African Art in London

London / Art / Africa


Rotimi Fani-Kayode @ Rivington Place

Black Friar (1989) - Rotimi Fani-Kayode

No beating about the bush – I urge you to go and see the two new shows from Autograph ABP now on at Rivington Place. In the main space downstairs are luminous photographs by Rotimi Fani-Kayode (1955-1989), in his first major UK exhibtion since 1995. Upstairs, meanwhile, are somewhat less luminous but horrifyingly compelling images of lynchings in the United States, accompanied by a selection of newspaper clippings. The two exhibits are brought together through ‘photography’s relationship to historical and contemporary representations of the black body as a site of spectacle’ – and convincingly so.

Nigerian-born Fani-Kayode’s hypnotic images of black male bodies are justly celebrated as a deeply moving exploration of what it means to be an outsider “in matters of sexuality; in terms of geographical and cultural dislocation; and in the sense of not having become the sort of respectably married professional my parents might have hoped for.” Drawing symbolic references and inspiration from both European and African cultures, these photographs are glistening provocations to look, and to accept what one sees. For Fani-Kayode, his practice was a lifeline which he said he “must use not just as an instrument, but as a weapon if I am to resist attacks on my integrity and indeed, my existence on my own terms.” He died in 1989 at the age of 34, after a career of just six years.

Here’s a taster (all images are taken from the image bank here):

Cargo of Middle Passage (1989) - Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Four Twins - Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Things take a macabre turn upstairs in Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, which offers up for inspection the fruits of collector James Allen’s search for lynching imagery and memorabilia.

(detail from) The lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, August 7, 1930, Marion, Indiana.

The photographs, press cuttings and postcards (yes, postcards) are so shocking, so quietly real, and in some cases so recent, that they quickly dispelled any fears I might have had of ghoulishness or historically-excused rubbernecking. Instead, they bear witness to the unthinkable, and in doing so, act as a reminder that the boundaries of the thinkable are always being redrawn, and that although the battleground may shift, it never goes away. I left Rivington Place feeling thoroughly disturbed, but also with a sense of having learnt some profound and unhappy truths about human nature. This is not easy programming, but I recommend it.

Both shows continue until 30 July.

Opening hours:
Tues, Wed, Fri: 11-6
Thurs: 11–9
Sat: 12–6

Rivington Place


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Rahmon Olugunna @ arc Gallery

Rahmon Olugunna

Just in case you didn’t catch Rahmon Olugunna at Open The Gate earlier this month, there’s another chance to see his work, this time in the canal-side surroundings of arc Gallery in Tottenham Hale. Blink and you’ll miss it – New Currents from Oshogbo is only on for a week. Details here.

Private view: Thurs 19th May, 6-9

Show: 20th-25th May

Opening hours:
Tues-Fri, 11-6.30
Sat 12.30–5.30

arc Gallery
Barge Belle, 11 Hale Wharf Ferry Lane, London
N17 9NF

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Bamako & London @ October Gallery

Images from Bamako & London (Alioune Bâ and Diane Patrice)

Described as a ‘collaborative exhibition of exchanges’, Bamako & London is that rare thing: a show of contemporary art from Africa which will be on view on the continent, as well off it. A partnership between two photographers, Diane Patrice (London, UK) and Alioune Bâ (Bamako, Mali), the exhibition features twenty portraits of everyday life, accompanied by projections of CCTV-style footage from both cities. It’s on for just a week at the October Gallery from this Tuesday, and will travel to the Musée de Bamako in Mali at the end of September 2011.

And a quick reminder: Nnenna Okore’s wonderful sculptures are also currently on show in the main space at the OG, so don’t forget to check them out too.

Show: 17th-25th May

Opening hours:

October Gallery
24 Old Gloucester Street, Bloomsbury, London

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Wole Soyinka @ Southbank Centre

As part of the Southbank Centre’s ‘Great Thinkers‘ series, the Nobel Prize-winning playwright, poet and writer Wole Soyinka will be in town on June 1st to discuss culture and politics with Southbank Artistic Director Jude Kelly.

The event is a gala evening in support of Collective Artistes, a London-based professional theatre company that produces and tours plays from the African Diaspora. Don’t delay – tickets (£15) and further info here.

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Rahmon Olugunna @ Open The Gate

Currently on view at Open the Gate is a new show of paintings by Nigerian artist Rahmon Olugunna, entitled The New Spirit of Oshogbo Art. Oshogbo has a long history of producing artists, but Olugunna’s third-generation take on the movement’s traditions promises something new.

The show continues until 18th May.

Opening hours:
Daily, 12-12

Open The Gate
33-35 Stoke Newington Rd, London
N16 8BJ

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Mahamat-Saleh Haroun @ BFI

Still from 'Kalala' (2005) - Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Chances are, you’ve never seen a film from the Republic of Chad. I certainly haven’t. Well, this month the BFI is giving Londoners an opportunity to catch up with the work of the central African country’s best-known feature filmmaker – Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. The 50-year-old director goes for quality, not quantity – he’s only made four full-length films, but three of them are prize-winners, picking up awards from FESPACO (Abouna (2002), for cinematography) and the 63rd Venice International Film Festival (Daratt (2006), which took the Grand Special Jury Prize), not to mention his latest film, A Screaming Man (2010), which won the Jury Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

While Haroun himself lives in France, he has campaigned vociferously for greater investment in African cinema on the continent. His first feature film, Bye Bye Africa (1999), takes a critical look at the state of filmmaking in Africa, and the widespread closure of movie theatres as a result of political turmoil and the popularity of other forms of entertainment like DVDs and video clubs. The Normandy cinema in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, which features in Bye Bye Africa, has miraculously re-opened after 20 years of silence thanks to an injection of funds from the government, and the efforts of Haroun and another Chadian director, Issa Serge Coelo. Their plan is to use this achievement to raise the profile of film and filmmaking, and kick-start the revitalisation of cinema in Chad. Good luck to them, and I look forward to catching some of Haroun’s films in the next few weeks.

You can read an interview with Mahamat-Saleh Haroun here, and find out more about his films here.

The season is on at the BFI from 13th – 30th May – more details here.


Kings of Kumasi @ Jack Bell

Almighty God (2011)

Jack Bell’s new exhibition, Kings of Kumasi: New Painting from the Asante Capital, continues the gallery’s recent focus on West Africa, showcasing work from Ghanaian painters Akwesi Addai, Otchere Azey and Almighty God (yes, really). All three live and work in Ghana’s second city, Kumasi, which is known for its vibrant cultural life and in particular its lively street painting scene. The show promises fantastical imagery and religious themes, as well as social and political commentary, all tied together through imaginative use of colour, text and visual drama.

For anyone interested in a more detailed look at sign painting in Kumasi, as well as the history of Ghanaian art more generally, I’d recommend artist and scholar Atta Kwami’s book on the subject, Kumasi Realism, 1951-2007: An African Modernism.

Show: 5th May – 11th June

Opening hours:
Wed-Sat, 12-6

Jack Bell Gallery
276 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London