African Art in London

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Postmodernism / Samuel Kane Kwei / Bodys Isek Kingelez @ V&A

This is unforgivably late, but if you’ve got a spare hour or two this weekend I really recommend checking out the Postmodernism show at the V&A before it closes on Sunday. I finally made it down there yesterday, and enjoyed it a lot. It’s a history lesson without being too ‘teachy’, and includes some incredible work from a huge range of fields: design, fashion, architecture, fine art, graphics, film, music, performance – it’s all there, and it’s mostly great. Highlights include David Byrne’s ‘big suit‘, some amazing Memphis designs (my favourite was the Bel Air Chair) and a huge projection of Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’. Rather too many teapots, perhaps, but that’s a small quibble.

Towards the end of the exhibition there’s a bit of a meta moment, with a brief but interesting commentary on the notorious and influential 1989 show Magiciens de la Terre, and two pieces by African artists who featured in itTucked into a corner, there’s a Mercedes coffin by Ghanaian artist Samuel Kane Kwei (similar to the ones by Paa Joe that made such a brouhaha last year at Jack Bell). Next to it, one of Bodys Isek Kingelez’ stunning creations sprouts from a plinth: this ‘Model for a Zaire Pavilion’ is, like all of Kingelez’ work, a mind-boggling feat of imagination and skill. His apparent use of bricolage made his work popular with the postmodern set, including Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, whose presence looms large over the whole show.

This little section is designed to flag up the Euro-centrism of postmodernism. As the interpretation suggests, ‘Sottsass probably knew little about Kingelez, but he was happy to see a model like this as a transcultural moment’; in other words, the presence of Kwei, Kingelez and other non-Western artists in Magiciens de la Terre revealed more about the curators’ all-consuming postmodernist global vision than the artists’ original intentions. There’s a strange paradox here; what are these two pieces doing in the V&A now, if not to illustrate the curators’ (albeit rather more sophisticated) narrative about Euro-American cultural history? They’re not there to show anything about art, design or culture in Ghana or the DRC, that’s for sure. Still, it’s encouraging to see the beginnings of a critical approach to this kind of issue in a big exhibition like this one.

You can read more about Kingelez and see some rather poor images here.

You can read some interesting pieces on Magiciens de la Terre here.

The exhibition costs £11 for adults and £8 for students, and ends tomorrow…

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London

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Les Fantomes @ Jack Bell Gallery

Aboudia (2011)

Jack Bell has moved – and how. The gallery has fled the coach-infested thoroughfares of Victoria, and re-emerged in the vastly more genteel surroundings of the West End’s Mason’s Yard. As a statement of intent, it could hardly be clearer; Mason’s Yard was the location of the legendary Indica Gallery where John Lennon met Yoko Ono, and is now home to the likes of White Cube. Bell means business.

Jack opens up his new gallery with a group show of painting, photography and sculpture from West and Central Africa, featuring several of the artists who graced the walls of his first space in Victoria: Aboudia, Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, Paa Joe and Hamidou Maiga are brought together with newcomers Afedzi Hughes and Bandoma under the title Les Fantomes. Go and take a look.

Private view:
Weds 21 Sept, 7-9

22 Sept – 29 Oct

Opening hours:
Tues-Sat, 10-6

Jack Bell Gallery
13 Mason’s Yard, St. James’s, London

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Owusu-Ankomah @ October Gallery

Microcron : Kundum - Kusum N° 2 (2011) - Owusu-Ankomah

Microcron – Kusum (Secret Signs – Hidden Meanings) is the new exhibition at October Gallery from Owusu-Ankomah, a Ghanaian-born painter now living and working in Bremen, Germany. He has been exhibiting since the late 1970s, and the present show is the latest development in his ongoing exploration of monumental figures, symbols and signs, and the relationships between them. You can find out more about the artist here.

15th Sept – 29th Oct

Opening hours:

October Gallery
24 Old Gloucester Street, Bloomsbury, London

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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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Godfried Donkor @ Saison Poetry Library

Godfried Donkor

Just found out about this collaboration between the artist Godfried Donkor and the poet Nii Parkes, which uses collage to explore ideas of culture and creolisation between Ghana and the UK.

You can find out more here.

The show continues until 3rd July.

Opening hours:
Tues-Sun, 11am-8pm

Saison Poetry Library
Level Five
Royal Festival Hall
Southbank Centre


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

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Lynette Yiadom-Boakye @ Corvi-Mora

Aftersong (2011) - Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Late, late, LATE notice about this one: a show by the fantastic painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Notes and Letters is only on for one more week (boo) but the good news is that lots of people have got lots of holiday coming up (hooray!) so perhaps you’ll have the time to get down there and see it.

Yiadom-Boakye is a London-born, London-based artist of Ghanaian descent, who draws extensively on Western romantic and impressionist traditions of portraiture. Think Goya, Manet and Degas; think brooding masculinity, brooding femininity (in fact, general brooding), sidelong glances and plenty of subtext. I first saw her work at the Studio Museum in New York last year, where her portraits of imaginary subjects, staring silently (and often sullenly) at you from their murky surroundings, left me in a state of nervous excitement. Highly recommended.

The show continues until 28th April.

Opening hours:
Tues-Sat, 11-6

1a Kempsford Road (off Wincott Street), London
SE11 4NU

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Edward Ofosu @ Open The Gate

Things move quickly at Open The Gate – only a couple of weeks ago I flagged up their new photography show, and now it’s all change again, with an exhibition by Ghanaian-born, London-based painter Edward Ofosu. Beyond Form features new work combining abstract and figurative elements, with Ofosu’s trademark lavish use of colour. According to Ofosu, his art is about expanding our horizons – an open invitation for us all to ‘meet at the place of no place’.

The show continues until 27th April.

Opening hours:
Sun-Thurs, 12-12
Fri-Sat, 12-2

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

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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


Africa Now / Nigerians behind the lens @ Bonhams

Next week is kind of a big deal for anybody interested in buying contemporary art from Africa – the latest edition of the Africa Now sale at Bonhams is offering eager bidders the chance to get their hands on pieces by some of the continent’s best-known artists.

Works from Nigerian greats Onobrakpeya and Enwonwu are likely to be a safe bet, but top of many people’s lists (and certainly top of the price list) will be a couple of early(ish) sculptural works by El Anatsui, which are expected to sell for anything between £25,000 and £50,000. These were made at a time when the artist was using a chainsaw and other power tools to carve deep gouges into hardwood, leaving the surface scorched with intricate, interlaced marks that are both brutal and delicate.

Riga Sequence (1995) - El Anatsui

According to the Bonhams catalogue, the artist is a knowing critic, playing with the language of contemporary western art by juxtaposing it with ‘ideas, techniques and material from never-yet-subjugated areas that lie far beyond the pale of western art’. This cryptic pronouncement makes me rather uneasy. As his high asking-prices and his fame indicate, El Anatsui is no stranger to the west and its contemporary art market, so the suggestion that his work somehow incorporates ideas from ‘never-yet-subjugated areas’ lying ‘far beyond’ speaks volumes about Bonhams’ view of art from Africa, and, perhaps, their anticipated audience; where might these ‘areas’ be, exactly? Who is looking for them? The temptation to seek a kind of redemptive vibrancy in art from an Africa that is somehow held at a distance seems irresistible, even while acknowledging the artist’s astute involvement in the process.

I wholeheartedly agree that El’s work is powerful, captivating, and in many ways profoundly West African. However, as I  (and many others) have suggested before, there is something suspect about the idea that African art’s attraction is its potential to act as some sort of panacea for the shortcomings of contemporary Western art. While this notion is by no means the overt ‘message’ of Africa Now, it is certainly an undercurrent. This is especially problematic given that, with the exception of El, none of the artists featured here seem likely to appear in a general ‘contemporary’ sale in the near future. Of course, Africa Now is far better than Africa Never, and I should note that the El blurb is the exception in a catalogue which generally shows real signs of attention to the all-important context of the work, beyond the ‘redemptive’ impulse (although this only makes the description in question all the odder). Perhaps in the future, it would be nice to see El and his peers positioned less as a diverting antidote to the main event of the world’s contemporary art, and more as partners in it.

Anyway. As if 115 lots by some great artists weren’t enough to get you down to Bonhams’ pre-sale viewing, there’s also an eye-catching accompanying exhibition of Nigerian photography, organised by Tafeta + Partners. Nigerians Behind the Lens coincides with the launch of Ebi Atawodi’s book of the same title, featuring work from nine fine Nigerian photographers, including Jide Alakija:

'No more lies' (2008) - Jide Alakija

That’s enough to be going on with…

Africa Now / Nigerians behind the lens

Sun 13th March, 11-3
Mon 14th – Wed 16th March, 9-4.30
(Africa Now viewings finish at midday on the 16th)

Africa Now Sale

Wed 16th March, 2pm

101 New Bond Street, London