African Art in London

London / Art / Africa

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Mosi Conde @ October Gallery / Bloomsbury Festival

Mosi Conde

If you haven’t yet been along to see Julien Sinzogan’s show at October Gallery, this weekend is a good time to do it. On Saturday, there’s an afternoon of events at the gallery, with a display of artwork made by local children in response to the exhibition; and on Sunday, continuing the (rather loose) West African theme you can catch musician Mosi Conde and his band Kaira Kora Africa in concert, plus improvised art created live by Galen Wainwright, just down the road at St. George’s as part of the Bloomsbury Festival.

Further details here.

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South African art at Bonhams

Bonhams has a two-part South African Sale coming up next week, with almost 350 lots up for grabs. For the affordable stuff (i.e. estimated at under £1000), head down to the first day at Knightsbridge; this part of the sale also features some modern West African work, including pieces by Osogbo School artists Rufus Ogundele and Muraina Oyelami. For the really big hitters, and works expected to reach up to £900,000, check out the second day’s events at the saleroom on New Bond Street. Artists featured here include Irma Stern, Cecil Skotnes, Jacob Hendrik Pierneef and Gerard Sekoto. Bonhams provide a handy summary of the South African market and comments on the works (here and here) and suggest that the gulf in the value of works by the best black and white South African artists is decreasing (although on the evidence of these sales, there’s still some way to go).

If you can’t make the sales (or even if you can), you can view the works at both locations starting this Sunday, up until just before the auctions begin – times below.

Part 1 – South African and Modern African Art

24th Oct, 11-3
25th Oct, 9-4.30
26th Oct, 9-10

SALE: 26th Oct, 11am

Montpelier Street, Knightsbridge, London

Part 2 – The South African Sale

24th Oct, 11-3
25th Oct, 9-4.30
26th Oct, 9-4.30
27th Oct, 9-12

SALE: 27th Oct, 2pm

101 New Bond Street, London

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Peterson Kamwathi: Matter of Record

Untitled woodcut print (2010) - Peterson Kamwathi

The first London solo show from rising star Peterson Kamwathi opens this Wednesday at Ed Cross Fine Art in Aldgate. The exhibition promises to bring together works in a variety of media, including woodcut prints and charcoal drawings, which combine conceptual sophistication with technical skill. I especially like his sheep and bull series, but works featuring human subjects are also impressive for their brooding atmosphere and stark depiction of Kenyan political realities; Kamwathi has a strong interest in exploring socio-political concerns, and  has stated: “in my work I strive to address and document issues that affect and impact my country, my continent and now the planet.” Be sure to check out his work while you can.

The show continues until 20th November.

Opening hours:
Tues-Sat, 10-6
Open until 9 on Nov 4th for First Thursdays.

Ed Cross Fine Art Ltd
2nd Floor, The Hive, 20 Buckle Street, London
E1 8EH

P.S. This show is presented with the support of The African Arts Trust – more on this later…

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Abdel Abdessemed: Silent Warriors

Habibi (2003) - Abdel Abdessemed (installation: Parasol Unit, 2010 / photography: Stephen White)

There’s a warm – if slightly unusual – welcome over at Parasol Unit this autumn. Habibi – ‘my beloved’ – greets you: a 17-metre, horizontal human skeleton, arms outstretched, palms down, bulbous skull looming with a grinning ‘hello’. A self-portrait of the artist, Abdel Abdessemed, this fibreglass installation hangs suspended from wires, floating ahead of an aeroplane engine turbine. Is he being propelled forwards, perhaps from one life to the next, or dragged backwards? With his cavernous rib-cage, dangling knee-caps and toes as long as your arm, Habibi is unforgettably large, and strange, and beautiful.

The other works in Abdessemed’s first London solo show have perhaps less immediate impact, but repay close attention. Enter the Circle is a 25-second looped video of a performance in which the artist sketches a circle in charcoal on MDF boards on the floor (displayed alongside), whilst suspended by the ankles from a rope attached to a helicopter. Nearby is another film of a similarly gravity-defying feat performed almost in the reverse position, where Abdessemed scratches out the phrase Also Sprach Allah on a mat spread out on the ceiling, achieving the necessary height by being bounced up and down on another mat held by about 10 helpers, who grunt with the exertion. While both of these works might seem to have a touch of the Matthew Barneys about them, I got the feeling that the artist was less concerned with restraining (and developing) his own creativity than with the viewer’s response to his baffling yet clearly significant actions.

Silent Warrior (2010) - Abdel Abdessemed

Upstairs is the most recent work, Silent Warrior, an eye-popping installation of 800 masks made from flattened and soldered tin cans once used to contain food and industrial materials. They are bright, beetle-like shiny ovals, some with traces of their former incarnations: ‘insecticide parfumé à la citronelle’, ‘Dolmio’, or ‘sardines’ (with brand names including ‘Princesse’, ‘Dora’ and the brilliant ‘Hot Titus’). Resembling toy robots, these masks hint at transformations of many kinds – but not, Abdessemed explains, of the kind that his position as an Algerian living and working in Paris might suggest. As he insists in the accompanying publication, ‘I do not lie between two cultures. I am not a post-colonial artist, I am not working on the scar, and I am not mending anything.’ Looking at his work, the kind of interpretation that might make such an assumption does seem inadequate at best, although what exactly he is working on remains mysterious. This show is an intriguing glimpse, while we (and perhaps he) wait to find out.

The show continues until 21st November.

Opening hours:
Tues-Sat, 10-6
Sun, 12-5
First Thursday of each month, open until 9

Parasol unit
14 Wharf Road, London
N1 7RW

P.S. While you’re at it, have a look at what’s on at Victoria Miro. One floor up from Abdessemed there are some luminous photographs from Isaac Julien – all stills from his film installation Ten Thousand Waves, featuring screen siren Maggie Cheung, which can be seen at the Hayward as part of the show ‘Move: Choreographing You’. Also at Victoria Miro are some spooky paintings of poets by Hernan Bas, and spotty flowers from Yayoi Kusama.

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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

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Imani and others at the BFI London Film Festival


Imani (2010) - dir. Caroline Kamya


Thanks to a tip-off from my friends at African Screens, were I in London during the upcoming 54th BFI London Film Festival, I’d be sure to check out Imani, the debut feature film  from Caroline Kamya, about a day in the life of a former child soldier, a maid and a hip-hop dancer in Kampala. You can read an interview with the director here and find out about screenings here.

Other African film highlights of the festival include:

  • New African Cinema‘: a trio of shorts – The Tunnel, Pumzi and Saint Louis Blues – made through the Africa First mentoring scheme (14/15 Oct)
  • Zimbabwean documentary Shungu: The Resilience of a People (18/19 Oct)
  • Microphone, set in Alexandria’s underground music scene, the second feature from director Ahmad Abdalla after last year’s Heliopolis (18/19/20 Oct)
  • a story of love and war set in Sierra Leone and Nigeria, Relentless (20/21 Oct)
  • a tale of courage in the face of prejudice in a South African community, Life, Above All (26/27 Oct)

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Godfried Donkor: The Fives Court


Browning Madonna with Rainbow (2010) - Godfried Donkor


If you make your way down to Vyner Street this month, be sure not to miss this – Fred [London] presents a new selection of paintings by Ghanaian-born, UK-based artist Godfried Donkor.

Donkor’s longstanding interests in the social levelling achieved through some sporting cultures (especially boxing) and the world of glamour, from the 18th century onwards, are clearly apparent in works featuring scantily-clad seductresses and interestingly-clad pugilists (the mustard-coloured breeches, in particular, caught my attention). The title of the exhibition is apparently a reference to Lord Byron’s favourite boxing and betting hang-out in London.

The show continues until 14th November.

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

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

P.S. This is just the latest in a string of interesting shows at Fred [London] featuring work by artists from Africa and/or the African diaspora. You can find out about a previous show here, and the gallery’s approach here; and here‘s another opportunity to see some of this work, albeit in the slightly bizarre surroundings of the Clifford Chance headquarters at Canary Wharf. Great to see, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Fred in the future.

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Nollywood Now! – Film Festival

London’s first ever film festival dedicated to Nigerian popular cinema kicked off yesterday at Deptford Town Hall – but there’s still plenty of time, with five more Nollywood movies showing over the coming week. Check out the programme here.

Also, a heads up about two more Nollywood events coming up soon:

  • 30 October
    Nigeria on Film, a day of film and discussion at the BFI Southbank as part of the Africa Odysseys season – info here.
  • 26 November 
    Nollywood: Losing the Plot, an evening with Adekunle Detokunbo-Bello at the South London Gallery, Peckham, as part of the gallery’s Contemporary Africa on Screen programme – info here.

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More contemporary art from South Africa

There’s another chance to see work by Varenka Paschke, Jane Eppel and Norman O’Flynn at Chagan Contemporary’s show at Adam Street Private Members’ Club, just off the Strand. This exhibition follows on from Chagan’s group show earlier this summer. By appointment only.

The show continues until 23rd October.

Opening hours: by appointment only – call 020 7379 8000

Adam Street Private Members’ Club
9 Adam Street, The Strand, London

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James Barnor: Ever Young / W.E.B. Du Bois: The Paris Albums 1900

Policewoman #10 (c.1954) - James Barnor

This perky policewoman is just one of the memorable images captured by the Ghanaian photographer James Barnor, currently on show at Rivington Place. The first part of the exhibition contains tiny vintage prints from Accra in the late ’40s and 50s and London in the 60s, while the second, larger section offers larger contemporary prints from Accra and London during the same period. The photographs feature several glamorous cover girls on fashion shoots for Drum magazine, famous politicians and personalities including Kwame Nkrumah and Muhammad Ali, as well as everyday and domestic scenes, at a time of massive political upheaval and social transformation in both Ghana and the UK.

Among the many telling moments captured here are the independence celebrations held in Accra in 1957, with HRH Duchess of Kent and the last Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke, shaded by a vast parasol and in the company of Nii Tackie Komey II, Paramount Chief of the Ga State, on their way to meet Kwame Nkrumah. As an image of the combined forces of tradition and transition, and the universal and enduring appeal of a bit of pomp and circumstance – under whatever administration – it’s pretty unbeatable.

Meanwhile, upstairs there’s a fascinating selection of portraits of nineteenth-century African-Americans, compiled by the black intellectual and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois for a volume called Types of American Negroes, Georgia, U.S.A. Some are shot in profile and others face-on, some show older faces but most show young ones, with sombre individuals side-by-side with others struggling to suppress the giggles. There are suits, smocks, cravats and fur collars,  hats with feathers in them, and a few impressive moustaches.

Young African American Woman, Half-Length Portrait, Facing Right, with Left Hand Under Chin / Young African American Man, Half-Length Portrait, Facing Right (1899 / 1900) - from W.E.B. Du Bois 'Paris Albums', held at Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Taken together, the photographs offer a vital record of early African-American identities, and struggles over the representation of black subjectivity. Much of the collection’s power comes from its simultaneous framing of different yet co-existing sources of personhood within the same image or body of images, whether that is a ‘black’ identity, the ‘two-ness’ of being both African and American, the responsibility of being a working man or woman, or simply the delight of having your photo taken while wearing a silly costume. Thought-provoking, and well worth a look.

Both shows continue until 27th November.

Opening hours:

Tues/Weds/Fri, 11-6
Thurs, 11-9
Sat, 12-6

Rivington Place