African Art and Fashion Make for a Hot Summer: This Week in African Art and Culture (June 18-24, 2023)

This Week in African Art and Culture highlights notable landmark exhibitions by African artists who are showing around the world. A striking aspect of this listing is that all the exhibitions explore photography and film. As ardent followers of the contemporary African art scene, this is not a similarity we encounter often. Perhaps, it comes with the approaching summer? Either way, we are here for it with the belief that you, our readers, will share in our enthusiasm and possibly visit at least one of the shows, depending where you reside. These shows take place across New York, London and Detroit. Which of these cities would you rather visit this summer?

MoMA Features Seven New International Photographers from Nigeria

Showing at MoMA in New York is a renowned group exhibition featuring seven international artists with ties to Lagos, Nigeria. This is the latest edition of MoMA’s celebrated New Photography series and will mark its return as a gallery presentation after five years. New Photography 2023 marks the first time any of these photographers are presenting their work at MoMA. It is the first group exhibition in MoMA’s history to engage the work of living West African photographers. 

The exhibit is curated by Oluremi C. Onabanjo, associate curator, department of photography, with featured artists Kelani Abass (born 1979), Akinbode Akinbiyi (born 1946), Yagazie Emezi (born 1989), Amanda Iheme (born 1992), Abraham Oghobase (born 1979), Karl Ohiri (born 1983), and Logo Oluwamuyiwa (born 1990).

Following the cues of the featured artists, the show takes Lagos—the largest city in Nigeria and one of the most populous cities on the African continent—as its starting point. The seven international artists featured in the exhibition apply pressure to the idea of photograph as document by interrogating varying forms of visual representation. 

Many of the artists take scenes of everyday life in Lagos as their subject, rendering new visual expressions of the city through formal experimentation and poetic compositions or by chronicling personal accounts at the heart of political action. Others engage archival photographs to reveal the psychological traumas and possibilities embedded in physical structures, spatial sites and historical figures.

“In a world where global systems of relation are a given, photographic images occupy a crucial position,” Onabanjo said. “No longer is the photograph solely a means of recording our surroundings, it has become a central prism through which lived experience is made and shared. New Photography 2023 unites the work of seven artists who plumb the depths of the photographic medium and mine its spatial, social and historical undercurrents in order to make space for more nuanced forms of perception and encounter.”

Collectively, the works and approaches of Abass, Akinbiyi, Emezi, Iheme, Oghobase, Ohiri and Oluwamuyiwa contribute to a global conversation about the role of photography in societal narratives.

Onabanjo had organized a Photography Portfolio Review and Critical Workshop through C-MAP Africa in collaboration with The Nlele Institute (TNI), a Pan-African, autonomous nonprofit organization focusing on lens-based media. The program took place from Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2022, at Angels and Muse (5 Sumbo Jibowu St, Ikoyi 101233, Lagos) during Art X Lagos.

The exhibition will be on view from May 28-Sept. 16, 2023.

Show Me The World Mister: A Film Exhibition by Ayo Akingbade in London

Show Me The World Mister is an exhibition by Nigerian artist Ayo Akingbade currently showing at John Hansard Gallery in London. The exhibition features two new film commissions: The Fist and Faluyi. Both films were shot in Nigeria and explore Akingbade’s interest in history, placemaking, legacy and power.

The Fist studies the first Guinness brewery built outside of the U.K. and Ireland, located on the edge of Lagos, Nigeria. Completed in 1962 after Nigeria’s independence from Britain, the brewery is a place where histories of industrialization and labor collide. The film follows workers managing the assembly and packing lines while drawing attention to the deep-rooted politics distilled within Guinness’ production.

Faluyi, on the other hand,follows protagonist Ife on a journey tracing familial legacy and mysticism. Shot in the Idanre Hills—a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ondo State and the birthplace of Akingbade’s parents—the film explores the artist’s personal relationship with Nigeria. Panoramic views of hills and forests form the backdrop to this sensitive tale of longing and loss, hope and celebration.

In addition, John Hansard Gallery also will screen Akingbade’s 2018 work, A is for Artist. Filmed in London and a stark contrast to the location of The Fist and Faluyi, the short film follows the narrative of a young woman who assembles photographs from her family archive to encourage the pursuit of being an artist. A series of prints accompanies the exhibition, referencing the artist’s broad interest in portraiture and printmaking.

Facing out onto Southampton’s Guildhall Square, Gallery 3’s floor-to-ceiling windows will host a photograph from Akingbade’s father’s personal archive. At seven meters high, the image is an arresting introduction to Show Me The World Mister.

Ayo Akingbade lives and works in London. Selected exhibitions include Duette, Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, U.K.; Jitterbug, Museum of the Home, London (both 2022); Domestic Drama, Halle Fuer Kunst Steiermark, Graz, Austria; A Glittering CityAyo Akingbade with Duchamp & Sons, Whitechapel Gallery, London; An Infinity of Traces, Lisson Gallery, London (all 2021); Songs From A Forgotten Past, Instituto Tomie Ohtake, Sao Pāulo (2020); Towner International Biennial, Towner Eastbourne, U.K.; No News Today, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (all 2019); and Urban Rhapsodies, Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York (2017).

Her films have been shown at Cannes Film Festival, Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival, MoMA Doc Fortnight, and International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, among others.

Show Me The World Mister will be on view until Sept. 9, 2023.

The Brooklyn Museum Celebrates Modern and Contemporary African Fashion

Making its North American debut at the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, a new exhibition features over 180 works, including fashion, music, film, visual art and photography, as well as textiles and jewelry from the museum’s Arts of Africa collection.

The exhibition celebrates the outstanding creativity, ingenuity and global impact of African fashions from the start of the independence era to today. Africa Fashion is the largest-ever presentation on this subject in North America. Through works by iconic designers and artists from the mid-20th century to the present, the exhibition illuminates how fashion, alongside the visual arts and music, played a pivotal role in Africa’s cultural renaissance during its liberation years and how those elements laid the foundation for today’s fashion revolution. 

The exhibition is organized by the V&A and has been adapted for the Brooklyn Museum by Ernestine White-Mifetu, Sills Foundation Curator of African Art, and Annissa Malvoisin, Bard Graduate Center / Brooklyn Museum Postdoctoral Fellow in the Arts of Africa. 

“This exhibition is an important presentation of African creativity that highlights not only fashion but also the dynamic diversity of talent coming from the continent,” said White-Mifetu. “I am excited that the Brooklyn Museum will be able to host Africa Fashion, and I am elated that our New York visitors will have the opportunity to engage with the creative production of Africa in new ways.”

Organized thematically, the exhibition features immersive displays of garments, textiles, photographs, literature, sketches, music, film and catwalk footage. More than 40 designers and artists from 20 African countries are represented, many of whose works are on view for the first time in the United States. The presentation includes fashions by mid-20th-century designers and works by a new generation of designers, collectives, and fashion photographers working in Africa today.

Africa Fashion begins with the independence era, from the 1950s through the 1990s. This period inspired a dramatic political, social and cultural shift throughout the continent. Pan-Africanism surged, instilling a unified sense of identity—with fashion and artistic expression at its heart. The Cultural Renaissance section explores this time of radical change through fashion, photography, books and ephemera, such as protest posters, vintage magazine covers and iconic album cover art. 

In Politics and Poetics of Cloth, visitors can explore the ways in which the making and wearing of Indigenous cloth became a strategic political act. Textiles from the museum’s Arts of Africa collection complement a display of wax prints, commemorative cloth, àdìrẹ, kente cloth and bògòlanfini. 

The first generation of African designers to gain global attention is highlighted in the Vanguard section. Works by Kofi Ansah (Ghana), Naima Bennis (Morocco), Shade Thomas-Fahm (Nigeria), Chris Seydou (Mali), and Alphadi (Niger), dating from the mid to the late 20th century, are shown together for the first time in the U.S. alongside a dynamic installation of fashion photography from the period.

Capturing Change presents portraits that chronicle the independence years and document the growing sense of agency and pride in being both Black and African. As photography became more affordable, pictures taken in studios and domestic spaces proliferated. Studio portraits by artists such as Seydou Keïta (Mali) and Malick Sidibé (Mali), drawn from the museum’s collection, as well as fashion photography by James Barnor (Ghana) and family photographs, exemplify this expansion. 

Visitors are invited to directly engage with the material by sharing their own individual and family portraits that showcase styles from Africa’s independence years. Through these contributions of self-fashioning, the diasporic community will become an integral part of the presentation.

In addition to highlighting brands and designers from Africa, the Brooklyn Museum Shop will offer goods from Brooklyn, including but not limited to kids’ toys, housewares, jewelry and books.

The exhibition is on view from June 23-Oct. 22, 2023.

James Barnor: Accra/London—A Retrospective at Detroit Institute of Arts

James Barnor: Accra/London—A Retrospective at the Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA) is a comprehensive survey of the pioneering Ghanaian photographer, marking the first U.S. retrospective of his influential work.

On view until Oct. 15, 2023, the exhibition presents more than 170 photos from Barnor’s archive of over 32,000 images, dating from the 1950s to 1980s and offering views of the artist’s native Ghana, as well as the African diaspora in the United Kingdom, during times of significant social and political change.

Accra/London was initiated and organized by Serpentine, London, which debuted the acclaimed exhibition in 2021. The DIA’s presentation features additional photographs by Barnor from the museum’s permanent collection. The DIA also will recreate Barnor’s Ever Young portrait studio to give visitors a glimpse of his early artistic environment.

This exhibition continues a series of DIA programs that elevate Black voices from around the world while building an important literacy about these decades. The show comes after highly celebrated DIA exhibitions that highlighted Black artists, including Black Is Beautiful: The Photographs of Kwame Brathwaite (2021), Shirley Woodson: Shield of the Nile Reflections (2021), and The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion (2021), among others.

Through intimate portraits, photojournalism, and lifestyle photography, Barnor approached his work as a conversation between individuals and himself. Barnor’s artistic career spans six decades and enriches the diversity of contemporary African art beyond textiles and sculptures. His work highlights important milestones in modern African history by documenting the people, events and societies of Ghana as the country transitioned from a British colony to an independent nation. This work continued in his images of the African diaspora in the U.K. Consequently, his body of work has influenced photographers in Africa and around the world.

“I am honored the Detroit Institute of Arts chose to spotlight my work, allowing Detroit audiences to receive an opportunity to discover the important years in African history and culture that the photos represent,” said photographer James Barnor. “It is my hope that these images can inspire a new generation of artists.”

“It is a pleasure to present this important photographic collection about African life and history,” said Nii Quarcoopome, department head of Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas, and curator of African art at the Detroit Institute of Arts. “Barnor’s intimate photographs challenge and expand our notion of African art; they also tell stories about Accra and London where he lived and worked, capturing the lives and lifestyles in transition in Africa and the diaspora. We hope this illuminating presentation encourages further discussion and discovery of Africa from this period.”

Born in 1929 in Ghana, Barnor established his famous Ever Young Studio in Accra in the early 1950s, taking portraits of political, cultural and other local figures. After moving to London in 1959, he found success as a fashion and editorial photographer with African magazines such as Flamingo and with the anti-apartheid South African publication Drum, while making cover photographs and feature stories that reflected the spirit of the times and the vibrant styles of the African diaspora. 

Upon returning to his homeland in the 1970s, he founded the country’s first color photo processing lab and continued working as a portrait photographer. Throughout his long career, he worked with Ghanaian highlife musicians and documented fashion, sports and society with exceptional passion. Now in his 90s, he lives in London.

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