African Art in London

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Bandoma @ Jack Bell

Bandoma

Jack Bell’s new exhibition sees Kinshasa’s Bandoma put on his first solo show in the UK. Bandoma uses a variety of painting, drawing and collage techniques, incorporating found images from magazines, to create portraits of the DRC capital’s colourful characters.

Show: continues until 8 Sept.

Opening hours: Tues-Sat, 11-6

Jack Bell Gallery
13 Masons Yard, St James’s, London
SW1Y 6BU


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Kura Shomali @ Jack Bell

Kura Shomali

The next show at Jack Bell is by Congolese artist Kura Shomali. Mysteriously entitled Cassius Clay Ali Boom Boom Ye, it’s been put together in collaboration with Pigozzi curator André Magnin. There’s a brief biography of the artist from the Pigozzi Collection here.

Private view:
Wednesday 4 April, 6 – 8
With a live performance from A.J. Holmes & The Hackney Empire featuring a special guest appearance by Afrikan Boy

Show:
5 April – 5 May

Opening hours:
Tues-Sat, 10-6

Jack Bell Gallery
13 Mason’s Yard, London
SW1Y 6BU


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Guy Tillim @ Tate Modern

Jean-Pierre Bemba, presidential candidate, enters a stadium in central Kinshasa flanked by his bodyguards, July 2006 - Guy Tillim (2006)

Finally I get around to giving South African photographer Guy Tillim a mention – there are just a few weeks left to check out a selection of works from his Congo Democratic series, as part of the Tate Modern collection display ‘New Documentary Forms’. The series examines the 2006 multi-party presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which followed decades of civil war, and, unsurprisingly, became the hotly-contested focus of the electorate’s hopes and fears for the future. There’s no direct emphasis here on the violent episodes that marked the campaigns process; instead, Tillim leads us into the centre of the crowd and invites us to contemplate the emotion, anticipation and ambiguity that mark democratic political processes.

The other artists featured in this display are Luc Delahaye, Mitch Epstein, Boris Mikhailov and Akram Zaatari – further details here.

You can see more images from the Congo Democratic series here.

Show continues until 31st March.

Collection Displays, Level 5: New Documentary Forms
Tate Modern
Bankside, London
SE1 9TG


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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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Les Fantomes @ Jack Bell Gallery

Aboudia (2011)

Jack Bell has moved – and how. The gallery has fled the coach-infested thoroughfares of Victoria, and re-emerged in the vastly more genteel surroundings of the West End’s Mason’s Yard. As a statement of intent, it could hardly be clearer; Mason’s Yard was the location of the legendary Indica Gallery where John Lennon met Yoko Ono, and is now home to the likes of White Cube. Bell means business.

Jack opens up his new gallery with a group show of painting, photography and sculpture from West and Central Africa, featuring several of the artists who graced the walls of his first space in Victoria: Aboudia, Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, Paa Joe and Hamidou Maiga are brought together with newcomers Afedzi Hughes and Bandoma under the title Les Fantomes. Go and take a look.

Private view:
Weds 21 Sept, 7-9

Show:
22 Sept – 29 Oct

Opening hours:
Tues-Sat, 10-6

Jack Bell Gallery
13 Mason’s Yard, St. James’s, London
SW1Y 6BU


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Contested Terrains @ Tate Modern

Orisa Egbe Deity of Destiny (Mrs Osun Yita) from 'Emissaries of an Iconic Religion' (2009) - Adolphus Opara

Tate’s new partnership with Guaranty Bank is already beginning to bear fruit – the Nigerian bank is supporting the new Level 2 show at Tate Modern, which features the work of four contemporary artists currently working in Africa.

Adolphus Opara (b.1981 Nigeria), Michael MacGarry (b.1978 South Africa), Sammy Baloji (b.1978 Democratic Republic of Congo) and Kader Attia (b.1970 France) work in a variety of media and from different cultural standpoints, but they all explore the making, telling and re-telling of history. Juxtaposing images and objects from the past and present, the artists recall and reframe Africa’s colonial and post-colonial histories, highlighting the different ways that these stories can be told – hence ‘contested terrains’.

There’s also a talk (Saturday 30th July, 2pm, £5) featuring exhibition artists Kader Attia, Michael MacGarry and Adolphus Opara discussing their work with curators Kerryn Greenberg (Tate Modern), Jude Anogwih (CCA Lagos) and Bolanle Austen-Peters (Terra Kulture). You can find out more and book a place here.

Show: 29th July – 16th October

Opening hours:
Sun–Thurs, 10-6
Fri-Sat, 10–10

Level 2 Gallery, Tate Modern
Bankside, London
SE1 9TG


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Staff Benda Bilili

Staff Benda Bilili

Kinshasa’s Staff Benda Bilili set out to be ‘the best handicapped band in Africa’. I was lucky enough to catch their show last summer, and they were most definitely one of the most exhilarating live bands I’d seen in London, handicapped or otherwise. Here is what I wrote at the time:

‘In the sweaty cavern of the Hackney Empire, they worked their audience into a frenzy with their take on Congolese rumba and funk. Wearing a glittery fedora and clutching what looked like an electrified baked-bean tin, 19-year-old singer and future band-leader Roger Landu started off nervously, but soon came into his own, with extraordinary solos on both vocals and the tin, an instrument called the ‘satonge’ which he invented himself. Across the stage, his senior band mates were completely at home, navigating their intricate riffs with ease, belting out beautifully harmonised call-and-response vocals and throwing themselves – at times quite literally – into the performance.’

Staff Benda Bilili play the Union Chapel at a sold-out Gala Event this Friday night, in celebration of their new film, which is in cinemas from March 18th, and screening at several London venues including the Cine Lumière, the Ritzy, Greenwich Picturehouse, and the Odeon in Covent Garden. Not to be missed.


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Emerging art from Kinshasa @ Jack Bell

There’s a new show on down at Jack Bell – work from painters living and working in (or hailing from) Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Artists include Pierre Bodo, Amani Bodo, Kura Shomali and Ange Kumbi, and according to Jack, they are all firm believers in painting’s capacity to ‘critique, to sensitise and educate’. You can find out more about these and other Congolese painters here.

The show continues until 14th November.

Opening hours:
Wed–Sat, 12–6

Jack Bell Gallery
276 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London
SW1V 1BB


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Staff Benda Bilili

It was that moment when you have to decide where you’re going to stand, and this was one concert that absolutely demanded a clear sightline. Determined not to get stuck behind the guy in the hat, sunglasses and headphones (all of which added a good 10cm to the diameter of his head), I fidgeted around a bit. Why the fuss, my companion asked? They’re quite low down, I explained.

As it turned out, I probably could have stood on my head and still got a decent view, such were the energetic moves being pulled both in the crowd and on the stage. Kinshasa’s Staff Benda Bilili set out to be ‘the best handicapped band in Africa’; four of the group’s members are in wheelchairs, with a fifth on crutches, due to childhood polio. In the sweaty cavern of the Hackney Empire, they were simply a great band, working their audience into a frenzy with their take on Congolese rumba and funk.

Wearing a glittery fedora and clutching what looked like an electrified baked-bean tin, 19-year-old singer and future band-leader Roger Landu started off nervously, but soon came into his own, with extraordinary solos on both vocals and the tin, an instrument called the ‘satonge’ which he invented himself. Across the stage, his senior band mates were completely at home, navigating their intricate riffs with ease, belting out beautifully harmonised call-and-response vocals and throwing themselves – at times quite literally – into the performance with infectious gusto.

Highlights included the frenetic Moziki, and the full-on funk of Je t’aime, complete with slightly risqué dance moves accompanying grunts of ‘sex-ah machine-ah’ – a tribute to James Brown, who played Kinshasa in 1974. After a standing ovation and several encores, the band came to the refrain ‘ne me quittez pas’ – ‘don’t leave me’. By the end of the night, we didn’t want them to leave.

Staff Benda Bilili are currently touring in Europe, with a series of shows scheduled for Japan in the autumn.

A documentary film about the band, Benda Bilili!, premièred at Cannes this year, UK cinema release tbc.

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