This Week in African Art and Culture (September 11-17, 2022)

This week in African Art and Culture brings a good mix of cultural events staged on the continent and throughout the diaspora. It features a recap of a South African art auction in Cape Town, an exciting exhibition by one of Africa’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, known for his vibrant use of colors and painting techniques.

In what one might describe as a brilliant fusion, some of the best international visual artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers take on mentees, whom they will guide and work with for the next two years.

This roundup also brings thrilling news of some of Africa’s greatest books transcending into theater and film. And depending on where you reside on the globe, you may be able to experience a stage play that comes highly recommended …

Above: Nelson Makamo | Mother and Child | 2017 | Charcoal on paper

Aspire Art Auction:  Highlighting 20th Century South African Black Modernism

Commencing with a viewing that ran from Friday, Sept. 9–Wednesday, Sept. 14, Aspire Art presented a live auction featuring 20th-century and contemporary art with a special focus on South African Black Modernist art in Cape Town. 

Aspire Art presented a boutique-style auction that featured 81 selected lots boasting impressive artworks by many of South Africa’s most celebrated artists. 

A fine selection of William Kentridge works, including two original drawings, Eduardo Villa sculptures, paintings by Robert Hodgins and Walter Battiss and a wonderful early Penny Siopis drawing were on offer.

Also featured were two special sections—Black Modernism and photography. There was also a rare, large-scale drawing by Dumile Feni titled Mother and Baby, created in 1969, the year after Dumile left South Africa to go into exile. The drawing is a powerful example of Feni’s “London Period” works, which are considered poetically expressive and at times indirectly biographical. “Yoliswa. 68. Amos. Feni. Beti” inscriptions in the artist’s handwriting on the 1969 drawing memorialize his family—that is, his cousins, ancestors and his mother—some alive and others who had passed away.

Also included are significant works by other leading South African artists  such as Gerard Sekoto, George Pemba,  Lucas Sithole and Ephraim Ngatane, and photographs by David Goldblatt, Mohau Modisakeng and Simphiwe Ndzube among others.

Some artworks like Nelson Makamo’s Mother and Child, Dumile Feni’s Figure with Child and Mary Sibande’s Caught in the Rapture sold above their estimated lot prices, while many others sold within their estimated lot prices, with a number of unsold lots.


Above: Cherie Samba | Stupefaction | MAGNIN-A | 2022

Chéri Samba’s Stupefaction at MAGNIN-A Gallery, Paris

Opening this weekend in Paris is a solo exhibition titled Stupefaction, presenting 15 paintings never or rarely shown, made by Congolese artist Chéri Samba between 1983 and 2022. Among the works exhibited are Le Couple d’artiste, circa 1983, a historic work representing M’Pongo Love, the great lady of modern Congolese music, J’aime la couleur de la vraie carte du monde (I Like the Color of the Real World Map), 2016, a very large-scale work that features the painter’s iconic repertoire, and a touching self-portrait from 2022 entitled La vieillesse d’un homme sans péché (The Old Age of a Sinless Man).

A bearer of messages and morals, putting himself on stage, Chéri Samba produces works in which he invites the viewer to enter into vital, charming, amusing, colorful stories, but he also is concerned with African and human issues. As André Magnin expresses it, his paintings are “precise, refined.” He spends a great deal of time on them and only paints 12 pictures a year. The organization of space, the sense of color … He does not use repetition. Each painting has its own reason for being.

For Chéri Samba, art has no boundaries. Both a great master of Congolese “popular painting” and an artist recognized on the international scene, he tackles universal themes, as well as morals, daily life, great personalities of the world, as the history of art, sexuality, social inequalities or corruption. The truculent painter attracts and stops the eye with striking colors. The texts inscribed on his paintings as comic strips, sometimes humorous and often philosophical, provoke reflections and questions, while hoping to awaken consciences on the subject treated.

The exhibition will be on view from Sept. 17 until Oct. 23, 2022.

Above: Bernadine Evaristo and Ayesha Harruna

Rolex Announces the Mentors and Protégés for Its 2023-2024 Arts Program

Five of the world’s most renowned artists—El Anatsui (visual arts), Bernardine Evaristo (literature), Jia Zhang-Ke (film), Anne Lacaton (architecture) and Dianne Reeves (music)—each will mentor an outstanding emerging artist as participants in the 2023-2024 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui selected South African visual artist Bronwyn Katz as his protégée; British author Bernardine Evaristo selected Ghanaian writer Ayesha Harruna Attah; Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-Ke selected Filipino filmmaker Rafael Manuel; French architect Anne Lacaton selected Lebanese-Armenian architect Arine Aprahamian, and American jazz singer Dianne Reeves selected South Korean singer and composer Song Yi Jeon.

The mentors and their protégés will spend the next two years in creative collaboration, as the highest level of artistry is transmitted in time-honored fashion across the generations. Since its launch, the program has paired 63 of the world’s greatest artists with 63 emerging talents from around the globe.

Rolex announced the new mentors and their protégés during a ceremony at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) as part of a two-day Rolex Arts Weekend celebrating the culmination of the 2020-2022 cycle of the program.

The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative was established in 2002 to aid in the transmission of artistic knowledge and craft from one generation to the next. It exemplifies Rolex’s pursuit of excellence, symbolized by the word “perpetual.”

Diana Ejaita and Samuel Kortey Baah Receive 2023 Villa Romana Prize Fellowship

Nigerian artist Diana Ejaita and Ghanaian painter and sculptor Samuel Kortey Baah are among the four fellows announced for the 2023 Villa Romana Prize.

The prize, established in 1905, is the oldest German art award. Administered by the  Association of German Artists, it provides a year-long residency for selected fellows in the Villa Romana, a 19th-century villa on the Via Senese in the southern outskirts of Florence, in Tuscany, central Italy. 

The 2023 fellows were selected by a jury panel comprising renowned sound artist Emeka Ogboh and curator and publisher Chiara Figone. The selected fellows reflect a diversity of artistic process, age and level of career achievements, owing mostly to the judges’ choice to “support the possibility of transgenerational exchange as a fundamental ground for reciprocity and mutual learning.”

Diana Ejaita was born in Italy. She studied fine art in France and Germany and lives in Lagos, Nigeria and BerlinHer practice includes illustration, textile and fashion design. She uses fabric as a medium and as a way to reconnect to her Nigerian heritage. Through textiles, she tells stories of her experience as a child of the diaspora. West African textiles use fabric as a tool to narrate stories, give life advice and transmit status and information about genealogy.

Samuel Kortey Baah was born in Ghana and lives between Kumasi, Ghana and Frankfurt. He is currently pursuing his MFA at the Department of Painting and Sculpture KNUST (Kumasi, Ghana) and is an exchange student in Städelschule, Frankfurt. Baah is a member of three collectives, blaxTARLINES, Commune6x3, and a co-founder of the Asafo Black Collective. He works with postcolonial histories and religious iconographies, and experiments with organic materials.

Fellows also are awarded a cash prize, along with a publication feature.


Above: Zakes Mda

South African Author Zakes Mda’s Novel The Zulus of New York To Be Adapted for Screen

South African author Zakes Mda’s 2019 novel The Zulus of New York is set to be adapted for film. According to Publisher’s Marketplace, television rights to the novel were sold by Mda’s agents to the South African film director and cinematographer Mandla Dube, notable for his work on the Netflix hit Silverton Siege at Pambilimedia.

The Zulus of New York is Mda’s 13th published book and one of his most acclaimed yet. The story follows a tempestuous love affair between a Zulu dance performer in a traveling circus in 19th-century New York City and a Dinka princess on display in a cage. The novel was published in 2019 by Penguin Random House, South Africa.

Above: Stage shots from Death and the King’s Horsemen at Stratford Festival, Ontario

Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman at the Stratford Festival, Ontario

Wole Soyinka’s  play, Death and the King’s Horseman, is one of the exciting stage plays being performed at The Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada. It will run until Oct. 29.

Directed by Ghanaian-born Canadian actor and playwright Tawiah M’Carthy, other crew members include Anthony Santiago starring as Elesin Oba, Amaka Umeh as the Praise-Singer, Graham Abbey as Simon Pilkings, Kwaku Adu-Poku as Olunde, and Akosua Amo-Adem Iyaloja.

Death and the King‘s Horseman, published in 1975, is one of Soyinka’s most famous plays. Set in the 1940s, it tells the story of Elesin Oba, the king’s horseman, who fails to fulfill his duty of ritual suicide following the death of the king. His failure sets in motion a series of events that drives the kingdom into a chaos of metaphysical consequences. The play explores themes of power, colonialism, individualism and collective survival.

Dramaturge Wolé Oguntokun, Music Director and Composer Adékúnlé Olórundáre, and Costume Designer Sarah Uwadiae are part of the production team that helped bring Soyinka’s story of Yoruba royalty and the colonial era to life through dance, music, set design and costume.

The Stratford Festival is one of Canada’s most prominent art festivals. Though it is known for its staging of Shakespearean plays, it has broadened its offerings over the decades, with Death and the King’s Horseman as its first modern work.

Netflix will release a film adaptation of the play later this year. The film was directed by the late Biyi Bandele and debuted at the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival. These adaptations of the play introduce it to new audiences, who get to experience Soyinka’s complex weaving of drama, political intrigue and cultural commentary. Anthony Santiago, who plays Elesin Oba in the Stratford Festival adaptation, said in a press statement that the play is impactful for the many ways it tackles complex issues and poses difficult questions without providing “easy answers.”

The play opened on Aug. 27 and will run until Oct. 29. 

Compiled by Roli O’tsemaye

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