African Art in London

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Zarina Bhimji @ Whitechapel Gallery

Your Sadness is Drunk - Zarina Bhimji (2001-2006)

I’m really looking forward to checking out this survey exhibition of photographs and films by Ugandan-born British artist Zarina Bhimji. The show includes her 2002 film Out of Blue, which explores the experiences of Ugandan Asians and, according to the artist, is about ‘learning to listen to difference'; and also her latest film Yellow Patch (2011), which was shot in India and reflects on migrations across the Indian Ocean.

The show continues until 9th March.

Opening hours:
Tues-Sun, 11-6 (Thurs 11-9)

Whitechapel Gallery
77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London
E1 7QX


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Meetings in Marrakech @ Leighton House Museum

El Glaoui (2011)

This exhibition brings together paintings by Sir Winston Churchill and Moroccan artist Hassan El Glaoui. The unlikely pairing comes about thanks to Churchill’s friendship with El Glaoui’s late father, who just so happened to be the Pasha of Marrakech, Hadj Thami El Glaoui. It was Churchill – himself an avid painter and lover of Morocco – who persuaded the Pasha to let his son study painting in Paris in the 1940s. The rest is history; El Glaoui has had exhibitions all over the world, and continues to paint from his home in Marrakech. This exhibition is a record and a celebration of the exchange between the two families, which continues to this day.

You can read the full story here and find out more about the artist at his website.

The show continues until 31st March.

Opening hours:
Daily 10-5.30, closed Tuesdays

Leighton House Museum
12 Holland Park Road, London
W14 8LZ


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Synchronicity II @ Tiwani Contemporary

Synchronicity II @ Tiwani Contemporary

Oh, first Thursdays. This time around I’m trying to figure out if it’s a sensible idea to attempt the dash across town from the opening of Fred’s new show (Vyner St, E2) to Tiwani Contemporary’s private view of Synchronicity (Oxford Circus, W1, so strictly speaking not a ‘first Thursday’, but that’s the thing about Thursday – it happens at the same time everywhere…) In theory it’s completely do-able, but then there’s always that temptation when on Vyner St to have a quick poke around the other galleries, and before you know it, it’s home time. Mainly though I’m just thrilled that I even have to think about this at all – a couple of years ago you would have struggled to find any contemporary African shows at all, let alone two opening on the same night.

The new show at Tiwani has been co-organised with curatorial collective On the Roof, and features work from Malala Andrialavidrazana, Steeve Bauras, James Barnor, François-Xavier Gbré, Em’Kal, Kapwani Kiwanga, Amina Menia, Grace Ndiritu, and Abraham O. Oghobase.

Private view: 2nd February, 6-9

Show: 3rd February – 17th March

Opening hours:
Tues-Sat, 10.30-6

Tiwani Contemporary
16 Little Portland Street, London
W1W 8BP


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Abdulrazaq Awofeso @ Fred [London]

From 'Fragments from the city' @ Goethe on main, Johannesburg - Abdulrazaq Awofeso (2011)

Opening next week at Fred [London] is a new show from Lagos-born, Johannesburg-based artist Abdulrazaq Awofeso. Featuring small figures carved from pallets left lying around near the artist’s studio, the exhibition was originally put on at GoetheonMain, the Goethe Institute’s newish experimental space in Jo’burg. Awofeso’s figures are intended to call to mind a kind of prayerful army, but also, in their fragility, act as a warning against literal readings of the holy scripture, which could be “enough to topple this multitude standing in file into an apocalyptic human heap”.

Show: 2nd February – 11th March

Opening hours:
Wed-Sun, 12-6 or by appointment

Fred [London]
45 Vyner Street, London
E2 9DQ


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A Place at the Table @ Southwark Cathedral / Amnesty International

Still from 'A Place at the Table'

I don’t often post about theatre, but this looks so good I want to give it a quick mention. A Place at the Table is an immersive theatrical production that invites the audience to literally take a place at the table with the performers, to explore the ongoing political troubles in Burundi, Rwanda and the African Great Lakes Region. The all-female, mostly central/east-African cast, draw directly on interviews with refugees and campaigners, UN reports and more to create what promises to be a powerfully moving, intimate experience.

After its run at the Camden People’s Theatre last year, it’s back for one week only, from the 16th – 19th January at Southwark Cathedral, and on January 20th at Amnesty International. More info and tickets here.


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Postmodernism / Samuel Kane Kwei / Bodys Isek Kingelez @ V&A

This is unforgivably late, but if you’ve got a spare hour or two this weekend I really recommend checking out the Postmodernism show at the V&A before it closes on Sunday. I finally made it down there yesterday, and enjoyed it a lot. It’s a history lesson without being too ‘teachy’, and includes some incredible work from a huge range of fields: design, fashion, architecture, fine art, graphics, film, music, performance – it’s all there, and it’s mostly great. Highlights include David Byrne’s ‘big suit‘, some amazing Memphis designs (my favourite was the Bel Air Chair) and a huge projection of Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’. Rather too many teapots, perhaps, but that’s a small quibble.

Towards the end of the exhibition there’s a bit of a meta moment, with a brief but interesting commentary on the notorious and influential 1989 show Magiciens de la Terre, and two pieces by African artists who featured in itTucked into a corner, there’s a Mercedes coffin by Ghanaian artist Samuel Kane Kwei (similar to the ones by Paa Joe that made such a brouhaha last year at Jack Bell). Next to it, one of Bodys Isek Kingelez’ stunning creations sprouts from a plinth: this ‘Model for a Zaire Pavilion’ is, like all of Kingelez’ work, a mind-boggling feat of imagination and skill. His apparent use of bricolage made his work popular with the postmodern set, including Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, whose presence looms large over the whole show.

This little section is designed to flag up the Euro-centrism of postmodernism. As the interpretation suggests, ‘Sottsass probably knew little about Kingelez, but he was happy to see a model like this as a transcultural moment'; in other words, the presence of Kwei, Kingelez and other non-Western artists in Magiciens de la Terre revealed more about the curators’ all-consuming postmodernist global vision than the artists’ original intentions. There’s a strange paradox here; what are these two pieces doing in the V&A now, if not to illustrate the curators’ (albeit rather more sophisticated) narrative about Euro-American cultural history? They’re not there to show anything about art, design or culture in Ghana or the DRC, that’s for sure. Still, it’s encouraging to see the beginnings of a critical approach to this kind of issue in a big exhibition like this one.

You can read more about Kingelez and see some rather poor images here.

You can read some interesting pieces on Magiciens de la Terre here.

The exhibition costs £11 for adults and £8 for students, and ends tomorrow…

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London
SW7 2RL


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Africa Centre Rising @ Brunei Gallery, SOAS

As part of ongoing discussions about the future of the Africa Centre, there’s an open meeting later this month at SOAS. It promises to be a heated debate; a quick look at the Save the Africa Campaign blog shows that although attempts have now been made by the trustees to engage in some kind of consultation, there is still a long way to go, and the future remains uncertain. To hear the latest and get involved, register your interest here and head down to the Brunei Gallery at 7pm on January 26th.

N.B for a bit of history and a nicely balanced assessment of the situation, take a look at this article from the Financial Times. It’s a bit out of date, but if you’re looking for background reading before heading down to the event, this is a good place to start.

January 26th, 19:00 – 21:00

Brunei Gallery, Room B102B
SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London
WC1H 0XG

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