This Week in African Art and Culture (April 7 – 13, 2024)

While some of the most notable events that have taken place recently have been detailed here to bring you up to speed with what is happening, the best part of the highlight on This Week in African and Art and Culture is the event recommendations. Depending on where in the world you reside , there just might be something for you to explore …

Yinka Shonibare’s Suspended States Opens at Serpentine Gallery 

Yinka Shonibare CBE | Suspended States | 2024 | Installation view, Serpentine South © Yinka Shonibare CBE 2024 | Photo: © Jo Underhill | Courtesy Yinka Shonibare CBE and Serpentine

At Serpentine Gallery in London, renowned British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare CBE has an ongoing exhibition titled Suspended States. This exhibition marks his first solo exhibition in London in over 20 years. For an artist of his acclaim, it is no surprise that he made his reappearance with The Serpentine Gallery, which was established in 1970 and is known for its innovative exhibitions.

For over 30 years, Shonibare has used Western art history and literature to explore contemporary culture and national identities. Suspended States presents new works, interrogating how systems of power affect sites of refuge, debates on public statutes, the ecological impact of colonization and the legacy of imperialism on conflict and consequential attempts at peace.

The exhibition includes two new major installations at Serpentine South. Sanctuary City (2024) comprises miniature buildings representing places of refuge for persecuted and vulnerable groups; while The War Library (2024) consists of 5,000 books bound in Dutch wax print representing conflicts and peace treaties—both installations are exciting sights to behold. 

Shonibare’s signature use of Dutch wax print symbolizes the tangled relationship between Africa and Europe. I am reminded of his famous Wind Sculpture that was installed for a time in 2026 at the Ndubuisi Kanu Park, Ikeja, Lagos State in Nigeria, which is one of the works created using the Dutch wax print. This brightly colored fabric was inspired by Indonesian batik designs, mass-produced by the Dutch and eventually sold to British colonies in West Africa, where it later was referred to as “African print.” 

In Decolonised Structures (2022-2023), the artist paints these patterns on his smaller-scale replicas of London’s large public sculptures. Reconstructing colonial figures such as Queen Victoria and Herbert Kitchener, Shonibare questions the role and presence of these monuments.

Additional works in the exhibition highlight luxurious lifestyles supported by colonization and the importance of African art to global culture. Shonibare also draws links between the history of xenophobia and the impact of colonization on the environment in his quilts, including his new series African Bird Magic (2024).

His work, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, is one of my favorite artworks of all time. Until such a time comes when I can afford to collect one of his pieces, I will settle for using an image of the artwork as an avatar on my Zoom account, as I have done for years. 

Suspended States is on view from April 12–Sept. 1, 2024

A New Art Space Opens in Tokyo to Promote Contemporary African Art

Rendering of Space Un, Tokyo

Edna Dumas, part of the family behind the famous design brand Hermès, has teamed up with Japanese actor Yuta Nakano and German entrepreneur Lothar Eckstein to launch “Space Un,” a Tokyo art space that will be spotlighting contemporary African art. This is such a welcome development as it is time for African art to reach a broader audience in the Asian market on a more regular basis. Something that only a gallery can provide consistently as opposed to the occasional art fairs that are scheduled a few times a year, annually. 

Dumas, who is passionate about African art, aims to bridge cultures through the platform. “The idea for setting up Space Un came out of realizing the importance of creating a unique platform in both Japan and the wider Asia region to give visibility to contemporary African art and to create a bridge between cultures,” Dumas said.

The space also will promote cultural exchange between Japan and African countries. Set to commence operations on April 20, 2024 in Tokyo, its inaugural exhibition, Anastomosis, will exhibit works of Senegalese artist Aliou Diack, created during his residency at Yoshino Cedar House in Nara. Diack highlights the shared appreciation for nature between Senegal and Japan.

“There are lots of similarities shared between Senegal and Japan. I think above all, we share this true appreciation for the earth, a true recognition and gratitude for all it gives us,” Diack said.

The space’s opening coincides with a recent growth in expectations of Japan’s art market as more international players set up shop in Tokyo. After mega-gallery Pace announced its new Tokyo outpost last year, French gallery Ceysson & Bénétière also unveiled its plan to open its first Asian branch in the city this fall.

Space Un is a hybrid art platform that combines the elements of a commercial gallery with public engagement programs and an artist residency. It plans to stage a mix of four to six selling exhibitions and non-commercial shows per year. Interdisciplinary public programs ranging from artist talks, workshops, music and film events, as well as educational activities and readings also will take place at the space.

The Fabric of Courage: A Momentous Exhibition Celebrating FESTAC ’77 in Lagos

The opening preview of Salon Africana’s much-anticipated exhibition, The Fabric of Courage, was held at the historic Old Printing Press on Broad Street, Lagos Island, Nigeria on April 7, 2024. It celebrated the cultural legacy and enduring significance of FESTAC ’77. 

Conceived and curated by Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist, writer and scholar Somi Kakoma, the salon-styled exhibition presents a captivating array of photographs capturing the essence of FESTAC ’77. 

The visual art section of the exhibition, co-curated by Somi Kakoma and Roli O’tsemaye, included remarkable large-scale images by acclaimed American photographer Marilyn Nance, who made her first return to Nigeria since 1977 for the opening preview of the exhibition. Nance not only participated in FESTAC ’77 but also meticulously documented the journey of the American delegation to the festival, from which a selection of works is published in her book, LAST DAY IN LAGOS

The exhibition also showcases Tam Fiofori’s iconic work, The Crowd at FESTAC ’77, which captures the atmosphere of the opening ceremony, along with photographs sourced from the archive of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC). Additionally, the exhibition features a video installation by Kakoma and a sound installation curated by Chimurenga, further enhancing the immersive multidisciplinary experience.

Another highlight of the opening night was a riveting performance by Somi and her international band, culminating in a moving homage to the late South African icon Miriam Makeba, who was on the remarkable roster of great artists like Stevie Wonder, King Sunny Ade and James Brown, among many others who graced the FESTAC stage in 1977.

A thought-provoking panel session featuring luminaries such as Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo, culture curator, producer and communicator, and executive program director of the Culture Advocates Caucus; Professor Duro Oni, fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters and retired professor of theater arts at the University of Lagos; Marilyn Nance; and Honorable Aisha A. Augie, director-general of the Centre For Black and African Arts and Entertainment, underscored the importance of revitalizing the archives of FESTAC ’77 for historical relevance. The discussion centered on the imperative to make these archives more accessible, ensuring that future generations can appreciate the cultural significance of the festival.

The exhibition is on view until April 14, 2024, at the Old Printing Press, Lagos Island.

Ibrahim Mahama Transforms Barbican’s Lakeside Terrace With New Public Commission

Ibrahim Mahama | Purple Hibiscus | 2024 | The Barbican Centre, London

The Barbican Centre in London recently unveiled a large-scale art project by renowned Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama. Titled Purple Hibiscus, the striking installation has changed the face of the Lakeside Terrace into an attention-grabbing spot.

A masterpiece, Purple Hibiscus covers about 2,000 square meters with this enormous custom-made cloth, handwoven and sewn by hundreds of artisans from his hometown in Tamale, Ghana. This piece wraps the Barbican’s concrete in vibrant pink and purple, which is the artist’s way of connecting local communities and economies.

Part of the work also includes about 130 “batakaris”—traditional robes from the Northern Region of Ghana—sewn into this art, too. They are packed with history and tradition, reminding us how we’re all connected.

Shanay Jhaveri, Barbican’s visual arts head, said, “Mahama’s monumental commission offers a powerful reflection on the relationship between craftsmanship and grandeur. Through Purple Hibiscus, he invites audiences to contemplate themes of community, memory, and solidarity while celebrating the remarkable capabilities of the human hand.”

Visitors can view Purple Hibiscus at the Lakeside Terrace until Aug. 18, 2024. I envy those who get to encounter these works physically because the photos are quite telling of the work’s splendor.

Uzodinma Iweala to Step Down as CEO of The Africa Center in December 2024

The Africa Center in New York has announced that Dr. Uzodinma Iweala will step down from his role as CEO in December 2024, after leading the institution for seven impactful years. During his tenure, Dr. Iweala oversaw a significant transformation of the Africa Center, shifting its focus from a visual arts museum to an interdisciplinary institution with an expanded mission encompassing culture and policy initiatives. This transformation aimed to reshape narratives and create new opportunities for Africa and its diaspora.

In his statement, Dr. Iweala expressed pride in the achievements made during his time at the Africa Center, highlighting the expansion of the institution’s mission and the fostering of a resilient and supportive community. He expressed confidence in the Center’s ability to continue its growth under new leadership.

Iweala’s noteworthy achievements encompass the establishment of the Future Africa Forum, which pioneered The Africa Center’s interdisciplinary approach to policy programming. This forum brings together heads of state, senior political figures, industry leaders, philanthropists and cultural luminaries for discussions during the United Nations General Assembly. 

In addition, Iweala spearheaded a groundbreaking partnership between The Africa Center, Africa No Filter and the University of Cape Town to create the Global Media Index, setting a benchmark for media coverage of Africa. Notable curatorial endeavors include collaborations with the Museum of Food and Drink to co-present the groundbreaking exhibition African/American: Making the Nation’s Table and with Independent Curators International to co-present States of Becoming, showcasing the work of 17 cutting-edge African artists from both the continent and the diaspora.

Where to Go, What to Do & What to See

Xenson’s Olidde Mupipa | Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute, Kenya | April 4–July 13, 2024 

Ibrahim Mahama’s Purple Hibiscus | Barbican Lakeside Terrace, London | April 10–Aug. 18, 2024

U.S. Virgin Islands Literary Festival & Book Fair 2024 | April 11-14, 2024

Yinka Shonibare’s Suspended States | Serpentine Gallery, London | April 12–Sept. 1, 2024 

Book O’ Clock’s Virtual Book Chat Series Featuring Five Talented Nigerian Authors | April 13–28, 2024

Inauguration of United Republic of Tanzania’s Pavilion at Venice Biennial | La Fabbrica di Vedere – Archivio Carlo Montanaro, Calle del Forno, Venice, Italy | April 18, 2024

12th Annual Black Comic Book Festival | Schomburg Center, New York | April 26-27, 2024 

Book Launch & Conversation | Ngozi Ajah Schommers: Tracings of Time and Place | Hopscotch Reading Room, Berlin | April 27, 2024 

Film Screening | Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire | The Marquee Cinema, Union South, UW Madison, Wisconsin | April 30, 2024 

1-54 New York | May 1-4, 2024

Zeinab Badawi’s Book Discussion of An African History of Africa in London | May 8, 2024

Compiled by Roli O’tsemaye

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