Contested Terrains features four artists working in Africa who explore and subvert narratives about the past and present, each engaging “with ideas of history and identity that in Africa have long been shaped by the claims and disputes of conflicting ideological and economic interests. Drawing connections across time and space, their works examine the impact of imperialism, notions of historical truth, and the representations and mechanics of power.” While the trope of Africa as a ‘contested terrain’ is a bit hackneyed (isn’t every terrain contested?), the art and artists included are wonderful, as is the dialogue they establish across time, histories, and viewpoints of the audiences: this is not a show that showcases Afropessimism, nor one that blindly pays homage to an unrealistic present.

Apparently, there are some black artists from Africa who are worthy of landing up at the Tate, even if there are no black writers of note in Southern Africa worthy of making it to an anthology put together by PEN Africa.  Hooray.

Of special interest are Opara’s almost Victorian portraits in ‘Emissaries of an Iconic Religion’ , an energy he says he never intended to construct, but ended up emanating from the sepia tones and lush drapery of the diviners and deities he photographed. In other hands, these images would look dated and smack of exoticism; but Opara manages to give them a richer story, hinting at the communities and centuries that gave each person their depth, while portraying his subjects within the dignity of the present.

The four featured artists:
Kader Attia (b. 1970, Dugny, France. Lives and works in Berlin and Algiers)/
Sammy Baloji (b. 1978, Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Lives and works in Lubumbashi)
Michael MacGarry (b. 1978, Durban, South Africa. Lives and works in Cape Town).
Adolphus Opara. (b. 1981, Imo State, Nigeria. Lives and works in Lagos);

“Orisa Egbe Deity of Destiny (Mrs Osun Yita) from ‘Emissaries of an Iconic Religion’  2009 (illustration above).

See Contested Terrians At the Tate, London.