Article written

  • on 28.05.2014
  • at 09:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

Here Africa/1: Contemporary Africa through the Eyes of its Artists 0

From 6 May to 8 July, Art for The World assembles for the first time in Switzerland a unique collection of contemporary African art and performances including approximately 60 works of more than 26 interesting artists from the African continent. In partnership with the Swiss NGO, will publish opinions and interviews of the personalities involved in the exhibition. We start with Adelina von Furstenberg, the curator of Here Africa/Ici l’Afrique.

1. Territories

We have a cultural history of the mechanisms of perception and representation of persons, objects and ideas. We also have a history of the perceptions and representations thus engendered, notably concerning territories, continents and communities, which are mostly referred to in literary texts or pictures.

The history of cartography of Africa provides an out- standing paradigm of the way our knowledge of this continent was built over the centuries. The way map makers of geography and the communities — in whose context the maps were made — perceived and represented those regions and their inhabitants over past centuries to this day is not unlike fiction.

In the past, the understanding of Africa often consisted in confused and erroneous rep- resentations, especially during colonial times.

If we simply focus our attention on the last decades, we are confronted with forms of rep- resentations of Africa that are ridden with stereotypes. Among the most common mistakes, there is the idea that the African continent is homogeneous, as if it were one single country, and also the idea that the relationship between the Western world and Africa can only be one of dependency, putting forth the exploitation of natural resources and sometimes the idea that the African continent is doomed. Even if some of these stereotypes are no longer appropriate, it does not necessarily mean that we have a more objective perception of today’s reality. What was long considered a continent filled with mystery has now been replaced by the image of a continent either endowed with endless resources or one doomed to insolvency.

Africa, this mysterious, multiple, dense, rich, contradictory, radically different continent is united by a strong and relentless capacity to define itself through its otherness, its alterity as in the latin epithet ‘alteritas’: in other words, what the essence of its difference is.

As emphasised by Edouard Glissant in his Introduction à une poétique du Divers: “It will take a very long time but in today’s world interaction, it is one of the most obvious tasks of

iterature, poetry and art to contribute step by step to making Humanities accept ‘automati- cally’ that the other is no enemy, that he who is different from me does not erode me, that if I happen to change from his contact it does not mean that I am dissolved in him, etc. I believe that this is a fight which differs from other daily ⁄ ordinary ones, and that for this fight the art- ist is best equipped (…) Because the artist gets closer to the fiction of the world. The world’s ideologies, its visions, its expectations, its pipe-dreams have started to fail and it is time to honour this fiction. It is no longer a matter of dreaming the world, but of stepping into it.” 1

Stepping into the world means imitating Mohamed Ali as he stepped into the fight against George Foreman, in 1974, in Kinshasa, Zaire. Mohamed Ali, in the weeks preceding the most difficult fight in his career, became the spokesman and the symbol of the moral and cultural redemption of the entire people of Zaire. He addressed a most difficult challenge, an impossible one according to some people: he was faced with a much stronger contender.

Seldom have a few split seconds become as meaningful in the history of our society which is built on symbolic images as those which saw Mohamed Ali knocking out George Foreman that 1974 October night in Zaire (today’s DR Congo). This timeless moment when “Terminator Foreman” fell was not just a well-placed uppercut thrown by the gifted dancing boxer. This was the triumph of pan african utopia, the beginning and the end of a vague dream about return to the mother land, and renewed pride.

For Mohamed Ali, as for Edouard Glissant and many peoples of Africa, life is made up of daily struggle. For Edouard Glissant, this could be summed up in the following question: how can one remain oneself without shutting the other out, and how can one open up to the other without losing oneself?

The artist is the best equipped to lead the fight, to reflect upon this struggle, and finally foster the eradication of systematic thinking and prejudices.

2. seen through the artists’ eyes

It is essential to leave to this continent’s artists, creative minds and intellectuals the task of expressing themselves in order to discover through their work a vast territory overflowing with unmatched vitality. Yet, there is a question linked to the organisation of the exhibition HERE AFRICA, Contemporary Africa Through the Eyes of its Artists: what exactly is Africa, in its gigantic and complex diversity, this gathering of nations created through ancient and recent migrations with different political regimes, specific evolution, and multiple pat- terns of town development? There is a considerable distance between this exhibition and official photographs taken of “Blacks” describing people in terms terms used in the study of fauna and flora. Santu Mofokeng points this out in The Black Photo Album ⁄ Look at me: 1890 — 1950 2.

Our concern here is to show the work of a selection of artists from different areas of Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, covering a range of generations.

The way these artists look at things and what they show raises questions and explores different paths but their work remains rooted in the world, in a specific place and time. Among these artists, some depict African society of the 60’s and 70’s, showing life during the de- colonialisation period. This is the case with J.D.’Okhai Ojeikere (Nigeria, 1930 — 2014), who dedicated his work to portraying Nigerian culture. His collection Hairstyles is the most famous; it includes about 1000 photos of different hairstyles, a mosaic portrait of the African woman. Malick Sidibé (Mali, 1935), shot daily life in Bamako, recording various events, celebrations and boxing matches : plain images of authenticity and sincerity.

Others have started from traditional cultures and values, but with a contemporary, politi- cal approach to their era. Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (Ivory Coast, 1919 — 2014), inspired by the desire to speak in universal terms, transmits the knowledge of his people through poetic drawing and writing, while exploring the world. Chéri Samba (DR Congo, 1956) refers to the African society from a political point of view while Romuald Hazoumè (Benin, 1962) weaves a link between History, tradition and our contemporary world. As for him, Yinka Shonibare (Nigeria ⁄ UK, 1962) constantly questions the studies of colonialism and post-colonialism while Barthélémy Toguo (Cameroun) boosts Africa’s artistic success by setting up cultural and agricultural infrastructures.

Other artists have embraced world issues and new media; through their work they offer us access to the contemporary reality of this continent, the “here and now”. This is the case of the contemporary visions of Pieter Hugo (South Africa, 1976), Edson Chagas (Angola, 1977), Filipe Branquinho (Mozambique, 1977), Mustafa Maluka (South Africa, 1976), Omar Ba (Senegal, 1977), Zineb Sedira (Algeria, 1963), Faouzi Bensaïdi (Morocco, 1967) and Nadia Kaabi-Linke (Tunisia, 1978), to name but a few among so many artists. Having access to travel and witnessing the galloping urbanisation of Africa, these artists have explored other cultures and gained insight of a world that is an unlimited source of inspiration.

These artists are interesting not only because of their contribution to aesthetic and cul- tural history, but also because of their commitment to the major challenges of contemporary Africa: namely sustainable development, immigration, religious conflicts, climate change, water and food distribution, health, Human rights, gender equality, etc.

Some of these artists live in Africa, while others are part of the diaspora.

HERE AFRICA addresses the tension between languages and styles. Eschewing all notion of hierarchy, this exhibition presents us with different languages and media without categorising works by style, language or genre: portraits, landscapes, documents or pho- tojournalism.

No narrative has been imposed on the viewer. The exhibition is composed of fragments which the viewer will compare with each other, as in Aby Warburg’s 3 library. Our aim was to create a source of reflection and self-reflection through the images of a continent at different periods which have led up to our present day.

HERE AFRICA refers to the chronic instability of our time. It stresses the absolute necessity for the young generation to carry on Mohamed Ali’s fight: that is to imagine, to dream, to hope and seize all opportunities, finally to invest their vital force in the creation of a better world. Drawing attention to the present and the future, weaving between respect for microcosms and the universal, this exhibition is a veritable polyphony of individual visions intertwined with various aesthetic and cultural traditions. As with Mohamed Ali’s dream, Art should sprout from imagination, ethics, one’s singularity and faith in life.

By Adelina Von Furstenberg – Art for The World

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