African Art in London

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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

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Transvangarde Now @ October Gallery

Mon Gouvernement - Romuald Hazoumé (1997)

Apologies for the late notice – floating somewhere just below my radar for the past few weeks was the fact that there’s currently work by three top artists from the African continent on display at October Gallery. Transvangarde Now – that’s ‘trans-cultural avant-garde’ now, in case you were wondering – features work from OG regulars Romuald Hazoumé (Benin), Rachid Koraïchi (Algeria) and Owusu-Ankomah (Ghana), alongside an array of other artists who all meet the gallery’s slightly baffling but highly successful criteria.

The show continues until 30th April.

Opening hours:
Tues-Sat, 12.30-5.30

October Gallery
24 Old Gloucester Street, Bloomsbury, London

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Arab Cinema @ Tate Modern

Still from 'Domestic Tourism II' (2009) - Maha Maamoun

Tate Modern’s film programming takes an interesting turn this month with a season of Arab Cinema. My past experiences with Tate’s film events have been mixed, to say the least: technical malfunctions and impenetrable, self-congratulatory chit-chat masquerading as ‘discussion’, not to mention boring films. This earnestly titled season, ‘Mapping Subjectivity: Experimentation in Arab Cinema from the 1960s to Now’, may sound similarly unpromising. However, if you click through to the descriptions of some of the films, they do sound rather engaging, and the timing couldn’t be better as far as current affairs goes, so I’m hoping to give a few of them a try. The series kicks off this Friday with an Egyptian double-bill from the 1970s, and continues by way of Algeria and Morocco, plus films from the Middle East.

4th – 27th March

Various show times – see listings here.

Tate Modern
Bankside, London

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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.