Friday, April 30, 2010

A Rapa earns respect selling at £220,000

FOR the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island, wooden dance paddles known simply as Rapa were essential to many ceremonies and dances.

They were usually carried in pairs to emphasise the movements of the dancers, who spun them on their axis, and were also reportedly used during funerary rituals. Whilst other types of Rapa Nui wooden sculpture display detailed facial features, these Rapa showed just an abstract suggestion of a face.

Only around 30 authenticated Rapa are recorded, with most residing in international museums as icons of ethnographic art. There have been a number of fakes on the market in recent years and, while some substantial five-figure sums have been bid for these in regional rooms, few sales have been consummated.

But it appears that the world’s most serious collectors of Oceanic art thought this example, with an old provenance, was the real deal when it was offered for sale on April 13 at the Island Auction Rooms on the Isle of Wight.

The 2ft (60cm) paddle was consigned by a local vendor whose uncle worked for P&O cruise ships in the 1920s as a Purser, during which time he travelled to the Polynesian Islands where he purchased the paddle. When he died in the 1930s, it passed to the family and has been propped against a wall ever since.

Initially estimated at £10,000, it attracted interest from Australia, Belgium, America and London and the estimate was revised to £20,000-40,000. All phone lines were booked and a number of bidders flew in for the sale. After a lengthy phone battle, it sold for £220,000 (plus 10 per cent buyer’s premium) to a London collector against a Belgian underbidder.

Source: Antiques Trade Gazette

Easter Artecles at Artfest

Femi Art Warehouse an art promoting outfit in its efforts geared towards taking Arts to the next level during the last Easter holidays organised an art exhibition tagged; Easter Artfest. The four day programme with the theme: Promoting African Art and Cultural Heritage kicked off on 2nd of April and ended on the 5th at Muri Okunola Park in Victoria Island.

The Artfest was the first art show to be hosted by the park since it was opened by the Lagos State government. It featured symposium, workshop, Art and Craft exhibition, Textile and cultural display that witnessed lots of performances by youths.

About eight exhibitors displayed their artworks. They include; My Nest Shop, JT Angies Emporium Ltd, Femi Art Warehouse, Art Barn, Tribes Art, for galleries, while Woodin International led the crop of art outfits that flooded the park with beautifully designed textiles that were purely African woven.

Works displayed in most of the stands include; paintings on canvas, sculptures in wood, mixed media pieces, art installations, metal works, photograph designs, a variety of decorative artefacts, textile designs in a variety of media and styles representing a cross section of Nigerian and non Nigerian works by some known artists. Among them were works by Joseph Ezeh, Tolu Aliki, Godwin Adesoye, Kayode Lawal, Kolawole Olayiga among others.

In a chat with the organiser on why he embarked on the show, the avid art promoter and one whose passion and commitment at not only celebrating and showcasing African arts, but also to promoting it in every way and every means possible, Femi Coker, stated that “the concert is about bringing arts and the acquisition of art works out for people to appreciate in an open place because a lot of people have this misconception that art is for the elites. But we want to let such people know that art is enjoyed and appreciated by a wide variety of people.”

Continuing, Femi, who claims to have worked with some of the biggest art promoters and art icons in the world like owners of Goge Africa and Nike Art Center explained that the various platforms gave him the opportunity to see the world and understand the value, the aesthetics and the beauty of not only African Art, but also its cultural origin.

“What I am doing right now is to showcase a bit, like an iceberg of the potential enormity and the greatness of our values. The Easter Artfest is designed to encourage people to come out doors during the Easter break to enjoy arts in an atmosphere of picnic and serenity of the park because the park is not only meant for people to come and relax and enjoy the facilities, but also for us as art promoters to use the facility to showcase and promote art to a wider audience and general public as a whole.” he said.

In partnership with over ten professional bodies like AGAN, SNA, AAF, African Design Expo and My Next Club as well as some corporate organisations, Artfest, Femi promises, is going to be a yearly event.

He also disclosed that as part of efforts at encouraging and promoting arts in Lagos State, the State Government through the Ministry of Environment gave the venue facility free for the whole duration of the festival. This gesture, Femi admitted, is a major stimulant in promoting arts in the State and therefore called on other stakeholders to emulate the State Government’s gesture by encouraging art promoters, artists and culture workers and other people working in arts profession.

Richmond Ogolo, AGAN Vice President and one of the participants at the show said “I am lending whatever support I can because the coordinator of the show is one of our members (AGAN). We try to motivate and encourage our members to have shows like this, especially when it is going to educate the public and is meant for social consciousness.” Continuing he added that “you know we can’t pay lip service to arts and culture because it is a trillion dollar industry, apart from the fact that it says much about our people. Any country that does not promote its arts and culture is not going anywhere because that is the root of any development. Both infra structural development., industrial awareness- everything is rooted in arts design so with shows like this we encourage people who are not conversant with arts and culture to come and have a taste of it.”

Tribes Art director and one of the participants Rodney Asikhia in his own comment said that the show is an important way of promoting arts and a venue for people to relax. Describing the works showcased as nature at its best, he further described the fiesta as an educative and entertaining event for people to relax during the Easter holiday.

For Ismaila Uthman, the CEO of Woodin International who came all the way from Abidjan ,Cote de Ivoire “everything here is African, Woodin is promoting Africa. The artists are purely African Artist trying to promote the images and values of Africa.

When you look at the design, it always portrays the beauty of Africa, telling us that we have rich cultural values.”

Source: Vanguard
By: Japhet Alakam

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Maryland’s African Art Museum Still Looking For New Home

Lease at Historic Oakland expires May 31; director, trustees say they’re optimistic

At the end of May, a mere six weeks from now, the African Art Museum of Maryland will have a new home somewhere, preferably still in Columbia.

The board of the museum, a not-for-profit institution that is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, gave notice last August of its plans to move out of Historic Oakland, where it has operated since 1989.

Though the museum's lease expires May 31, it has not secured new quarters.

"We have been actively looking at new spaces for over a year and have gotten some positive leads," said Doris Ligon, the museum's executive director. "We need more display room and a location that is ADA-compliant" to provide access for patrons with physical disabilities. The current galleries can be reached only by stairs.

Ligon said 3,000 square feet is the minimum space needed for operation of the museum, which has two private collections of African art waiting in Baltimore to go on exhibit. But museum officials are willing to accept far less space on a temporary basis.

"We would take a closet [in the interim] if we had to, so that we can remain open and still qualify for grants while we continue our search," she said.

The museum has about 3,000 artifacts on display in about 1,200 square feet of space in two rooms on the second floor of Historic Oakland, the 19th-century manor home off Vantage Point Road in Town Center.

Housed in the galleries are a wall-size mural, sculptures, wood carvings, musical instruments, masks, jewelry, baskets and textiles, all of which were donated.

One of the most memorable gifts came from a master weaver who left his home in Senegal for the first time to create a tapestry in the museum on his own loom that had been shipped ahead, Ligon said. The brightly colored butterfly design took two weeks from start to finish, she recalled, and it was thrilling to watch it take shape in front of museum staff and visitors.

Despite the fast-approaching deadline to leave the current space, Ligon said she and the museum's board of trustees remain optimistic about the situation.

"There is no gloom and doom," she said. "We are not wringing our hands in despair, though we know this is serious. But difficult and impossible are not the same thing."

Lease negotiations between the museum and the Town Center Village Association, which operates the facility on behalf of the Columbia Association, were handled by attorney Joel Abramson.

"We were concerned when they first notified us that they would not be renewing their lease," Abramson said. "They have been good tenants, and we were always happy to have them providing a valuable service there."

The association agreed to the museum board's request for an additional six-month extension beyond the Nov. 30, 2009, expiration date of its most recent five-year lease agreement. The museum did not request any further extensions, the attorney said.

After the last day was agreed upon, the Town Center Village Association began searching for a new tenant and is "already in the process of leasing the space," said Patricia Laidig, village manager.

Ligon co-founded the museum in 1980 with her husband, Claude, who died in 2005. They initially dubbed it Gallery Ligon and ran it from their Columbia home.

"I am amazed at what we've been able to accomplish, starting out with no money, no resources and no art," she said. "My husband was a visionary, and we were very fortunate."

The museum soon relocated to underused space at Phelps Luck Elementary School before moving to the former Rockland Arts Center in Ellicott City, she said. Oakland is the museum's third official home and is run by Ligon, who is full time and draws no salary, one part-time paid staff person, and a corps of 20 volunteers.

"We didn't invent African art and we didn't invent museology," she said. "But we don't start things to not continue them. It's a goal that we set and we're not going to stop operating."

Board member Vivian Dixon concurred.

"I believe in divine intervention, and I believe the space is out there," Dixon said. "It only takes one person to say ‘yes' to make this happen."

Mary Schiller, manager of the county public school system's Partnerships Office, called the museum a "wonderful resource" and expressed her hope that it will be able to relocate soon.

"The museum has long been involved in the community, giving students hands-on knowledge of African culture and bringing the curriculum to life," she said, though a formal HCPSS partnership agreement was just signed in December.

"The world has become a global community and the museum has broadened our students' awareness of the world they will one day inherit," Schiller said, especially by bringing artifacts into the classroom.

"Our thing is education," Ligon said, noting that aside from visiting schools, museum representatives also travel to senior centers and businesses to give presentations.

On top of gaining additional space, new quarters would also give the museum greater license to expand its board of trustees from 16 to 25 members and broaden its diversity even further, Ligon said.

Recently, trustee Joe Mitchell came up with an idea to start the Century Club, a group for members who are willing to donate $1,000 to the museum, she noted.

"Obviously, it would only take 100 people for us to raise $100,000," she said. The club has attracted 15 people in addition to the museum's 200 regular members. Annual memberships range from $20 for students and seniors to $175 for community organizations.

While the search for a home continues, the museum board has kept its annual fundraiser firmly on its agenda.

Ligon said the Baltimore-Washington JazzFest will still perform for the "Claude Ligon House of Jazz" at Historic Oakland from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. June 19, this year relocated to the first floor since the museum will have moved out of its current space weeks before that date.

"We are lucky enough to know that we have worked hard and produced marvelous experiences," said Ligon, noting that JazzFest is one of their premier events. "We owe our greatest thanks to Jim Rouse who, by creating Columbia, gave us a reason to thrive and grow.

"We will go on and we will stay in Columbia — it's our home," she said.

For information about the museum or the jazz festival, call 410-730-7106 or go to

Source: The Baltimore Sun
By Janene Holzberg

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Museum for African Art in New York to Get New Home in April 2011

Elsie McCabe Thompson, President, the Museum for African Art, announced that the Museum—one of the country’s premier gateways to the arts and cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora—will reopen to the public in its major new facility in April 2011. Designed by the renowned New York City firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP, the new building is located at 1280 Fifth Avenue, at East 110th Street, in Manhattan. There it will join “Museum Mile,” linking this prestigious row of museums with Harlem, one of the country’s most important centers of historic and contemporary African-American culture. (The Museum is currently closed to the public, and is operating out of temporary quarters in Queens, New York.)

The Museum for African Art’s new home comprises four floors (one below grade) of a nineteen-story residential tower and encompasses approximately 75,000 square feet of space. With a dramatic increase in public space, the new location will make possible significant growth in the number and scope of exhibitions, public programs, and educational initiatives, enabling the Museum to serve larger audiences than previously possible.

Ms. McCabe Thompson states, “The Museum for African Art is thrilled to be in the final stages of construction before moving into its new home. The Museum is eager to assume its role as both a thriving neighborhood resource—a place where people of all ages and backgrounds can feel a sense of excitement and belonging—and an important national and international destination for art lovers and those interested in the cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora.”

New Facility

Since opening to the public in 1984, the Museum for African Art has operated from three different locations in New York City: on the Upper East Side (1984–92), in the SoHo district (1992–2002), and in Long Island City, Queens (2002 to the present). In 2002, the Museum moved to temporary quarters in Long Island City, Queens, and in late 2005 it closed its gallery space there in order to focus on developing its plans for a new, larger facility that it would own. In the meantime, it continues to present an active roster of major exhibitions and public programs at a diversity of national and international venues.

The new Museum, which faces Central Park to the west, is distinguished on its north and west facades by trapezoidal windows with bronze-finished aluminum mullions that create a dynamic allover pattern. While the Museum thus maintains a distinct identity within the larger structure, the rhythm of its façade carries upward to the residences above.

Visitors will enter the new Museum through a soaring glass atrium. This will lead to a forty-five-foot-high lobby in which curving expanses of African etimoe wood form one of the walls and the ceiling. The lobby, which provides 5,000 square feet of informal exhibition space, will contain the Museum’s ticketing and information services, and will lead to a shop and a restaurant, as well as to a 245-seat theater and a multi-media education center. A grand staircase near the east end of the lobby will lead to the galleries and other public spaces above.

The Museum’s second floor will provide some 15,000 square feet of flexible gallery space. This will typically be configured as three rotating exhibition galleries that may be installed individually or as a group.

The third floor of the Museum will house the library, offices, and a gracious event space with a roof terrace overlooking Central Park. Future plans for this floor include the Mandela Center for Memory and Dialogue, devoted to programs exploring social justice and humanitarian issues.

Space for storage, conservation, and documentation will be located on the below-grade level.

Inaugural Exhibitions

The Museum will inaugurate its new space with three special exhibitions, all of which it has organized or co-organized. El Anatsui: When Last I Wrote to You About Africa is the first career-retrospective of this important contemporary artist. It brings together the full range of Anatsui’s work, from wood trays referring to traditional symbols of the Akan people of Ghana; to early ceramics from the artist’s Broken Pots series of driftwood assemblages and his wooden sculptures carved with a chainsaw; to the luminous metal wall-hangings of recent years that have brought the artist international acclaim. Prior to its presentation at the Museum for African Art, El Anatsui: When Last I Wrote to You About Africa will be on view at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, from October 2, 2010, through January 2, 2011.

Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art examines the intertwined histories of the coiled basket in Africa and the southeastern United States. The exhibition demonstrates how this object—once a simple farm tool used for processing rice—became a work of art and an important symbol of African-American identity. It comprises more than 200 objects, including baskets made in Africa and the American South, African sculptures, paintings from the Charleston Renaissance, historic photography, and new video. Organized by the Museum for African Art with the cooperation of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston and the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina, the exhibition has been on tour in the United States.

In addition to El Anatsui and Grass Roots, the Museum will present New Premises: Three Decades of Exhibitions at the Museum for African Art, which explores the evolution in the Museum’s exhibition program. In the 1990s, following a decade in which it exhibited only traditional African art, the Museum began to show the work of contemporary African artists who worked both within and outside of the continent. Drawn in part from the Museum’s own collection, and including objects from past Museum exhibitions, New Premises suggests commonalities between artworks new and old, canonical and non-canonical, questioning the existence of an impermeable boundary between contemporary and traditional African art.

Also opening in the Museum’s inaugural year is Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, which, with support from Banco Santander, will conclude its European and U.S. tours at the Museum in late 2011. The exhibition has been co-organized by the Museum for African Art and the Fundación Marcelino Botín, in Santander, Spain, in collaboration with the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments. Devoted to the extraordinary art of Ife, the ancient city-state of the Yoruba people of West Africa (in present-day southwestern Nigeria), it features more than 100 extraordinary bronze, terra-cotta, and stone sculptures, ranging in date from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries, many of which have never been on display outside of Nigeria. It is currently on view at the British Museum, London, where it has received great critical acclaim.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Book: African Art in Detail

From the Harvard University Press comes a book written by Chris Spring entitled African Art in Detail. The book opens with the question: What is African art? The answer is a brilliantly colorful and detailed look at the myriad materials and genres, forms and meanings, cultural contexts and expressions that comprise artistic traditions across this vast and varied continent. Viewing artworks in their contexts—ancient and modern, urban and rural, western and eastern, decorative and functional—the book is nothing less than a virtual tour of African culture.

Masks, textiles, royal art, sculpture, ceramics, tools and weapons—in each instance, the book features examples that reveal the most significant aspects of workmanship, materials, and design in objects of wood, stone, ivory, clay, metalwork, featherwork, leather, basketwork, and cloth. Photographs of each piece alongside close-ups of fine details afford new views of these works and allow for intriguing comparisons between seemingly unrelated objects and media. The featured details evoke the hand and eye of the most accomplished craftspeople across Africa, past and present. In sum, these photographs, along with Christopher Spring’s enlightening commentary, offer an experience of African art that is at once broad and deep, richly informed and intimately felt. They are, at the same time, a kaleidoscopic view of art from pre­history to gestures prefiguring the future.

The book, which can be purchased for $22.95 is available in hardcover and was published in February 2010.

Monday, April 26, 2010

South African Paul Emmanuel on Display at Smithsonian's Museum of African Art

South African artist Paul Emmanuel’s “Transitions,” an installation of five drawings and the critically acclaimed film 3SAI: A Rite of Passage, will open at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art May 12 and continue through Aug. 22. The exhibition, which debuted in 2008 at The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, addresses issues of identity, particularly those of a young white male living in post-apartheid South Africa. This is the first North American stop for the exhibition and video presentation. Both were very well received throughout South Africa, and the film has been featured in international film festivals where it garnered high praise.

The artist and exhibition organizer Les Cohn of Art Source South Africa will discuss “Transitions” Saturday, May 15, at 1 p.m. in the gallery. The program is free and open to the public.

“This provocative exhibition by Paul Emmanuel continues the tradition at the National Museum of African Art of showcasing the work of South African artists and attests to that country’s prominence as a dynamic center of outstanding contemporary art,” said Christine Mullen Kreamer, deputy director and chief curator. “In addition, the exhibition puts a spotlight on the wonderful art of drawing.”

“Transitions” comprises a series of five ostensibly “photographic” works which, when examined closely, reveal sensitively hand-drawn, photo-realist images on photographic paper. The works contemplate manhood and the transitions an individual goes through in society.

The adjacent video installation explores the liminal moments of transition, when a young man is either voluntarily or forced to let go of one identity and take on a new identity as property of the state. The 14-minute film documents the head shaving of new recruits at the Third South African Infantry Battalion (3SAI) in Kimberley, one of two South African military training camps that still perform the obligatory hair shaving of army recruits joining the South African National Defence Force.

For the artist, such observed moments raise questions about what one actually witnesses in such rites of passage and how these and similar “rituals” help to form and perpetuate identities and belief systems throughout history. Why is one so powerfully drawn to and transfixed by these dramatic spectacles of subtle change and moments of suspended possibility and impossibility?

A graduate of South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand in 1993, Emmanuel was the first recipient of the prestigious Ampersand Fellowship, which recognizes emerging South African artists and supports a residency in New York. He was born in Zambia and lives and works in Johannesburg.

Of “Transitions,” the artist has said, “The production of this body of work is a love affair with concept and surface.”

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Phillips de Pury Auction To Be A celebration Of African Art

Phillips de Pury's forthcoming Africa art sale and exhibition takes place on May 15 in New York.
The sale will include works of contemporary art, photographs, design and editions which reflect the spirit of the continent and its global impact.

Works to be featured in the expo will be by African and non-African artists from around the world.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Disputed Oceanic Art Stays in San Francisco

Most of the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum's renowned compilation of Oceanic art will remain in place now that a deal has been signed ending an inheritance dispute that had threatened to dismantle the collection and force the sale of parts of it.

But some pieces that had been on display at the museum - including a striking shock-haired figurine used to top a sacred flute estimated to be worth more than $1 million - are currently on the auction block. That piece and others will be sold to help settle a cross-country legal drama that involved sweeping philanthropy, a bitter internecine spat over money, and a $25 million loan from Sotheby's that helped amass what is considered the world's most important private collection of tribal objects from Papua New Guinea.

The bottom line for the public is that 29 pieces that had been among the 398 on display at the city-owned de Young museum after being donated by New York philanthropists John and Marcia Friede have been removed for sale.

Those 29 are among 124 that had been pledged to Sotheby's as collateral for a loan to the Friedes. Museum officials were aware that Sotheby's had a claim to at least 88 of those items before the collection was unveiled at the rebuilt de Young in 2005, court documents show.

"We believe that under these very complex circumstances, we achieved the best possible result for the museum and the public," said John Buchanan, director of San Francisco's Fine Arts Museums, which includes the de Young. The "collection at the de Young will continue to be an unparalleled example of the masterworks of Papua New Guinea to be shared with current and future generations."

Under legal settlements the city attorney's office recently released to The Chronicle, the de Young gets clear title to 274 of 398 pieces at the museum - everything except those works that had been put up as collateral to Sotheby's.

Large collection
The Friedes had collected more than 4,000 pieces of New Guinea tribal art over four decades and promised the prized works to the de Young in a series of agreements dating to 2003.
The museum specifically designed an 8,000-square-foot gallery named for the couple to house the collection when it rebuilt its Golden Gate Park home.

The artwork, named the Jolika Collection after the first letters in the Friedes' three children's names, was to be transferred over a period of years.

But the couple also used the works to secure loans from Sotheby's to acquire more pieces and, at the insistence of John Friede's brothers, put the collection up as collateral in an inheritance dispute following the 2005 death of their mother, Evelyn A.J. Hall, sister of publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg.

The result was a series of legal battles in California, New York and Florida.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera went to court in September 2008 to prevent John Friede's two brothers from seizing the collection and selling parts of it to raise up to $20 million after a Florida judge ruled that Friede had violated the terms of a legal settlement involving their mother's estate. Friede was to pay his brothers $30 million after their mother had loaned him millions before her death. He values the entire collection at about $300 million.

Issues resolved

The newly released settlement documents indicate the legal issues have been resolved. The documents were heavily redacted in places, including references to dollar amounts, specific pieces of art and conditions on sales, but indicate that artwork that had been displayed at the museum could be auctioned by Sotheby's to pay off the estimated $16 million to $18 million John Friede says he still owes the auction house.

The documents indicate the city paid an unspecified amount to get clear ownership of 168 works at the museum, on top of the 106 collection pieces the de Young indisputably owns. Attorneys for the city say the deal protects the majority of the works, may shield many more and avoids the uncertainty of a trial.

"You have to remember the context of this lawsuit," Deputy City Attorney Adine Varah said. "There was a Florida court order authorizing the brothers to seize the works in the museum and liquidate them to pay their debt. This is about preserving and protecting the collection for the public."

Under the settlement, the remaining $5.65 million from the $30 million that John Friede owed his brothers was paid from three sources: John Friede's one-third share of the Pierre Bonnard painting "Le dejeuner" that he owns with his brothers; a portion of a roughly $4 million payment from his mother's estate that was to go to the de Young to pay for upkeep, promotion and study of the Jolika Collection but instead went to purchase 168 of the works; and proceeds held in escrow from the sale of some works not housed at the museum.

No taxpayer funds
City attorneys stressed that the money used to secure the collection was from a charitable contribution from Friede's mother's estate.

"We're not talking about taxpayer funds," Varah said.

John Friede said he hoped additional donors could be found to pay the museum for the endangered pieces rather than have them sold to pay his debt.

"There is the very hopeful possibility that the museum will not use objects to pay it off but will find the money to avoid further diminishing the collection," Friede said. "I would love for none of them to sell."

 By: John Cote

Friday, April 23, 2010

South Africa’s Iziko Re-Opens with New Exhibition

After being closed to the public since 1 March 2010, the Iziko South African National Gallery re-opened its door on Thursday, April 15th.

The much anticipated exhibition, 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective, will offer a fresh look at a century of South African art, curated by Riason Naidoo, Director of Arts Collections at Iziko.

The exhibition “1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective,” curated by Riason Naidoo, newly appointed Director of Arts Collections at Iziko, provides insight into the soul of our nation, spanning the length and breadth of this country, from the hilltops near the Union Buildings to the townships of Cape Town. The exhibition showcases the history and diversity of modern and contemporary South African art, from the formation of the Union of South Africa a century ago, to the present.

It starts with the period under British colonialism - when the idea of a modern South African state had parallel developments in the art world - which began to articulate a unique identity in relation to the rest of the world.

The exhibition has two primary aims: to show the Gallery’s permanent collection as well as a reflective selection of art from around the country. While the exhibition aims to showcase prominent artists and art works, many of the loans also offer exposure of some less known artists and pieces. It simultaneously endeavours to reflect on important moments in South African history during the last century.

Audiences can look forward to modern gems and rare treasures by Gerard Sekoto, Irma Stern, George Pemba, Maggie Laubser, Gerard Bhengu, Durant Sihlali, Dumile Feni and Jane Alexander’s Butcher Boys. The exhibition acknowledges important developments in local art history such as Polly Street, Rorke’s Drift, DRUM Magazine, Resistance Art, and the rise of South Africa’s energetic contemporary art scene with contemporary pieces by artists such as Nandipha Mntambo, Stuart Bird and Nicholas Hlobo.

While reflecting on art from around the country over this period, it is also important that we take cognisance of the dangers of nationalism. One of the most traumatic events since the new democracy came into being has been the sporadic xenophobic attacks in 2008, which left many bodies in its wake and thousands mentally scarred. With this in mind, we have also included the exhibition US, curated by Bettina Malcomess and Simon Njami. Artists such as Justin Brett, Frances Goodman and Donna Kukama are some of the featured young artists that give expression to this issue, which allows the overall exhibition to include a whole new generation of emerging artists and bring the making of art in this country over the last century full circle.

1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective is a must-see exhibition which coincides with the expression of a new vision for the National Gallery under director, Riason Naidoo. “The new vision - one that is more inclusive of the audiences we appeal to, more critical in the selection of our exhibitions and in the work that we acquire for our collections, more diverse in the people that make up our committees and in the staff that we hire and more inclusive on a national level – will facilitate and enhance the representation and relevance of the gallery as well as putting it at the forefront of change,” says Naidoo.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I See Africa Enlightens Cincinnati

I See Africa is a group show offering artists' concepts of Africa's influence through sculpture, painting and photography, including the work of Nigerian photographer Alfred Olusegun Fayemi.

"Fayemi's photographs articulate the realities of contemporary Africa and Africans," curator Barbara Gamboa says. "They traverse a wide spectrum in the rhythm of the daily lives of Africans, from the resplendent attire of African women in markets and churches, to children playing with home-made toys to crowded classrooms; from pounding yam to grinding pepper; from street minstrels and itinerant musicians to open-air dancing parties in far-flung locations like Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia."

The show also features artists James Haase, Queen Brooks, Cynthia Lockhart and Elliott Jordan with contemporary work inspired by traditional African art. Educational exhibits and African artifacts on loan from Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati Museum Center and private individuals provide cultural context.

Through June 5. Opening reception 6-8 p.m. Saturday, free; preview 6-8 p.m. tonight includes a gallery talk by Fayemi, music and East African food. Tickets $30 per person at and 513-631-4278. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. 6546 Montgomery Road, Kennedy Heights.

In conjunction with I See Africa, Kennedy Heights Arts Center will present an African Culture Fest from 1-6 p.m. May 2 with music and dance, activities provided by Cincinnati Art Museum.


By: Jackie Demaline

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lempertz Tribal Art Auction in Belgium This Week

Featuring African and Oceanic Art from an old Belgian Collection and other private owners, Lempertz will be hosting its Tribal Arts Auction in Brussels on Saturday, April 24th. The preview is going on now and will run until just before the auction.

Below are some lots up for for sale. Visit for more details.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jacaranda Tribal Features Ndebele Beadwork this April

A culture inflicted with a history of strife and conflict, the Ndebele of South Africa have used the art form of beading as a means of expression. Known as ukupothela in the tribe’s native tongue, this beadwork is intricate with small white, black and brightly colored beads weaved together to create trains, capes, aprons, dolls and even containers.

Since the mid-20th Century the beadwork of Ndebele has won International fame and recognition. Mainly part of the female ceremonial clothing, the beads are sown onto skins and canvas. Smaller objects, such as necklaces, arm and neck rings and headbands, are also produced with the beads and are worn during rituals and even weddings.

The following images are from the Smithsonian Institution’s online image collection and they picture Ndebele Women creating beadwork.

To see the featured Ndebele Beadwork from Jacaranda Tribal, visit the exhibition’s page.

Monday, April 19, 2010

SPace. Currencies in Contemporary African Art.

Source: Times Live, South Africa

In May, SPace a contemporary African art exhibition at Museum Africa will be opened. Curators Thembinkosi Goniwe and Melissa Mboweni presented their curatorial concept to a group of interested parties in mid-March.

It should be an exiting exhibition. Paul Mashatile, deputy minister of arts and culture has said that “we are encouraged that this will be done by Africans themselves telling their stories, reflecting on their own personal experiences, proudly reaffirming the saying that: nothing about us, without us.”

Goniwe explained how SPace which will embody “two notions, space and pace, which signify sites/contexts and tempos/energies that are part of societal make up… Our preoccupation is with ideas, experiences and practices of contemporary African artists, curators and intellectuals.”
And he says, “Art also provides moments for engaging with profound human qualities such intimacy, beauty and pleasure.”

With these qualities in mind, will curators have to censor the exhibition.

One of the confirmed artists exhibiting at SPace is Nandipha Mntambo. Not long ago we heard about her, other women artists and the Department of Arts and Culture. At a Constitution Hill exhibition in August last year Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana walked out, calling the work “immoral”.

The presentation of the exhibition was the wrong place to be asking about censorship – Goniwe said so. But it was hard not to wonder as the Department of Arts and Culture has endorsed this exhibition.

Nevertheless, this could prove to be a compelling exhibition starting the 11th of May.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Joseph EZE: Assemblage Art Made in Nigeria

The source of the below write-up is "a view from my corner blog" by Jess Castellote

At the beginning of last century Picasso and the cubists started applying paper collages on their canvases and creating sculptural forms made of found objects (“objets trouvés”) and discarded materials. Incorporating materials traditionally not used for art into an artwork was at that time a defiant action but it opened many formal possibilities to artists.

There was a gradual change, but for many decades the shift was within the boundaries of predominantly formal (aesthetic) considerations. Artists used collage mainly as a way of adding texture and meaning to their works. Little by little artists moved from the flat (two dimensional) “paper collages” of the beginning of the 20th century. What started with the use of old news papers, cards or magazines eventually embraced all sorts of materials and objects. From painters applying non-traditional materials on the surfaces of their works there was a move towards three dimensional assemblages created by sculptors. By the 1950s assemblages were produced regularly through Europe and North America.

Almost 50 years ago (in 1962) the Museum of Modern Art in New York organized an exhibition titled “The Art of Assemblage”. Many of the old great names were present: Braque, Picasso, Man Ray, Rauschenberg and, of course, Dubuffet, the French artist that coined the term in the early 1950s to refer to his “collage type” works. “Assemblage art” had come of age.

The evolution of assemblage art has continued during the last decades. For some years, there has been a move lead by non-formal considerations. For instance, it is not by chance that a show last year at the Art Museum of an American university that featured young artists using discarded materials was presented as an “eco-friendly exhibition” or that the Australian artist John Dahlen –well known for his use of found objects from Sydney beaches- calls himself an “environmental artist”. Environmental issues have appeared regularly at international exhibitions and increasingly at continental, national and local ones. The last Dakar had a large number of such works. A few of the most forward-looking exhibitions in the Nigeria last year featured assembled art and it is possible to find it even in the mainstream commercial galleries in Lagos.

I write all this because a few weeks ago Joseph Eze, a young painter I have known for a few years showed me some of his recent works. Used to his previous productions -well drafted paintings with paper collages and striking resemblance with those of his contemporary at Nsukka, Uche Edochie-, I was surprised by what I saw. These were unusual works. Several of them consisted of used plastic slippers (flip flops) pasted (“assembled”) whole or in pieces on the board. The first thing that called my attention was the significant similarities between them and those of the great assemblage artist Louise Nevelson (1899-1988). Like her, Eze had covered the discarded objects (in his case plastic slippers, in her case junk collected in her early morning raids in New York) with a monochrome layer of paint. What a coincidence, I thought; I had just read in an article in the New York Times Style Magazine how El Anatsui saw some of her works in his first visit to the US with occasion of a sculpture exhibition in the 1970s. I knew that El Anatsui taught Joseph Eze in first and second year at Nsukka. This could not be coincidence, but the continuity of tradition…

Louise Nevelson had written half a century ago: ”When you put together things that other people have thrown out, you’re really bringing them to life – a spiritual life that surpasses the life for which they were originally created.” Joseph had learnt that lesson. But he is not alone in that discovery. Despite its relative isolation from contemporary currents, Nigeria has had more than a few good examples of artworks in which the artist has used discarded or found materials. He is not just one-off in his attempt to transform these banal materials into artworks of sculptural strength and content.

After more than a century of artists using discarded materials Eze’s works can’t be called totally innovative, but there is quality in them. The restrained and sober way in which he arranges the slippers on the background board is formally suggestive and even poetic. But this is not empty formalism, there is also a clear social commentary. This is not a small achievement in the current Lagos artworld. For those of us tired of seeing young –and not so young- artists wearing their so-called “africanness” on their sleeves this approach and this exploration is most welcome. In his words:

“Beyond the mere fascination which I must admit I have for working with tactile and found objects, going as far back as 1999, I considered these recent works to be beyond a certain formalism. I have been asked if I used these found materials (flip flops, pure water sachets etc) for the mere fact that they are banal and plentiful and cheap. At the risk of sounding shallow I could say yes. Of coursed that could be a reason. Couldn’t it? But I decided to use these media because they are banal, plentiful, cheap and – they are destroying the environment including a little garden behind my apartment.”

I can identify two major focal points of recent assemblage art in Nigeria: the one in Nsukka under the leadership of El Anatsui and the one in Yaba under the influence of Olu Amoda. Though they share a concern for the materiality of the artworks, there is a substantial difference of approach to its realization. While El Anatsui works by repetition Amoda by aggregation. The heavy, clunky metal sculptures of Olu Amoda before he moved to the US use a great variety of scrap and discarded metal pieces assembled in extraordinary ways. There are a good number of YabaTech students that continue producing metal sculptures using scrap materials.
From what I know, the group of students that have passed through Nsukka and learned from El Anatsui his concern and attraction for everyday materials and objects represent one of the most promising lines of development in contemporary Nigerian art. Obviously, there are also talented artists from Auchi, Zaria, Ife, IMT and the others, but generally their artistic discourses look stale compared with the freshness of the best disciples of El Anatsui.

Joseph Eze studied at Nsukka. When I asked him what he learnt there from El Anatsui, he summarized it succinctly: “He taught me that art goes beyond colour”. This is not a bad lesson, and it continues being learnt by others. Independently of the diverse levels of quality and talent of artists influenced by El Anatsui at Nsukka I am interested by what they have in common. Many of them work with discarded materials and they seem to have taken of collective direction.

Few people can remember specific names of members of the “California Assemblage Movement” in the 1960s, but as group they occupy an important position in the art of the 20th century. They were not successful financially, but their contribution is undeniable. Perhaps, the same may occur to Eze and others working in the same line, or perhaps they some will achieve the recognition of El Anatsui. At least, I hope they are first recognized locally and perhaps one day somebody “out there” “discovers” them. I hope there are many others who-like me- believe that their works are more than “trash”, even if they use old plastic slippers to make them.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


The 2nd edition of “Invisible Borders” is set to kick off. IB 2010 sees 11 Nigerian photographers and a filmmaker on a road trip from Lagos passing through Cotonou, Lomé, Accra, Abidjan, Bamako and finally arriving in Dakar. This year’s trip is anchored to the Biennale of Contemporary African Art of Dakar, Dak’Art 2010 scheduled to take place from the 7th of May to the 7th of June 2010. The IB team begins the journey on the 23rd of April and is scheduled to be back in Lagos by 18th of May 2010.

One good thing about the previous journey in 2009 was that throughout its length, we were confronted with all the insufficiencies and unforeseen challenges that comes with such a spontaneous venture – we made note of them. Therefore this year’s phase provides the opportunity to elaborate on a progress already began in 2009. There will be much more emphasis on the journey and its processes than the final destination. Therefore we will spend 2 days in each major city to work with two indigenous photographers from a given city. This way, we will create tangible networks between photographers in every of the cities, while discovering their country through their input. As usual, Adenike Ojeikere and Unoma Geise will be writing all throughout the trip, and these writings and selected images will appear in our blog in real time as the journey. Chuka Ejorh will be in charge of the documentary film and video interviews.

The rest of the participants are: Amaize Ojeikere, Ray Daniels Okeugo, Uche James-Iroha, Charles Okereke, Uche Okpa-Iroha, Chidimma Nnorom and Emeka Okereke.

This journey will be tedious, the road is hard and far, there will be lots of unforeseen circumstances, but we will be consoled by each click of our cameras and by the faces of a every good persons we encounter. As a team, we will support each other and together, face the challenges every mile of the way! This is photography beyond borders!


Friday, April 16, 2010

John Muafangejo's 4th Catalogue

Last week, the artist’s fourth catalogue was launched at the National Art Gallery – a truly remarkable feat, considering that not many other Namibian artists have had even one catalogue printed.

But who is this phenomenal man, the artist and the legacy he has left for us through his artwork?

Advocate Vekuii Rukoro, Group CEO of FNB Namibia Holdings Ltd, shed some light on the artist at the official launch of Muafangejo’s catalogue.

According to Rukoro, there were many reasons why Muafangejo was widely recognised as Namibia’s foremost art protagonist. Rukoro said that Muafangejo’s lifestyle and courage during the struggle for independence was portrayed in his works, which were displayed only in part at the exhibition, which is currently on at the NGN and also the works contained in the catalogue.

Rukoro said: “The tragedy is that his early death denied him the pleasure to experience Namibia’s independence, an outcome to which he made a significant contribution through his determined, lasting and significant critical and socio-political comments.

“He shaped the perceptions of an apartheid dominated society through his dignified humanity and his belief in the value and role of art as a means of recording the political, the personal and the social injustices and possibilities that prevailed nonetheless. He never wavered in his belief that love and compassion were more enduring than hate.

“Muafangejo’s work is, to a large extent, autobiographical and often accompanied with explanatory texts which interpret the graphic content in an emotive and humorous way. In personal interviews, Muafangejo explained that he mostly derived his inspiration and themes for his works from the interpretation of his personal feelings, experiences, radio news, songs and traditional music. His close connections to the Anglican Church, his love of Biblical stories and the pervading consciousness of the struggle of the black people living in a country divided by racism and the horror of the war, informed many of his works.

“John Ndevasia Muafangejo is a Namibian artist but he is more than that. He has made the most crucial contribution to contemporary African art. His works are known and appreciated both for their graphic quality and skill and for the authentic artistic expression, which reflect African culture and the racial conflicts of the African continent. His works will always stand as a testimony to his community and the times in which he lived.

“He remains a positive role model for young artists in Namibia and in Africa, because his art continues to celebrate African culture while it also strives for excellence through total commitment to art for its own sake. He did not hide behind life’s disadvantages or the colour of his skin. He lived life in the fullest way possible and used his skills to challenge what was wrong.

“Muafangejo will always be a pivotal figure in Namibian and African art history and his legacy as the first black Namibian artist to receive international acclaim remains an inspiration for many Namibians who are aspiring for a career in the arts.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that the legacy of John Ndevasia Muafangejo, as an artist, and through his work, must remain two of the most significant elements in the history of the visual arts in Namibia.

Throughout his short and often difficult life, he openly expressed his doubts and joys with unselfish honesty.

He was equally concerned that there were no other young black Namibians following in his footsteps, who were making a living through their art. It was one of his dreams to be able to contribute to the teaching and education of young Namibians.

“Muafangejo refused to lose the hope of reconciliation. What an inspiration and role model to show that, with the correct mindset and determination, there is no reason not to reach greatness.”

Source: New Era, Newspaper for New Namibia

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why African Art is Having a Renaissance

(CNN) -- African art has long been about more than just tribal masks and traditional carvings, and now contemporary African artists are being recognized globally.

The Johannesburg Art Fair recently showcased the works of 400 African contemporary artists, attracting more than 10,000 visitors. Organizer Ross Douglas told CNN there had been an explosion of interest in African art in recent years.

"Africa has always had a strong tribal art and a strong craft component, and that will always stay, he said.

"But that doesn't mean there can't be a contemporary market existing alongside that, and if you look in South Africa at the contemporary market in the last four or five years, it's absolutely exploded.

"If you look at the number of young black artists doing well, making a living, it's extraordinary. Five years ago it just didn't exist."

But the attention being bestowed on contemporary African art is a relatively new phenomenon. Auction house Bonhams says its New York sale last month was the first commercial auction dedicated solely to contemporary African art in the United States, and it says the UK's first auction only took place last year.

While auction house Phillips de Pury's Africa art sale and exhibition will take place on May 15 in New York. The sale will include works of contemporary art, photographs, design and editions which reflect the spirit of the continent.

Giles Peppiatt, director of African art at Bonhams, said these kinds of sales were still too rare. "In some ways it's remarkable -- here we are in 2010 and this is the first auction of its type in New York," he told CNN. "It's never been done before. Actually I was very surprised by that,"

But he says he's not surprised by the growing interest in African art. Bonhams says the auction has generated considerable buzz. Prince Yemisi Shyllon, who has an extensive collection of Nigerian art, was one of those in attendance.

Shyllon told CNN, "I don't promote Nigerian art in terms of the value. I promote in terms of the benefits and the joy it can confer to the world."

But monetary value is unavoidable at an art auction. About half of the 140 pieces at the Bonhams auction sold, with prices ranging from $1,000 to $92,000. The value of African art could increase as international interest develops and the buying pool expands.

"At the moment the majority of the collectors are people who have an interest or contact with Africa," said Peppiatt. "We aren't yet seeing these people buying these works without that connection.

"Look at the other markets -- no one buys a van Gogh because he's Dutch or because the buyer's Dutch. It doesn't matter where the artist was born or what nationality he was. But I think with the African art it still does matter. It hasn't yet broken into the international market."
Ghana's beads back in vogue

While the rest of the world is catching up with African art, the artists themselves continue to push artistic boundaries.

South African Lawrence Lemaoana was one of the artists exhibiting at last month's Johannesburg Art Fair. His work is all about challenging the traditional.

"I look at the ideas of stereotypes, and the idea of men sewing and the idea of how that's a feminine activity ... [and ask] how do we subvert that into something that's really not feminine? So I am sewing and I am making artwork that's quite edgy," Lemaoana told CNN.

"Artists are not limited to painting and traditional ways of making art. There are other possibilities of speaking a language and finding new and innovative ways of communicating."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

North African Jewelry Collection at the Arab American National Museum

An exhibition of spectacular jewelry and historic photographs from the North African nations of Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia opens to the public on Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at the Arab American National Museum (AANM), 13624 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn, Michigan, just outside of Detroit.

Noble Jewels: North African Jewelry and Photography from the Xavier Guerrand-Hermès Collection presents never-before-exhibited pieces of stunning North African jewelry and late 19th- and early 20th-century photographs by some of the period’s most prominent photographers. Organized by the Museum for African Art in New York, Noble Jewels will be on view at the AANM through Sunday, August 8, 2010. The exhibition in the Main Floor Gallery is free with Museum admission.

The public is invited to celebrate the exhibition opening with complimentary jewel-themed desserts from 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, May 5 in the AANM’s Community Courtyard. Additionally, groups of eight or more may now opt for a new, North African-themed docent-guided tour of both the jewelry exhibition and the AANM’s permanent exhibits. Those interested in learning more about North African jewelry traditions may enjoy a full-color exhibition catalogue with essays by Cynthia Becker and Kristyne Loughran as well as specially selected publications from the Museum’s Library & Resource Center during their visit.

Visit or call 313.582.2266 for further details on this exhibition and other Museum programs. To schedule a docent-guided tour, call 313.624.0202.

Collected over three decades by Xavier Guerrand-Hermès (biography appears below), Noble Jewels illuminates the diversity and beauty of traditional North African jewelry design. Ornate necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings show the inventive compositions and dazzling creations of North African jewelry designers and silver workers. Crafted from combinations of silver, coral, amber, coins and semi-precious stones, the exquisite collection includes wedding necklaces, hair ornaments, bracelets, earrings and fibula used to keep veils in place. The jewelry featured in Noble Jewels shows the common threads that run through North African societies, and also local variations in materials and motifs.

The Xavier Guerrand-Hermès collection, a portion of which has been given to the Museum for African Art in New York, is extraordinary for its breadth and quality. “From simple ornaments that would be worn by a child, to elaborate jeweled necklaces for women of wealth, the Guerrand-Hermès collection is a treasure that reflects the richness of the cultures of North Africa as well as the collector’s superlative taste,” says Elsie McCabe Thompson, president of the Museum for African Art.

North African jewelry came to the attention of Western collectors in the 19th century, the period when archaeological monuments in North Africa were being explored, visited, and, in some cases, pillaged. The most important photographers of the day, including the Scotsman George Washington Wilson, the Neurdine brothers from France, and the Turkish photographer Pascal Sabah, visited the region and photographed landscapes, architecture, markets, and people adorned in their jewels. Many of the images were used in postcards, while others remained hidden in little-known collections.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Contemporary Pakistani Art at the Pacific Asia Museum

A review by Sharon Mizota from the Los Angeles Times:

'Beyond the Page: The Miniature as Attitude in Contemporary Art From Pakistan' at the Pacific Asia Museum

Artists of Pakistani descent riff on the techniques and imagery of miniatures in an illuminating exhibit at the Pacific Asia Museum.

When Picasso incorporated motifs from African art into his paintings, it was seen as a step forward for modern art. No one thought about what it might mean for African traditions. After all, they were "primitive" and therefore frozen in time.

Something similar might be said for our understanding of South Asian miniature painting. Although references to its diminutive, highly stylized depictions of aristocratic life or mythic stories have appeared in contemporary art -- Shahzia Sikander's work being the most prominent example -- there has been little discussion about how the miniature tradition itself has evolved.

"Beyond the Page: The Miniature as Attitude in Contemporary Art From Pakistan" at the Pacific Asia Museum aims to change that state of affairs. The show at first comes across as another paean to the globalization of contemporary art (and the rise of South Asian artists and markets within it), but ends up revealing how the miniature tradition resonates surprisingly well with contemporary practices.

The carefully focused exhibition features the work of 13 artists of Pakistani descent who riff on the techniques and imagery of miniature painting, in particular the delicate, courtly images of the Mughal Empire of the 16th to the mid-19th centuries.

Seven of the artists trained in the genre at the National College of Arts in Lahore, where "miniature" is a discipline alongside painting, printmaking and sculpture. All are well versed in the conceptually oriented global language of contemporary art, and they interpret the miniature tradition through a variety of media, including painting, video, sculpture and photomontage.

Several artists reexamine the initial colonial encounter between Pakistan (then part of India) and the British Empire. Hamra Abbas turns the tables with tiny, extreme close-up portraits of smiling white people she met during a residency in London. The delicately painted but brutally cropped images echo the miniature portraits that British subjects commissioned from South Asian artists during the colonial era, some of which are on view in a companion exhibition drawn from the museum's collection. In these images, colonists inserted themselves into an aesthetic tradition usually reserved for images of rulers and gods. By contrast, Abbas' present-day miniatures reflect a movement in the opposite direction: the Pakistani artist's presence in the homeland of the former colonizers.

Whereas Abbas uses the miniature aesthetic as a historical touchstone, other artists examine the genre's formal affinities with Western art.

One example is the similarity between the painting technique par dokht and late 19th century pointillism. In both cases, an image is composed, not of lines and areas of color, but of hundreds or thousands of tiny dots.

Rashid Rana updates both traditions for the electronic age by replacing paint with images from pop culture. In the mural-sized digital print "All Eyes Skywards at the Annual Parade," he reproduces a photograph of a Pakistani nationalist celebration out of thousands of Bollywood film stills. Whether par dokht or pointillism, the image suggests how the unrestricted flow of global pop culture might undermine political tensions between Pakistan and India.

Other artists explore the miniature's reliance on a grid structure, also a staple of Western art. In an untitled work, Rahana Mangi revisits a painting she began as a student in the miniature program at the National College of Arts by stitching a fine net of black hair across the central image. The diagonal grid makes palpable (and bodily) the armature that miniaturists use to structure their pictures and create patterns. It also brings the genre into dialogue with the spare, rectilinear work of Sol LeWitt and Agnes Martin.

Likewise in a reductive vein, Noor Ali Chagani extrudes the grid into three dimensions, constructing his pieces out of hundreds of tiny bricks. His dollhouse-scale walls and undulating brick "carpet" are wry little minimalist sculptures.

There is a tendency to define works like these as contemporary to free them from restrictive and often exotic associations with traditional forms. But couldn't they simultaneously be a continuation of the miniature tradition? Why should the categories "contemporary art" and "South Asian miniature" be mutually exclusive?

"Beyond the Page" suggests that they aren't and provides a glimpse of what a truly global culture might look like: a place where the local textures the global and difference can be recognized without becoming a disadvantage.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Authentic African Art and the Serious Collector-An Essay

This piece, by Gene R. Shreve, originally appeared on

In the 1480's, Charles the Reckless, Duke of Burgundy, bought an African "idol" from a Portuguese nobleman. This may be the first recorded instance of sub-Saharan African art being collected by a non-African. During this time, the Portuguese traded with the Kongo Empire in what is now The Republic of Congo and northern Angola. The British Museum established one of the first displays of African art in 1753. Prominent museum collections thereafter appeared in France (1878) and Germany (1886). Sub-Saharan objects were not sought by many private collectors until the late 19th century.

Many prominent artists championed African art and were greatly influenced by it. They included Picasso, Braque, Gris, Modigliani, Matisse, Duran, and Brancusi. African art became commercially popular in the 1920's. Famous American collectors included Nelson Rockefeller, whose collection now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Beginning with important early collectors, two attributes have been prized in a piece of African art. First, it should be an accomplished and aesthetically pleasing example of the particular indigenous form. Second, the piece should be authentic. That is, it should have seen actual use by the ethnic group it represents.

-The Central Place of Authenticity in Evaluating African Art

The distinction between reproductions and authentic ("field used") items is central to an understanding of African art. It guides museums and serious collectors.

Many African works were never intended for ceremonial use by African people. Rather, they were made for sale to outsiders from places such as Europe, the United States, and Japan. Some are obvious tourist mementos (sometimes called "airport art"). Others may be more careful renderings of indigenous forms, but by their newness and construction clearly they are reproductions. Others have been created (by distressing the items in various ways) to look as though they have been made for and have received actual indigenous use. The last mentioned are often held in disdain by serious collectors, who label them fakes, frauds, or forgeries.

Many reproductions are attractive and interesting in their own right. My purpose is not to discourage people from acquiring and enjoying them. It is true that reproductions have little investment value. Because they are "made for market," they are simply decorator items. They do not appreciate. Usually they cannot even be resold for the prices paid for them. In contrast, while authentic pieces of African art are, like all fine art, subject to market fluctuations, they have significant intrinsic worth. The current soft market notwithstanding, they can be expected to hold their value and to increase in value over time.

-What Does Authenticity Mean and Why Is It So Important?

For all of the weight attached to authenticity by museums and serious collectors, the meaning of the term remains uncertain.

Africans might find our conception of authenticity odd. We often display African ceremonial figures on a shelf or coffee table with little understanding of how the figure would be received and understood by the local culture that created it. For example, we might place a figure on casual display that was intended to be seen only on special occasions and in a special place—and then only by a select group of people. We are unaware, or perhaps indifferent, that the manner in which we have chosen to use and enjoy the figure might be regarded as sacrilegious by those who made it.

And Africans might find the notions of authenticity we associate with masks even more ludicrous. Authentic masks were almost never created to hang on a wall. Not only do we display them out of cultural and religious context, but they usually are mere fragments of the larger visual representations for which they were intended. For example, the vegetal (raffia) fibers often attached to the mask are usually gone. And the costume worn by the celebrant (often an integral part of the original creation) has almost always disappeared.

A reason for this cultural difference is that we display African art in just the ways we display Western art. We hang an African mask as we would an old master print or painting. We position African ceremonial figures as we would pieces of Classical Western sculpture. So much for literal authenticity.

Problems also exist in determining what items are entitled to authentic designation. Reproductions, of course, are not. Ambiguities, however, arise concerning just when an item has actually seen "indigenous use." For example, some masks made for local ceremonies are never danced because the village diviner rejects them as without magic or for having bad magic. Some local carvers make more masks than are necessary for the prescribed ceremony, expecting those that are not chosen by the dancers to sell to collectors. Some masks continue to be made by local carvers even though the ceremonies for which they are required have vanished. In such cases, local dancers may adorn the masks to entertain tourists.

Moral questions also arise. To keep their consciences clear, serious collectors like to think that all of their field-used pieces came onto the market under peaceful, benign circumstances. Thus they might assume that a village chief or dignitary freely sold or made a gift of the item to an outsider. This is possible but by no means certain. The item might instead have been stolen or taken by force from one horrified at the thought of losing it. Nearly as bad, the original owner might have been driven by the threat of starvation to sell the item. Outbreaks of famine, disease, and civil unrest in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa have increased the possibility that authentic pieces have come onto the market through tragic circumstances. Do serious collectors have a right to own such pieces? Does our premium on authenticity in African art encourage such violent and disruptive behavior in Africa?

Despite the aforementioned cultural absurdities, problems of definition, and moral questions, authenticity will continue to be a, or perhaps the, major preoccupation of those seriously interested in African art. For reasons of both freestanding aestheticism and anthropological fascination, it will remain important to us that the pieces that excite us also gave excitement and spiritual direction to the persons who made them. This is a human bond. It exists even if we cannot capture the nature of their experience. In contrast, reproductions are soulless. They are cynical and patronizing masquerades of belief rather than sincere expressions of belief.

This distinction between the genuine and the reproduction applies throughout fields of fine arts, antiques, and antiquities. For example, I have in my office a Windsor armchair that I found in a secondhand shop. It is nearly 200 years old. The style is emulated in new "early American" style chairs in furniture stores everywhere. Yet the difference between this chair and a new reproduction is overpowering.

The former, though covered with drab old paint, has a resonance and radiance that is palpable. When made, it represented the current fashion. It expressed the aspiration and energy of its time. It was and is alive. A shiny furniture store reproduction is in contrast a cold dead thing-disconnected from the life, heart, and time of its maker.

-How Can One Tell If a Piece Is Authentic?

Since we cannot avoid the concern of authenticity, how do we determine if a piece is authentic? Let us start with one of several possible working definitions: a piece of African art is authentic if it was made for a ceremonial or ritual purpose and was used for some period of time for its intended purpose. This excludes reproductions of any kind as well as indigenous pieces that never see actual or appropriate use. One might think that authentication is possible from a close and informed examination of the African piece, but this is not always true.

It is often said that it is easier to determine that a piece is a fake than that it is genuine. For example, discernable forgeries may have unconvincing wood surfaces (smooth, shiny, or monochromatic wood patina) or unconvincing paint aging (rubbed wear without oxidation). Beyond these easy cases, even experts frequently disagree over the authenticity of works of African art. Forgeries have become so numerous, and the forgers so good at their work, that we are fast approaching the point where anything we see could be a forgery. Thus, in determining authenticity, the history (provenance) of the piece may be more conclusive than our inspection of the piece itself. If collection of a piece that looks right can be documented as before 1925, the piece is almost certainly authentic. Until then, indigenous field-used pieces were so plentiful and cheap that there was no reason to fake them. A provenance fixing a collection in the 1930's is fairly reassuring; the 1940's a little less so, and so on.

The greatest pieces of African art are those of exceptional form with a collection provenance going back to the 19th century: works acquired by European expeditions, colonial officials, missionaries, and the like. These are prized parts of museum collections and those of wealthy collectors. When such items come on to the market, they are very expensive, certainly beyond the reach of most collectors. Works that most serious collectors can afford usually will lack a conclusive provenance at all.

This does not mean that serious collectors must abandon hope of acquiring authentic pieces, only that they must be patient, careful, and realistic. One must try to limit acquisitions to pieces with signs that are consistent with authenticity (actual field use). Collections built on this basis should contain many authentic pieces along, regrettably, with some forgeries. It may never become entirely clear to the collector or to those examining the collection which is which.

Some of the signs thought to suggest authenticity are sweat stains, smoke odor, evident use of primitive hand tools, local repairs, wood patina, paint oxidation, stains or discoloration, libations, and damage. Sweat stains that darken the wood can occur in the outer portion of the back of the mask. The odor of smoke can occur when masks or figures come close to ritual fires or when they are stored in village houses heated by wood. Evidence of the use of primitive tools (for example, an awl instead of a mechanical drill for attachment holes) occurs when results are asymmetrical or varying. Local repairs over breaks or splits in the wood include cross-stitching (with wood strips or string) and caulking (with a soil- or resin-based fixative). Wood surfaces should acquire a rich darkened color (patina) over time. Similarly, paint will react to the atmosphere by forming fine cracked ridges or other crazing (oxidation). The objects, through use or storage, may have plant or inorganic stains or discoloration that is sometimes quite vivid. The objects may be streaked or caked with material thought to add to their potency (libations). They may have suffered various forms of damage (broken or missing parts; rot from sitting on damp ground). Yet none of these signs may be conclusive, since all can be fabricated by forgers.

Some of the signs thought to suggest forgeries are smooth paint surfaces, fresh paint, evident use of modern tools, new or no raffia, no raffia attachment holes, combined representation of different indigenous forms, or crude carving. Such signs, however, may not conclusively demonstrate that a piece is a forgery.

Local practice may be that the piece is periodically cleaned or scrubbed. In addition, many have assumed, albeit incorrectly, that pieces are more attractive to serious collectors if they are cleaned down. Fresh paint on a piece may simply reflect the local practice of repainting to restore ritual power. Many indigenous carvers use modern tools and, at least as to mechanical hand drills, have been doing so for some time. Raffia may be replaced repeatedly over the life of an authentic mask. Many carefully documented masks in museum collections lack raffia attachment holes. Similarly, a single authentic mask may combine the designs of two different ethnic groups, particularly when their territories are adjacent. Finally, authentic pieces do not always display the most artistic or accomplished carving. Authentic indigenous carvers in remote areas may lack the polish of those in cities whose business is to carve reproductions of the same forms.

Thus it is unfortunately true that, while concerns about authenticity are inescapable for the serious collector of African art, definitive proof about the authenticity of a piece is often impossible to obtain. But it is also true that, as one studies objects over time, one can develop a sense about when a piece seems right. In the absence of an extensive provenance, that is about the best that one can do.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Senegal's 'Idolatrous' Statue Unveiled

Senegal inaugurated its giant "African Renaissance" monument, brushing aside complaints that the personal project of President Abdoulaye Wade was a waste of money and un-Islamic.

One imam in the mainly Muslim West African state issued a fatwa on Friday condemning the statue, of a man, woman and infant, as idolatrous, a charge dismissed by Mr Wade's allies.

Slightly bigger than the Statue of Liberty, the $28 million (£18.4m) copper monument overlooking the capital Dakar has been criticised as a waste of money in a country with crumbling infrastructure and welfare provision.

More than a dozen heads of state, including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo, attended the statue's inauguration, which coincided with the country celebrating 50 years of independence from France.

"Every architectural work sparks controversies – look at the Eiffel Tower in Paris," pro-Wade senator Ahmed Bachir Kounta said.

Mr Wade, 83, who has confirmed he will seek re-election in two years' time, has said he was personally involved in designing the statue. Critics have said it is more Soviet-style realism than traditional African art form.

The 50m-tall monument has been built by North Korean labourers, another source of discontent in a country where formal employment is scarce.

Many Dakar residents, struggling with increasingly frequent power cuts, disintegrating city roads, rising living costs and scarce formal employment have mixed feelings about the monument.

Source: The Scotsman
By Andy Sullivan

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tony Mhonda Helps Bring Contemporary African Art to America

Visual art consultant, author and sculptor Tony Mhonda has been awarded a Black Advancement African-American Renaissance award for his contribution to contemporary African art in America.

The humanitarian art award was given to Mhonda at the Oakland University, Berkeley, San Francisco during the Black History Month celebrations last month. Mhonda's writings on the practice of contemporary visual arts in southern Africa were selected as the best out of a total of 1,320 submitted from around the world.

Last year, he was given a Sterling Award of Excellence in cross-discipline visual art and economics research at the Centre of Innovation and Research in Graduate Education from the University of Washington, Seattle, in the United States.

He was associate editor for Southern African Art Journal at the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe in 1994. He also corresponded as an art critic for The Herald (1989-1998), the now defunct Horizon magazine and The Standard newspaper.

In 1993, he served as the deputy head of the National Gallery while he was in his early 20s and was responsible for securing the dual corporate sponsorship of Anglo American and Mobil Oil for the Zimbabwe Heritage Annual exhibitions.

In 1995, Mhonda was elected as the founder president of Association Internationale des Critiques d'Art (AICA) based in Paris, France and represented Zimbabwe at various international art symposiums in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Unite States.

Mhonda is one of the few artistes to attain international post-graduate degrees in Post Modern Art Theory and Philosophy and a doctorate of Business Administration of Arts and Post-colonial Heritage Studies (DBA).

"DBA research is vital for Zimbabwe's global identity -- it challenges us to create new knowledge, new approaches, new innovations and insights to enhance business decision making, especially in times of economic set backs," Mhonda said.


Friday, April 9, 2010

African Art Celebrated at Joburg Art Fair Last Week

Recession or not, the art world goes on, and never was this more obvious than at the Joburg Art Fair this past weekend.

For those of us who thought that the tough economic times would put a damper on the occasion, we couldn’t have been more wrong.

The price tags were certainly not shy (a particularly unique and gorgeous Kentridge work at the Goodman Gallery stand was going for a weighty R1 083 000) and among the 23 galleries participating, there were quite a few red “sold” dots to behold.

This is a phenomenon that Ross Douglas, director of the company Artlogic, which runs the Joburg Art Fair, commented on during the media walkabout on Friday March 26.

“For me, one of the really interesting things about the Fair is that if you’d tried to do an art fair in SA eight years ago, there wouldn’t have been enough galleries,” he says.

“But in the last four or five years, suddenly a whole lot of galleries started up.

“Last year was a really difficult year financially, and what we’ve seen is that these galleries, despite this really difficult recession, have managed to sustain themselves,” Douglas says.

“We’ve lost two SA galleries between last year and this year – Warren Siebrits and Bell Roberts – but I’ve been amazed at how galleries have managed to sustain themselves through what has been a very long and difficult year.”

However, it’s not just the buyers and art connoisseurs who got their two cents worth from the Fair.

There has always been an educational angle to the weekend, which is why there were a series of free art talks by experts in the field running throughout all three days of the Fair.

“One of the ideas behind the Fair is to make it really accessible to people, to get people inquisitive about art, and interacting with art, and the talks are a nice way to understand art,” explains Douglas.

Chili Hawes, director of the October Gallery in London, which has exhibited at the Fair for three consecutive years, says that she can see people’s enthusiasm for art increasing.

“Especially this year, I see a lot of people really keenly looking at the work, and so that’s very refreshing to us,” she says.

“People really appreciate it and love it and seem to be interested in it and learning about it.”
Arguably of the best offering that the Fair provides is access to international galleries’ stands, because as Douglas says, SA galleries focus on SA art, whereas some of the international galleries focus on art from the rest of the continent.

For those folks who spent part of their weekend at the Fair, the chance to see works never before seen in SA would certainly not have gone unappreciated.

To read our original posting on the 2010 Joburg Art Fair, click here.

Source: The Citizen

By: Natalie Bosman