Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Map of Art Practices in Africa, Past and Present Opens in Brussels

No fewer than 17 African countries celebrate 50 years of independence in 2010. To mark the occasion, BOZAR and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren are organising the Visionary Africa festival, with concerts, exhibitions, theatre and dance performances, a colloquium, and a literary festival. Anniversaries, of course, offer an ideal opportunity to look back and also to look ahead to what the future may bring. GEO-graphics. A Map of Art Practices in Africa , Past and Present, the keynote exhibition of the Visionary Africa festival, combines these two perspectives. In this exhibition ethnographic art enters into a visual and narrative dialogue with contemporary art, thereby offering a fine overview of the enormous wealth and diversity of the visual artistic creation on the continent.

A total of 220 ethnographic objects from Belgian private and museum collections span a period from the 16th to the 20th century. This extensive selection includes masks, fetish objects, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic sculpture, ceremonial objects, furniture, musical instruments, and more. One highlight is the paintings on glass, a typical folk art form from Senegal , with often naive pictures depicting religious subjects or scenes from daily life.

For the first time, these traditional works of art are looked at in relation to contemporary cultural life in Africa . Over the last ten years independent initiatives have emerged here and there on the continent. Eight of these centres for contemporary art have been invited to Brussels : Doual’art (Douala, Cameroon), La Rotonde des Arts (Abidjan, Ivory Coast), Centre for Contemporary Art Lagos (CCA Lagos) (Lagos, Nigeria), Centre for Contemporary Art East Africa Nairobi (CCAEA Nairobi) (Nairobi, Kenya), Picha (Lubumbashi, Congo), Darb 1718 (Cairo, Egypt), Appartement 22 (Rabat, Morocco), and Raw Material Company (Dakar, Senegal ). Each of these centres occupies a space within the exhibition, in which it presents its own artistic identity and shows work by "its" African artists. The selection includes a presentation of Pathy Tshindele’s commissioned work in the Congolese village of Makwacha , a video installation by the Ethiopian artist Theo Eshetu, paintings and sculptures from the collection of La Rotonde des Arts, and a probing series of photographs by George Osodi of the difficult living conditions in the oil-rich region around the Niger delta.

In addition, photographs on show throughout the exhibition present Africa 's extraordinarily diverse and proliferating urban landscape. This series of photographs is the result of ten years of research throughout Africa by David Adjaye, a world-renowned architect with Ghanaian roots who is also the artistic director of GEO-graphics.

The exhibition is organised thematically according to the continent's geographical zones: Sahel , mahgreb, desert, savannah, forest, and mountains/highlands. Adjaye argues that the natural environment influences cultural output, so that a shared culture reaches beyond national boundaries. Since 2007, however, Africa has seen unprecedented urban development, which is bringing with it major changes and raises fundamental questions about artistic creation. Each of the exhibition's geographical themes includes both ethnographic art, which mostly has a ritual basis and comes from the tribes in the countryside, and contemporary art that is being produced today in the cities. In this way, GEO-graphics links present and past and creates a bridge between city and countryside.

Although there are many different contemporary art scenes on the African continent, they clearly do not get enough support from government institutions and the world of politics. By inviting these eight arts centres to Brussels to show how they are creating a basis for cultural development on the African continent, the Visionary Africa festival hopes to initiate a debate on the "fragility" of Africa 's cultural institutions. To this end, an Atlas Room has been set up at the entrance to the exhibition; this information space presents in the form of timelines, texts and images, an overview of the national and international cultural policies, decisions and documents that reflect on the past, present and future of the cultural sector in Africa

The exhibition's artistic director, David Adjaye (born in 1966), is recognised as one of the greatest architects of his generation in the United Kingdom.

With his practice, Adjaye Associates, he has won various prestigious competitions and has established himself through numerous architectural projects, exhibition designs, and plans for temporary pavilions and private homes. The construction of arts centres and major public buildings in London , Oslo , and Denver are recent examples of Adjaye's strong interest in the integration of architecture into its existing surroundings. President Barack Obama recently asked him to design the future National Museum of Afro-American History and Culture in Washington.

Adjaye is organising this exhibition together with Anne-Marie Bouttiaux (head of the ethnographic department of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren), Koyo Kouoh (independent curator, "cultural producer" and director of Raw Material Company in Dakar), and Nicola Setari (director of the Visionary Africa festival). Its scenography has been entrusted to David Adjaye and the Belgian architecture practice SumResearch.

The Atlas Room is a research project conducted by writer and cultural historian Nana Oforiatta-Ayim and SumResearch.

The Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren is about to undergo major renovations. Over the next three years the Centre for Fine Arts will become a platform for the expertise of the museum. The two institutions will together carry out research into the contemporary presentation of ethnographic art and into how the ideal museum for African art might look. GEO-graphics is the first step in this project and marks the beginning of a long-term cooperative project.


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