Universes in Universe / Specials / Africa Remix
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Africa Remix - Contemporary Art of a Continent
From a press information by the organizers in Düsseldorf, July 2004

By presenting 88 artists from 25 African countries, the exhibition "Africa Remix" is the first to provide a comprehensive overview of present-day artistic activities on the African continent, comprising northern, central and southern Africa and thus both black and white - off the beaten track of pseudo-naïve art for the tourist industry. The spectrum of the 137 works (and groups of works) exhibited here covers paintings, drawings, sculptures, assemblages, multi-part installations, photography, videos, films and also, as special features, African furniture design, music, liter-ature and fashion. All the works shown here have been created within the last 10 years. Some were made specially for this occasion in Düsseldorf.

The exhibition, which starts at museum kunst palast in Düsseldorf, is a joint venture with the Hayward Gallery in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, which will be its final venue. Chief curator of the project is the Paris-based author from Cameroon and editor-in-chief of "Revue Noire", Simon Njami.

The show is an interrogation. What is contemporary African art and what can we say and show about it today, after all the experiences that took place in Europe. Is there any viable definition ? Is it near or far from the western approach ? In what sense ? We don't pretend to bring answers but to raise questions that were never raised before, and to focus on the magic of a work of art, presented within a curatorial concept that gives an overview of what Africa might be today. What its art might become tomor-row and what are the missing between ancient Africa and actual Africa. We don't have a clear idea of the results. What we know is that we've been trying to escape the numerous traps related to the general vision of Africa. (Simon Njami)

The richly diversified exhibition reflects the lively artistic scene of Africa and of African communities outside the continent. It includes the works of internationally renowned artists such as the Documenta exhibitors David Goldblatt, Bodys Isek Kingelez, William Kentridge, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Yinka Shonibar, who was recently nominated for the Turner Prize. Ranking on the same level as these famous artists, the exhibition also includes the works of several self-taught artists, such as Fernando Alvim, Fernando A. Mabote (also known as Titos) and Abu-Bakarr Mansaray.

Moreover, there will be works by artists such as Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, Chéri Samba and Bodys Kingelez who have had a place on the interna-tional art market since their participation in "Magiciens de la Terre", an
exhibition set up by Jean-Hubert Martin in Paris in 1989, which was truly ground-breaking in its global perspective. Except for Gera, who died in 2000, the exhibition only comprises works of living artists.

I believe it is worth mentioning that the selection of artists took place through personal visits to studios, including several trips made by Simon Njami throughout Africa.

Two of the oldest artists at the exhibition, both born in 1923, are the graphic artist Bouabré and the sculptor Jackson Hlungwani. Two of the youngest representatives of African art, on the other hand, are the video artist Michèle Magema, born in 1977, and the photographer N’Dilo Mutima, born in 1978.

"It was in fact the enormous diversity among this generation of young African artists that prompted me to set up this exhibition. The attribute "Remix" is intended to mean a reshuffling of cards, to show that our present situation is hybrid in character and therefore a reflection of globalization.
Many of the artists travel a lot, and some have several places of residence and commute between Africa and other continents. This is one of the reasons why the exhibition does not distinguish between artists living in Africa and those in the "diaspora".
Africa Remix is also an answer to the disappointment of the last Documenta. I think I am speaking on behalf of all fellow curators when I say that the small number of African artists shown by Okwui Enwezor in Kassel was found unsatisfactory by many." (Jean-Hubert Martin)

"Africa Remix" focuses on the "presence of the present", and therefore on the link between art and life as reflected by each work - conceptually, aesthetically and formally. Thematically, the exhibition is divided into three basic sections, bundling the diversity of artistic approaches into the three categories:
Body & Soul,
History & Identity,
City & Land.

Under History & Identity, artists reflect on cultural incongruities as well as on a historical understanding of nationhood. One artist, Aimé Ntakiyica shows himself in a variety of self-portraits in European national costumes ("WE", 2003), while Ingrid Mwangi - daughter of a German mother and a Kenyan father - expresses herself through a series of videos ("Down by the River", 2001). Others again, such as David Goldblatt with his photographs, focus on the condition of humanity in post-apartheid society.

A number of hybrid African constructs, such as Shonibare’s "Salon of a Victorian Philanthropist" (1996/97) and Jane Alexander’s room installation "African Adventure" (1999-2002), are subtle ways of questioning the meaning of authenticity and of focusing on discrepancies in intercultural dialogue - the supposed dichotomy between the "exotic" continent and "civilized" Europe. Fernando Alvim uses a mirror and thus a subtle sense of humour to guide the visitor along the path of knowledge. Next to the mirror, placed on a large-format canvas, we can read in big letters: "We are all post exotics" (2004).

A range of architectural fantasy models express urban utopias in a variety of artistic forms, such as "La Ville de Sète en 3009" (2000) by Kingelez and the architectural collages by Allan de Souza, entitled "The Goncourt Brothers Stand between Caesar and the Thief of Baghdad" (2003). Several complex installations and paintings depict the city as a place of both free-dom and failure. City & Land comprises poetic and at times melancholy snapshots of "African" everyday life, created by numerous photographic artists whose cameras open up a kaleidoscopic image of reality, while others, such as El Anatsui, Dilomprizulike and Willie Bester, focus on a series of complex recycling processes that transform civilizational waste and rubbish into new aesthetic forms.

The self-taught artist Titos has even assembled an entire aircraft plus pilot ("Plane", 2001") from numerous objects collected in the townships and the jungle of Mozambique, using pieces of tin, cardboard and bamboo. Gonçalo Mabunda, who also lives in Mozambique, even used weapons collected after the civil war - AK 47 guns, rocket launchers and hand grenades - for his "Eiffel Tower" (2002) and "Chair" (2002).

Body & Soul focuses on the body as a matrix of artistic discourse and on gender as a major topic in numerous artistic works. Fragmented and at times bizarrely assembled bodies as expressions of suppressed anxieties and cultural incongruities are presented by video artists such as Tracy Rose ("TRO", 2000), Loulou Chérinet ("Bleeding Men", 2003) and the collage artist Wangechi Mutu ("In Killing Fields Sweet Butterflies Ascend", 2003). These works serve to question culturally conditioned gender-specific stereotypes, an aim which is expressed particularly clearly by Richard Onyango’s paintings of a dominant woman ("The Young Man Hides from the Big Woman", 2002).

Other aspects in this thematic area are the importance of vision, self-presentation and portraits, for instance of people with gaps in their teeth, such as the photographic series "Grace" (2000) by Eileen Perrier and the phenomenon of masking, expressed, for example, in Hicham Benohoud’s photographic series "Version Soft" (2003). An equally impressive presen-tation in the Body & Soul complex is Bili Bidjocka’s room installation "Room of Tears" (2004).


An exhibition catalogue will be published by Hatje Cantz Verlag, comprising approx. 352 pages and approx. 320 illustrations, including approx. 240 in colour. The authors are Jean Loup Amselle, Francois Bensignor, Marie-Laure Bernadac/Abdelwahab Meddeb, Clémentine Deliss, Manthia Diawara, David Elliott, Yukita Kawaguchi, Jean-Hubert Martin, Bernard Müller, Hudita N. Mustafa, Simon Njami, John Picton.

Price: EUR 29.90
Book trade edition (bound with dust cover): EUR 49.80


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