Another view of contemporary African art

October 2004 -

Not the context but the work of art itself forms the basis for the Africa Remix exhibition of contemporary African art. Head curator of the exhibition Simon Njami and his team selected works of art by 88 artists from 25 African countries. The exhibition tries to answer the question: 'What is contemporary African art?', without seeking refuge in the usual ethnic or geographic classifications or in the usual approach of grouping works by discipline.

This new approach groups the works into three combinations of themes, namely 'identity and history', 'body and soul' and 'town and land'. These themes are used to create interesting interconnections between the rich diversity of ideas and forms, which range from sculptures made from recycled materials to high-tech video installations.

photo

Mthethwa, Zwelethu - Untitled, 2003 - Photographie, 80 x 103 cm
Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery, New York  

Jane Alexander's theatrical installation, in which grey people with animal heads stand on reddish brown sand staring into the distance without making any contact with each other, shows the tension present in post-apartheid South Africa. Zwelethu Mthethwa (South Africa) exhibits photo portraits of workers in a sugarcane field. Their beautiful composition and colours make the photos a visual feast. At the same time, the workers' expressions raise questions about their situation and relationship to the landscape in which they are standing. The humorous sketches by Abu Bakarr Mansaray (Sierra Leone) show imaginary machines and designs, complete with all types of calculations and surprising comments.

The exhibition's basic premise creates a different viewpoint, one detached from an ethnic, exotic or political approach. In this way too, questions about identity, the relationship between Africa and Europe, social injustice and religion are succinctly raised. The exhibition's basic approach of putting the context in the background shows all the more that African artists can still connect with this same context.

Africa Remix can be seen from 24 July to 7 November 2004 at the Museum Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf, Germany, from where it will move to London, Paris and Tokyo.