African Art in London

London / Art / Africa

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New in May

May is but two days away. Who asked for it to be May already? Can you believe how quickly this year is going? Onwards! Two exciting African in Art in London events begin this week.

Leonce Rapahel Agbodjelou @ Jack Bell Gallery.


Untitled (Musclemen series), 2012

Agbodjelou is one of Benin’s most renowned photographers, the founder and director of the West African republic’s first photographic school and recently appointed president of Porto-Novo’s [Benin’s capital city] Photographer’s Association. This is Agbodjelou’s second time at Jack Bell and he will again be showcasing work from his Citizens of Porto Novo portraiture project. All Agbodjelou photos of his fellow Porto-Novo citizens bristle with the same mix of high-low tension, historic-modern energy. While last year the focus was his Demoiselles – topless damsels with masked faces wandering around a grand old colonial house, part body, part statue, part spirit, bathed in dark light. This year Musclemen take centre stage. They are a brighter presence, they wear wax fabric trousers and pose against colourful backdrops. They hold flowers and stand in ways that make their muscles pop.

Citizens of Porto Nova
1 May – 25 May

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

Opening Hours: Tues- Sat, 10-6

The 9th Annual Images of Black Women Festival

The Images of Black Women Festival aims to increase the visibility of women of African descent in film. Over the course of nine days it hosts talks, workshops, art exhibitions and of course shows a lots of films directed by black women. The mainstream highlights are the UK premiers of Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere and a screening of Pariah directed by Dee Rees starring Adepero Oduye.

The festival takes place across 5 London venues. A full programme of events can be viewed here.

Key African films include:

Mother’s Day (Kare Kare Zvako): Directed by Tsitsi Dangaremba (Zimbabwe)

An all singing all-dancing short tale of women’s empowerment, focusing on a mother and her three children travelling through drought-stricken bush

Yellow Fever: Directed by Ng’Endo Mukii (Kenya)

Striking animation mixed with performing bodies discussing shadeism and Black women’s perceptions of beauty

Yellow Fever (2012)

Yellow Fever, 2012

The Naked Option Directed by Candace Schermerhorn (Nigeria)

A documentary on the power of an organised group of women who use the threat of stripping naked to garner power within their community.

The Naked Option

The Naked Option: A Last Resort, 2011

Cameroonian Women in Motion: Directed by Florence Ayisi (Cameroon)

An 10-min celebratory snapshot of Cameroonian women parading with pride on International Women’s Day.

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Interview: Cameron Platter

Cameron Platter is a fine artist from South Africa. He makes painstakingly detailed pencil drawings, collages, stories and objects that document contemporary morality. Platter’s work is often a mash of violent colours and language is appropriated from advertising, struggle art aesthetics juxtaposed with consumerist irreverence. Platter has recently exhibited solo at Paris’ Galerie Hussenot and Cape Town’s WHATIFTHEWORD. His work has also been included in group exhibitions at The Centre Pompidou, Haus Der Kultur and MOMA. His first UK exhibition, Everyday Apocalypse, a selection of his bright and unwieldy documentary drawings is showing at the Jack Bell Gallery until Saturday (20th April).

Osei Bonsu talked to the artist once described as “the delinquent love child of Quentin Tarantino and Dr Seuss” about history, heritage and activism in his art.

You have described your pencil-on-paper works as “Nomadic Murals”. What do you mean by this and what significance do murals have for you personally?

I think the works are drawn from the immediate – like signs or advertisements. Something you can read, rather than engage with in other ways. In that way they take things from outdoors, which are a part of everyday life. Oddly enough, I hadn’t done any mural painting before and this series of works led me to become involved in that. The murals I make are not completely different from other works, but they blend into their environments a lot more.

Are the experiences of showing on walls in streets and inside in galleries related?

Obviously, it’s completely different. I see drawings as performance works, since I am performing in the studio as I making these. The murals bring the work to a far larger audience, so I was instantly attracted to that dimension of it. I recently did something in downtown Johannesburg, which involved taking three classified ads from a newspaper and blowing them up, you literally missed them as artwork

How do you begin creating?

There is no formula for making the work. It might be a shape or design that leads the process. With collage, I am scavenging as I go along, so there are no hard and fast sources that I draw from. I wish I was an abstract painter, but I can’t bring myself to do that – inside these things are naïve appreciations on some shapes and how things related to each other.

I would describe anything I make as collage. I am trying to chase that high of a young kid an art class, engaged in something for a couple of hours. I’m searching for that kind of engagement. But things get in the way, society gets in the way, it’s really important for me to try and document what I do – like a diary.

Unity in Diversity, 2013

Unity in Diversity, 2013

In your works words are used often, they are symbols, and have a number of definitions…

In Unity in Diversity, 2013 the message reads “NEED MONEY MONEY”. It was lifted from a loan shark ad, the repetition of the word MONEY provides a cadence and it becomes poetic, which sounds pathetic, but its true.

There is poetry in everyday language that we are often desensitized from. Which words carry most meaning for you?

A lot of the words I’m using in these works are, in the first instance, very personal. Works are often designed digitally; I might see an advertisement on a rubbish bin and it relates to another thing I’ve been looking at. For example, here we have “ADD HOPE”, which is the strapline of KFC’s charity. They encourage the consumer to add two round to their meal deal, money that goes to their charity. This is corrupt on so many levels, but having said that I am in awe of that – as a radical statement. Messages in Add Hope II, 2013 also include “OUR LIFE IS OUR WORK”, a slogan for a pharmaceutical company, and “DUAL MAGIC PROBE”, which is an anal probe from the California exotics sex company.

Add Hope, 2013

Add Hope, 2013

As an artist with messages in your art do you find yourself implicated as an activist?

I feel I have both no responsibility and at the same time all responsibility. I think these works immediately reference printmaking, which is a political medium and always has been. I have strangely become an activist artist without even knowing it – but it’s about having things to react to. I’m not trying to establish a moral stance in my work, I just want to take it in and put it back out again.

I want people to be able to digest things instantly, but they should also be able to access them on different levels…

To what extent is the what you create related to your South African heritage?

I am of the opinion that work should reflect a time and a place and a situation. Through circumstance I am South African. That is the lens through which I view the work. Although these works are shown around the world, I would like them to be rooted in a South African context.

So ultimately, the work is about ideas that transcend South Africa… 

But conversely, if I was to work somewhere else in the world I would want to be part of a broader conversation about the themes I am looking at in South Africa, in that way it would always be rooted. I haven’t actually worked anywhere else. I’d say I would probably be engaged with the same issues but on a broader more global scale.

B.U.T.W.A II, 2012

B.U.T.W.A II, 2012

You are exhibiting at the 55th Venice Biennale – Imaginary Fact: South African Art and the Archive. How do you feel about its focus on South Africa’s history and the impact that history has had on the world?

I can understand the issue of the archive, but I am not really thinking of that consciously. What I want to do with this larger scale series of a hundred is make documentary pictures that hopefully will be finished in about ten years or so – each being some sort of chronicle of the times. The work shown in Venice will particularly be referencing Namibian Linocut printmaking, by artists like John Muafangejo. He is a big presence in what I’ve done. His works were documentary narratives in their nature; you can get a sense of his time through his work. In that way, by appropriating his works, I want to create some sort of picture of what I’m living through or the times.

If you are an activist, perhaps your protest is one against forgetting…

Perhaps. I am not very eloquent in tapping into what it is I’m doing. I struggle to see what I am actually working with. I like that distance; I wish I had the luxury and the time to analyze it more.

Osei Bonsu is a writer and curator living in London and Accra, Ghana. He blogs at A Field of Islands

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Otleo Burning @ various London venues

A South African coming of age story set in 1989, when the struggle against apartheid reached its peak. Otelo Burning follows a group of township kids discovering the joys of surfing. Described as City of God meets Blue Crush next week the film is showing in venues across London. There will be panel discussions, school and university screenings and the three showings will include music events.


Tuesday 16th: UK Special Screening and Q&A
Cinema screening followed by Q&A with the Director Sara Belcher
Venue: Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley, 52 High Road, London N2 9PJ
Price: £7
Time: 6:30pm

Wednesday 17th: Panel Discussion: Taking African films to new markets. Followed by screening.
Leading industry professionals will discuss the distribution possibilities emerging for African films in the UK. Followed by showing of Otleo Burning
Venue: Ingenious Media, 15 Golden Square, London W1F 9JG
Time: 6pm-9.30pm
Price: £10

Friday 19th: Birkbeck Cinema Screening and Q&A
Screening of Otelo Burning followed by Q&A with the film’s director Sara Belcher
Venue: Birkbeck Cinema, 41 Gordon Square (use entrance at 43 Gordon Square), Birkbeck, Univeristy of London, London WCTH 0PD
Time: 7:30pm-9:30pm
Price: £7

Saturday 20th: Horse Hospital Screening followed by DJ night
Unique venue in the heart of Bloomsbury will provide the space for a screening of Otelo Burning followed by African music and dance.
Venue: The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1H 1HX
Time: 7pm-12am
Price: £9

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Younès Rahmoun @ Tiwani Contemporary

Darra Dahab by Younès Rahmoun

Darra Dahab, 2012

Darra, an exhibition by interdisciplinary Moroccan artist Younès Rahmoun opens at Tiwani Contemporary today.

Thoughts on religion, non-material life and other-worldly human connections are recurrent themes in Rahmoun’s work. He sculpts, paints, photographs and builds symbols, materials and forms of expression to explore and explain the world through what he refers to as “traces of space/time”.

Darra (atom) are objects from ordinary life – chocolate wrappers, blankets, scraps of electric cable – which the artist uses to unpack extraordinary questions about spirituality. The exhibition, Rahmoun’s first solo showing in London is a series of photographic enlargements. Familiar objects made unfamiliar, hanging distantly in white space. Made for viewers to ponder the world around us and our physical and metaphysical being in it.

5 April – 25 May

Tiwani Contemporary
16 Little Portland Street, London

Gallery Hours:
Tuesday to Friday, 11:00am – 6:00pm
Saturday, 12:00 – 5:00pm