African Art in London

London / Art / Africa

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Jill Berelowitz @ Westminster City of Sculpture Festival

Core Femme - Jill Berelowitz (photographs by Louise May Photography)

South African-born, London-based sculptor Jill Berelowitz has unveiled Core Femme as part of the Westminster City of Sculpture Festival. A six-metre high spinal column made from female torsos cast in resin and gracefully threaded onto a stainless steel pole, the sculpture will tower over visitors to Cavendish Square until October 2011. According to the artist, the work is a ‘metaphor for human strength of character, wisdom and spiritual growth’. There’s more on the festival here and here.

Cavendish Square,
Westminster, London W1

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Rotimi Fani-Kayode – one week left!

Nothing to Lose VII (Bodies of Experience) (1989) - Rotimi Fani-Kayode

If you haven’t yet been to see the show of Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s fantastic photographs at Rivington Place, plus the haunting display upstairs on lynchings in the US, Without Sanctuary, you’ve got one week left – don’t miss out.

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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


Queer Africa @ South London Gallery

As part of the Contemporary Africa on Screen season, South London Gallery presents an evening event about ‘queer Africa’, curated by Jennifer Bajorek (Goldsmiths) and introduced by Natasha Bissonauth (Cornell University).

Photographer Andrew Esiebo’s work featured as part of the Nigerians Behind the Lens photography show at Bonhams this spring, but here the focus is on his multimedia work Living Queer African (Paris, 2007), which explores the lives of young queer Africans in Europe. Esiebo shares the spotlight with visual activist Zanele Muholi and her documentary Difficult Love (South Africa, 2010); anybody who’s seen Muholi’s photographic portrayals of the black lesbian community in South Africa (recently on view at the V&A and the Southbank Centre) will agree that her powerful work is well worth checking out.

Friday 29th July
7 – 9

South London Gallery
65 Peckham Road, London

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Baudouin Mouanda @ Gasworks

From the series La Sapologie (2008) - Baudouin Mouanda

Brazzaville-based photographer Baudouin Mouanda presents his first UK solo show at Gasworks this summer, following his residency at Deveron Arts in Scotland. Mouanda’s photographs reflect on the collision between Congolese urban subcultures and global market forces, and revel in the fascinating and often flamboyant cultural self-expressions that emerge as a result. The works on show here feature the famously snappy Sapeurs (above), as well as everyday scenes and hip-hop culture from Libreville and Brazzaville.

There is a talk about the exhibition by Jennifer Bajorek, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, on 17th September at 2pm – further details here

Private view:
29 July, 6.30-9

30 July – 18 Sept
Wed-Sun 12-6

155 Vauxhall Street, London
SE11 5RH

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Talk: Aleya Hamza @ Gasworks

Aleya Hamza will be talking on visual arts in Egypt

Tate Modern – together with trusty allies like Gasworks – are really leading the charge on contemporary art from Africa at the moment. Just as they announce their new partnership with Guaranty Trust Bank to support, promote and develop collaborations and exhibitions with artists in and from Africa, the cogs are also beginning to whirr on another project, this time with Cairo-based independent curator Aleya Hamza.

Following on from CCA Lagos’ Jude Anogwih, who recently gave a talk at Gasworks on his forthcoming Level 2 show with Tate Modern (among other things), Hamza presents ‘A Perspective on Visual Arts in Egypt’, a talk coinciding with her trip to London to work with Tate Modern Assistant Curator Kasia Redzisz on another Level 2 show next year. Hamza will discuss street art in Cairo in relation to the revolution, as well as earlier projects The Long Shortcut (2008-2009) and Tales around the Pavement (2007-2008). The exhibition resulting from her stay here will also appear in Egypt at Contemporary Image Collective, Cairo.

Monday 11 July 2011
7 – 8.30

155 Vauxhall Street, London
SE11 5RH


Tate and Guaranty Trust Bank team up for African art partnership

Partners: Guaranty Trust Bank and Tate

Tate and Guaranty Trust Bank have announced a new partnership which will enhance Tate’s engagement with modern and contemporary art from Africa. The Nigerian bank’s sponsorship will create a new curatorial post, fund acquisitions, and support an annual project, providing a massive boost to the presence of art from Africa at Tate Modern.

The announcement follows the recent passing of the bank’s CEO Tayo Aderinokun, a noted supporter and patron of the arts in Nigeria and overseas. Guaranty have already supported two highly successful arts projects in London: Chris Ofili’s exhibition at Tate Britain in 2010, and Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’, on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Continuing the bank’s commitment to the arts, the Tate partnership extends their support in new directions.

The new curator will develop collaborations with artists, institutions and networks in Africa, sharing expertise and developing new platforms for artists both on the continent and in the UK. One of these platforms will be a new annual project, the first of which, Contested Terrains, opens in Tate Modern’s Level 2 Gallery at the end of this month, before travelling to CCA Lagos early in 2012. Guaranty will also fund the acquisition of new works for Tate’s collection, focusing in particular on work from sub-Saharan Africa, to add to the 100 or so works by African artists already held by the gallery (which are mostly from South and North Africa).

You can find out more here and here.

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Seth Nii Clottey & Issa Issifou @ Red Gate Gallery

For one week only, Red Gate Gallery presents a two-man show of landscape and figurative paintings by Seth Nii Clottey (Ghana) and Issa Issifou (Togo). More details here.

Private View: 8th July, 6 – 11

Show: 8th – 14th July

Opening hours:
Fri, Mon, Tues, Wed, 11 – 6.30
Sat, 12.30 – 5

Red Gate Gallery
209a Coldharbour Lane, London

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Wael Shawky @ Delfina Foundation

Larvae Channel 2, video animation (still) (2009) - Wael Shawky

As part of Shubbak festival, London’s ‘window on contemporary Arab culture’, Egyptian artist Wael Shawky is presenting Larvae Channel at Delfina Foundation. In this video series, the Alexandria-based artist explores ‘migration, cultural hybridization, marginalization and modernization as platforms for self-perception’.

More info the the show here, and on Shubbak here.
Show: 29th June-23rd July

Opening hours:
Mon-Sat, 10-6

The Delfina Foundation
29 Catherine Place, London

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Review: Afropolitans @ V&A

The V&A feels even more lavish by night than by day – everything is that little bit grander, shinier and sparklier. I was there last Friday for Afropolitans, an evening celebrating artistic talent from a ‘new generation of tastemakers whose sensibilities are rooted in their African identities’. Organised on the occasion of the V&A’s current show of South African photography (which closes in a couple of weeks, so don’t miss out), the event featured a menu of live music, a fashion show, various installations, screenings and talks. Gathering in the entrance hall, the crowd was good-looking, the drinks were flowing, and the mood was upbeat – club V&A.

With just a few hours to explore, I was reluctant to spend a whole 60 minutes sitting in a lecture theatre (it was a Friday night, after all) but I’m glad I made the effort. The panel discussion, ‘What is an Afropolitan?’, certainly shed some light on what for me (and perhaps many people present) was an unfamiliar term. The word was coined in a 2005 essay by Taiye Tuakli-Wosornu, and has since inspired a number of blogs (see here and here) and plenty of positive feedback from people who identify with its ideas. The panellists – Hannah Pool, Lulu Kitololo, Yemi Alade-Lawal and Minna Salami, plus chair Tolu Ogunlesi – each discussed what ‘Afropolitan’ meant to them, coming up with varied but mostly complementary interpretations.

Panellists for ”What is an Afropolitan?” (Left to Right): founder of Afro-Pop Live Yemi Alade-Lawal; journalist and author, Hannah Pool; designer & Afri-Love Blogger Lulu Kitololo; writer and blogger, Minna Salami, aka MsAfropolitan; and journalist, poet and writer, Tolu Ogunlesi

On a basic level, being an Afropolitan seemed to involve being creative, being sophisticated, and above all, being both globally-connected and African-centred. Perhaps most interesting was the view put forward in different ways by both Salami and Alade-Lawal, who said that the term has more to do with a state of mind – an ‘Afro/African consciousness’ or political awareness – than with ethnicity. Anybody might be an Afropolitan, as chair Ogunlesi concluded; it’s an inclusive term, which makes a virtue out of difference and confusion, and asks questions rather than making assumptions.

The Q&A afterwards was a good opportunity to consider some of this a little more critically; isn’t being an Afropolitan a rather elitist idea? asked one audience member. Clearly, some people living in Africa may not be able to – and may not wish to – identify with the panellists’ globe-hopping, culturally mobile lives. Equally, some people of African descent living in countries like the UK may have never been anywhere near Africa; can they be Afropolitans too? The response that it’s simply a matter of ‘being interested’ didn’t quite cut it for me; it’s all very well showing an interest in an Afropolitan lifestyle and sensibility if you have the means to do so, but if the upshot of this is that Africans who can’t be ‘Afropolitans’ appear to remain in a sort of disconnected, out-of-date alternate universe, I’m not quite so keen. Nonetheless, the term certainly seemed to chime with a lot of the audience’s experiences, and I felt that one of Ogunlesi’s closing comments, that it’s just another ‘lens’ through which to look, was a fair assessment.

The discussion was positive and inspiring, but not quite enough to prevent me sneaking out slightly before the end, in an attempt to catch some of the other events. No such luck; the queues for the photography studio and textile workshop were a mile long, and the rain had driven South African musician Spoek Mathambo and his fans indoors. Skulking inside, we fell foul of the draconian V&A drinks police – no drinks in (or through) the shop or any of the galleries, which meant it was impossible to get from one part of the event to the other without first downing your small and expensive beverage. I appreciate that they don’t want tipsy visitors spilling drinks on the merchandise (or on the priceless exhibits) but really, this should perhaps be re-thought for next time.

After a while, drink-less yet still enthusiastic, consensus shifted towards ignoring the fact that it was peeing down with rain and just getting on with it, as the music began in the beautiful V&A courtyard. A small cluster of hardy revellers sploshed their way through a few Mathambo numbers, accessorising with umbrellas, while one small but exceptionally confident young boy threw some impressive shapes right in the middle of a massive puddle. We shortly retreated to the comfort of the café to rest our legs and dry out our feet, not long before it was hometime anyway – curfew is 10pm. I suppose sculptures need their sleep too.

For the V&A, this kind of thing is a surefire hit in certain respects: people will always show up, and beyond a bit of crowd management, it’s simply a matter of letting people enjoy themselves. The trickier question, of course, is, what’s the point of this event? Does it have a point? Is it breaking any new ground, and does it matter? I’m all for encouraging exposure of contemporary art and creativity from and about Africa, and if this has the side-effect of challenging stereotypes and making people think in new ways, so much the better. But I’m not so keen on the idea of big ‘African themed’ shows and festivals that pop up periodically and then disappear again, only to be ‘rediscovered’ a few years down the line (Africa ’95 and Africa ’05… Africa ’15, anyone?). It’s great to have large events that get people involved, but the ‘showcase’ format risks creating an empty ‘brand Africa’, perhaps at the expense of some more critical and interesting (but lesser-known and maybe less accessible) work, which doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

The interesting thing about Afropolitans was that it partly managed to circumvent this problem, by being more about people than about places. It trod a fine line between lumping African countries together, and attempting to weave threads between them and the rest of the world, through both personal and national histories and stories. One suspects that an exhibition of British photography in Johannesburg (for example) would not be considered an appropriate occasion on which to also present an evening discussion about Swedish textiles, even if there were some kind of common historical or social context. For the Afropolitan, however, there’s no doubt that it’s precisely this kind of mash-up of cultural references that often resonates most strongly. From this perspective, flinging South, West and North African elements together for an evening in London could thus be seen less as an exercise in box-filling, and more as a coming together of some of the many and diverse influences that feed into contemporary Afropolitan sensibilities. So well done, V&A, for putting on a fun and thought-provoking evening; more like this, please.