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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Film Africa 2012 @ London venues

FIlm Africa 2012

It’s that time of year again. The nights are drawing in, and the London Film Festival is coming up, which can only mean one thing: following hot on its heels in early November is Film Africa, London’s annual festival celebrating African cinema.

There’s a smattering of films from Africa at the LFF (take a peek at the country listings here) but for varied and ambitious programming, Film Africa is the place to look. Crammed into the 10 days of the festival are over 70 films, 35 Q&A sessions with filmmakers, 8 music nights, free workshops and more…

Check the website for dates, venues, ticket information etc, but here are some highlights:

Difficult Love (dir. Zanele Muholi and Peter Goldsmid, South Africa, 2010)

Difficult Love (dir. Zanele Muholi and Peter Goldsmid)

I was lucky enough to see this film a while back at the South London Gallery, and it’s great to see it getting two airings during the festival (here and here), especially in the light of the appalling recent theft of the bulk of Muholi’s archive. Good on Film Africa for sending a clear message that Muholi’s work, which explores the experiences of black lesbians in South Africa, is essential viewing.

Lust (El Shooq) (dir. Khaled El Hagar, Egypt/France, 2011)

Lust (El Shooq) (dir. Khaled El Hagar)

This is the London premiere of this film by provocative multi-award-winning Egyptian filmmaker Khaled El Hagar. It won the Golden Pyramid Award for Best Film at Cairo’s International Film Festival in 2010. Followed by a Q&A with El Hagar (TBC).

Material (dir. Craig Freimond, South Africa, 2012)

Material (dir. Craig Freimond)

This South African comedy stars Riaad Moosa as a wannabe comedian struggling with the expectations of his family. It’s also showing at the London Film Festival. There’s a review here and more info and a trailer here.

Filming Tomorrow

Basia Lewandowska Cummings (from Africa Is A Country) discussed the fascinating projects of alternative filmmaking collectives across the Arab world at Africa Utopia earlier this year; here’s a rare opportunity to see more of their work on the big screen.

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Deloitte Ignite ‘Africa Weekend’ @ Royal Opera House

After all the excitement of the Southbank’s Africa Utopia season, now the Royal Opera House is having a go – at the end of the month, Covent Garden will be taken over by ‘Africa Weekend’, aka Deloitte Ignite, a three-day festival of African music, dance, film, visual art, performance and more, curated by artist Yinka Shonibare MBE.

Following his hugely popular fourth plinth commission, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, Shonibare turned his attention to another London landmark, the Royal Opera House, where this summer he installed a sculpture on the side of the building called Globe Head Ballerina. I have yet to see it myself, so I can’t judge whether Shonibare has achieved his aim of bringing a ‘childhood sense of magic and wonder to the façade of the Royal Opera House’, but here’s a little preview:

Globe Head Ballerina – Yinka Shonibare MBE (2012)

Now, continuing his relationship with the ROH, Shonibare is curating the ‘Africa Weekend’, a ‘celebration of traditional African and avant-garde arts and culture, expressing Africa’s global contribution to the contemporary arts world’. There’s certainly a great programme lined up, and in contrast to Africa Utopia, it seems much more focused on listening, moving and watching rather than talking (i.e. more performances, less chat). I’m still a bit uncomfortable about the ‘let’s celebrate Africa’ vibe, but when festivals like this bring so many great artists and performers together in one place, it’s hard not to enjoy it… best of all, the daytime events are all free.

Visual art and film highlights include:

  • Africa on the Piazza: open-air screenings of African films, from classic to contemporary, curated by Yinka Shonibare and John Akomfrah (founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective). Covent Garden Piazza, Saturday 1st Sept, 14.00-10.00
  • Rotimi Fani-Kayode: photographs exploring gay African identities (which I enjoyed a lot when I saw them at Rivington Place a while back)

Plus loads of exciting dance, performance and music. You can watch a trailer for the festival here, and see more info about the programme here.

31 August – 2 September

Royal Opera House / Covent Garden – various venues.

Some evening events are ticketed. Daytime events are FREE, but also ticketed. Both free and paid-for tickets are available through the website.


Africa Utopia @ Southbank Centre

Just a quick reminder (to myself as much as anyone) about Africa Utopia, the gigantic festival of all-things-African which has just kicked off at the Southbank. I posted about some of the tempting events in this series several weeks ago, but now that July is upon us, the programme has expanded excitingly in all directions. Here are a few of the contemporary art highlights (just block-book your diary for 21st July…)

Africa Sci-Fi Screening – a chance to see some shorts from the Arnolfini’s Superpower exhibition
Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Weds 4th July, 9.30pm, free (+ booking fee)

Nollywood or Bust: Africa at the Movies – discussion on the future of African cinema
Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Sat 21st July, 11am, free

Imagining Africa: a Granta Salon – Yinka Shonibare and others in discussion, hosted by Granta Magazine
Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Sat 21st July, 12.30pm, free

ARISE and shine – salon event hosted by ARISE Magazine, featuring Dak’art 2012 curator Christine Eyene, among others
Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Sat 21st July, 3pm, free

Art Connect: Contemporary African Art and the Global Art Market – the next discussion in Tiwani‘s series (previous ones here and here), with my good friend Emeka Ogboh, Mary Evans and others
Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Sat 21st July, 6pm, free

We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today – session about the current festival up in Manchester, led by Whitworth curator Bryony Bond
Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Sun 22nd July, 3.30pm, free

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The Gaddafi Archives: Libya before the Arab Spring @ Slade Research Centre

Colonel Gaddafi and Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Soviet Union, holding hands in Moscow, April 27th, 1981 – Michael Christopher Brown for Human Rights Watch (2011)

The London Festival of Photography is in full swing, and photography from and about Africa is very much part of the picture: the British Museum display Money in Bamako and London and Steve Bloom‘s South African photographs at the Guardian Gallery are still on view, and there have been (by all accounts) great events and workshops from the likes of Jodi Bieber.

This coming week another Africa-related exhibition opens its doors: The Gaddafi Archives. For nine days only, there’s a chance to explore the Human Rights Watch photographic record of documents and images found in state intelligence buildings and destroyed Gaddafi residences, covering over 70 years of Libyan history that has until recently been a closed book.

Tickets are £7.50 (or £5 with an Open City ticket) and can be bought online here or on the door.

Show: 21st-29th June

Opening hours: daily, 10.00 – 22.00

Slade Research Centre
Woburn Square, London


Jodi Bieber @ London Festival of Photography

Jodi Bieber

Award-winning South African photographer Jodi Bieber is giving an evening talk and a four-day masterclass as part of the London Festival of Photography. Join her to find out more about her practice, and hear the inside story on her recent work in Afghanistan, which won her the 2011 World Press Photo Award.

Talk: 7pm, 7th June, Foto8 Gallery, £12.50

Masterclass: 7th-10th June, Fitzrovia Community Centre, £649

For more great South African photography during the festival, also check out Steve Bloom at the Guardian Gallery. 

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Africa Utopia @ Southbank Centre

Baaba Maal

There’s a whole host of events coming up at the Southbank Centre this July as part of Africa Utopia, a month-long festival of music, theatre, film, literature, dance, fashion, talks and debates. Baaba Maal has been involved with the programming, and will kick things off on July 3rd with Word Sound Power, an evening of music and poetry with Lemn Sissay and friends.

Highlights include blues legend Taj Mahal, Malian diva Oumou Sangaré (who I’ve been wanting to see for a few years) and, on July 4th, a special free screening and discussion of some of the short films from the Arnolfini’s Africa sci-fi show Superpower, for anyone unable to make it along to Bristol.

Get your tickets early. For more details on the programme and to book, take a look here.


London Festival of Photography @ London venues

Harandane Dicko

The London Festival of Photography will be taking over King’s Cross and Bloomsbury this June, with 18 exhibitions and 40 satellite events showcasing street, documentary and conceptual photography.

There are a number of shows and events featuring photography and photographers from Africa – highlights include the Gaddafi Archives and Jodi Bieber in conversation – and I’d like to give a special shout-out to Money in Bamako & London at the British Museum, which I’ve been helping to organise with photographers Diane Patrice and Harandane Dicko, and curator Sophie Mew.

Keep an eye on African Art in London for updates, or check out the festival website here.


African Art in Bristol and Manchester…

I’m bending the rules a little to let you know about two exciting exhibitions that are on over the next few months. They aren’t in London, but they sound great. So…

First, just open at the Arnolfini in Bristol is Superpower: Africa in Science Fiction. The conceit is an intriguing one – it’s about how artists locate stories, ideas and dreams from science fiction in the African continent. This seems to me like a great concept. What better starting point than Sci-Fi to explore new technologies and possible futures in Africa, not simply as pathways to ‘development’ but as processes requiring critical and creative reflection? With works including Kiluanji Kia Henda’s Icarus 13 (2006) – a series of photographs documenting the preparations for the first ever expedition to the sun, led by the Angolan government – and Neïl Beloufa’s Kempinski (2007), a video installation featuring Malians talking about telepathy and teleportation – the show features a range of Africa and Europe-based artists, and promises to participate in ‘the battle to represent the future.’ Sounds pretty unmissable.

Jugement Dernier I – Barthélémy Toguo

If Superpower leaves you wanting more, in Manchester this summer you can check out We Face Forward, a season of contemporary art and music from West Africa. Part of the London 2012 Festival, the season runs for over three months and includes a bewildering array of artists and musicians in venues across the city including Manchester Art Gallery, Whitworth Art Gallery and the Gallery of Costume. There’s really too much going on to list it all here – better to have a browse of the website and take it from there.

Superpower: Africa in Science Fiction
Show: until 1st July

Opening hours:
Tues-Sun, 11 – 6

16 Narrow Quay, Bristol


We Face Forward
Season runs 2nd June – 16 Sept

Opening hours/venues: various. See here for further details.

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UNITY @ Watermans

UNITY - One Room Shack (2012)

Opening next weekend at Watermans is UNITY, an interactive installation celebrating the ‘Olympic spirit’ by Nigerian artists Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi and Emeka Ogboh, aka One Room Shack collective. Commissioned as part of the ongoing International Festival of Digital Art, the work invites viewers to find their way through a maze-like structure made up of the letters of the word ‘unity’. Each letter is wired with LED lights of a different colour, representing the Olympic rings, and lights up in response to the audience’s movements. It’s a fun way to address the big ideas of universalism, global fraternity and interdependence that underpin the Olympics, and also inform the artists’ work more widely.

There’s a seminar in connection with the show, on ‘New media geographies / space, architecture and technology’, chaired by Saul Albert, with contributions from Carol MacGillivray and Bruno Mathez, as well as the artists, Ugochukwu-Smooth Nwezi & Emeka Ogboh, in conversation with (ahem) yours truly. Come along! It’s on Saturday 25 February, from 4pm until 7, and more info can be found here.

There’s a publication accompanying the festival, including a recent interview between me and One Room Shack, which you can also read hereFor details about the other exhibitions and events during the festival, take a look here.

25th February – 8th April

Opening hours:
Daily, 1-9

40 High Street, Brentford, West London