the land and making the landscapes porous.”
Van den Berg sees the body and the landscape as sites that carry memories and scars. In turn, these symbols evoke desires, which the artist aims to reveal, often through the illuminating power of light. Van den Berg does this by presenting a new kind of visual language, one that attempts to break syntax without relinquishing its necessity. In this sense, the artist darts between allegory and abstraction in his works, creating tensions and polarities that simultaneously arrest and excite the viewer when encountering them.
Underscape is on view until Jan. 15, 2022.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Awarded New York Public Library Honoree
Nigerian Award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of four honorees named a “Library Lion” by the iconic New York Public Library for “tremendous cultural impact and legacies.” Honored alongside Adichie were Tina Brown, Jonathan Lethem, and Darren Walker.
The award seeks to celebrate writers, authors, politicians and philanthropists who have distinguished themselves in their distinct fields.
Adichie commented that the award was “utterly spirit-lifting.” As an honoree, she joins an elite league of previous awardees that include the writers Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith, as well as Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, and Academy Award winner Martin Scorsese.
Established in 1895, the New York Public Library (NYPL) is one of the largest and most equipped libraries in the world. It is home to over 53 million items in over 92 locations. The library is equally of a huge cultural impact to New Yorkers and often is regarded as a landmark of sorts.
Ghanaian American Singer Amaarae and Moliy’s Sad Girlz Luv Money Remix Debuts on Billboard Hot 100
Ghanaian American artist Amaarae recently made the Billboard Hot 100 for her and Moliy’s remix of Sad Girlz Luv Money featuring Colombian American Kali Uchis.
Debuting at #80 on the Hot 100 charts this week, Sad Girlz Luv Money (remix) marks both Amaarae and Moliy’s first entry into the charts. Billboard reports that the remix with Uchis was released in September but has recently exploded online, with more than 2.2 million uses on TikTok so far.
The sensational song combines African and Latin pop and has been bolstered by 22.1 million streams (up 127%) and 1,700 downloads sold (up 242%) worldwide.
Compiled by Roli O’tsemaye