AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

Summer List: Exhibitions and Readings
Emily Wood | July 25th, 2012

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Meleko Mokgosi, Pax Kaffraria: Sikhuselo Sembumbulu (2012)

Some ongoing exhibitions of interest:

Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art with African Cosmos: Stella Arts until December 9

This exhibition traces the development of “cultural astronomy” in Africa’s various regions, focusing on Mali, in the West; Egypt, in the North; and South Africa in the South. The art showcases the inspiration artists and cultures derived from the cosmos, while the supplemental text explores the scientific and practical purposes astronomy held for various cultures. If you are outside the D.C. area, the online page provides high quality images, short blurbs on the pieces, and interesting links for further delving.

New York (Harlem): Studio Museum with Primary Sources: Artists in Residence 2011–12 through October 21

This exhibition centers around three artists, Njideka Akunyili, Meleko Mokgosi and Xaviera Simmons, two of whom are from Africa: Akunyili from Nigeria, and Mokgosi from Botswana. Each artist’s works builds from primary sources, historical documents both personal and objective, in order to inform their own interpretations of the immediate present, reshaping their canvas into an artistic medium of multiple moments in time. Akunyili’s primary sources are the photographs taken from her family albums, which she transfers onto the figures and background, themselves relaying a scene from her past. The fluidity and seamless transitions between the graduated densities of hue visible in her collage do well to portray the porousness of memory and time. Mokgosi’s work brings the political to the forefront and renders the tensions of post-apartheid South Africa, in the quest to uncover what ‘nationhood’ means to Africans. He pulls images out from newspapers, magazines and photographs to populate his paintings, which achieve a high photorealism. By embracing negative space, Mokgosi leaves the narrative open, and allows for our own personal histories to fill in his ellipses.

Manchester: Manchester Art Gallery and other venues with We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today to September 16

Featuring contemporary West African artists working in various media to musicians and fashion designers, this citywide array of art and culture is a part of England’s expansive programming for the London summer games. One of the featured artists, Emeka Ogboh works with sound to create a dissociative experience between the visual and the aural. Soundscapes of Lagos is positioned on the street outside the Art Gallery and projects the hustle and bustle of a Lagos market. The work forces the passerby to reorient him/herself within the soundscape and imagine a new visual as one’s eyes reassess the scene against the foreign sound. Ogboh hopes to target not just native Brits, but people of the Nigerian diaspora, who themselves will have to face echoes of home. Even if you can’t make it to England this summer, the website provided is a great resource for acquainting oneself with contemporary West African artists.

Cape Town: David Krut Projects with Cross-Currents from July 31August 25

Apropos to its geography, the gallery’s summer exhibition takes on a nautical theme, and showcases the work of various artists that relates to the sea, in both a figural and literal sense. Alastair Whitton, represented by David Krut and one of the artists who will be featured, has recently completed a series titled Patmos and the War at Sea. His series pairs reworked archival stills of the island with a facing page of text. The text is taken from John’s apocalyptic writings and is coded into braille and enhanced with hand stamped letters, which are meant to connect both image and text. His themes interweave between the wars of conquest and control over the island, most recently fought amid both World Wars, and the apocalyptic and spiritual writings that were undertaken on the island, a former home of the exiled Apostle, John. Whitton’s series, which makes use of the sea as a metaphor for spirituality, as well as emphasizes its physical force and territorial and strategic importance, may well be typical of the range of interpretation that David Krut Projects’ gallery looks to show.

Nairobi: Kuona Trust with Living on the Edge of the World opens July 27

Kuona Trust’s artist in residence, Mozambican artist Mário Macilau, will be exhibiting his photographs after a sight-specific performance by the group, Ithumba on July 27. Macilau is a documentary photographer who focuses on portraying living and environmental conditions over time and across different cultures. From the posters released it seems that his work will be dealing with the impact of garbage on the environment, as well as its economic importance in the lives of the people who pick through it to make a living selling recyclable material. He has in the past taken images of the Hulene garbage pit near Maputo, Mozambique. Many of Macilau’s photographs are shot closer up with the background blurred out, which allows the viewer to focus in on the individuality of the people involved, and the character their struggle brings out, without making their surroundings the main attraction.

On the Lookout (still in Nairobi): Graffiti Art

CNN recently put up a story detailing the graffiti art going up on the city’s walls. The artists are headed by former photojournalist Boniface Mwangi, who has recently redirected his energies towards creating an art with a more urban and public visibility. Known as “Vulture art” the subject matter is political in nature and harangues the corruption of Kenyan politicians, by portraying them as vultures. If any of AIAC’s readers have come across this street art, please share your comments on it.

And a few choice summer readings:

Along an African Border: Angolan refugees and Their Basket Divination by Sónia Silva
, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

This book looks at the population of displaced Angolan refugees that fled the civil war, which began in 1975 and carried on well through the 1990s, and their cultural production of lipele. Lipele are divination baskets which contain seeds, claws, coins and wooden carvings, which acted as tools with which to help rebuild social, economic, and political relations among resettled refugees in countries such as Zambia, Namibia and the DRC. Silva’s premise centers on the idea that lipele is a ritual, a way of knowing, and a way of living. The author documents the weaving of the basket, its infusion with spiritual meaning, and its function in society. She asserts that the divination function of the lipele aided the displaced communities in interpreting past and present sufferings as war refugees, as well as the passing on of cultural traditions and histories. However, in Drew Thompson’s view, Silva’s research falls short of fully merging the backdrop of civil war with the cultural production of basket weaving, and neglects to ascertain the host country’s responses to Angolan’s cultural practices, among others.

Vigilant Things: On Thieves, Yoruba Anti-Aesthetics, and the Strange Fates of Ordinary Objects in Nigeria by David Doris, University of Washington Press, 2011.

Doris’s book focuses on the “anti-aesthetic” in Yoruba culture, by looking at ààlè objects. Ààlè can be seen as both symbolic forms of communication as well as emblems of vigilant power and threats of cosmic justice. These objects are often placed on top of belongings that are left unattended by their owners. They serve as warnings to thieves of the potential consequences of stealing, as well as invoke the social taboo and estrangement that accompanies moral and ethical transgressions. Thus as an anti-aesthetic, “what [ààlè] reveal provides a necessary complement to Yoruba artistic grace, as well as a broadened awareness of the means through institutional power—the ideological power to determine, proclaim, and enforce the good, the true, and the beautiful—is effected in Yoruba society.” Doris’s writing style is engaging to read, the first person narration refreshingly admits to his potential biases as a Western scholar, and an outsider of Yoruba culture. He also offers the reader personal anecdotes concerning his research into the subject, and these pertinent digressions create a sense of shared intimacy and experience for the reader.

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