Who Knows Tomorrow – this piece of worldly wisdom, heard everyday over large parts of Africa, provides the title for a remarkable project held by the National Gallery, for which it has invited five internationally acclaimed artists, whose work is primarily shaped by their African origins, to join together in creating a major exhibition in Berlin. Their works, completed and installed, for the most part, in prominent positions outside four of the National Gallery’s separate venues, will together serve to spark a dialogue over questions that are now more topical than ever before, thanks to the radical upheavals currently sweeping political, social and economic systems that had, until now, been considered unshakeable. These questions include: is uncertainty over the future now the greatest certainty we have today? Whose history needs to be told and faced up to now? What is art’s contribution to helping overcome (art) historical constructs, clichés and stereotypes?
Who Knows Tomorrow eschews the common practice of presenting artists in group exhibitions as representatives to speak for an entire continent. Instead, the participating artists reflect and interpret our own history and present us with their views of our culture, against the backdrop of four of the National Gallery’s iconic buildings, which themselves reflect German national identity at various points in the country’s past. The artists’ works bear the signs of historical complexities and ties between Africa and Europe and deal with aspects of the search for identity and globalisation, both of which have currently become extremely topical once again.
In the process, a clear link is established between the history of Africa’s colonisation and the situation in 19th century Berlin, then capital of the German Empire. While the question of national identity, so fiercely debated in and around Europe during this period, was hardly raised at all in colonised Africa at the time, it has now undergone a dramatic shift in today’s world.
The artists involved in the Who Knows Tomorrow exhibition frequently lay bare forgotten and overlooked cross-ties between Africa and Europe, as well as those that are being formed as we speak. Despite the fact that their works bear witness to a process of intercultural fusion, in which overlapping and mergence become a conceptual stylistic medium, a method, it would be wrong to assume that they merely reflect their own aesthetic history. They amount instead to an analysis of the history of art from a social perspective, over many epochs and cultures. By calling for the salvation of memory and making diversity into a principle, their works challenge us, their audience in the Western world, to reflect critically on ourselves and realign our relation to them.
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive programme of events and a reader packed with insight from a multitude of perspectives.
Artists involved include: El Anatsui, Zarina Bhimji, António Ole, Yinka Shonibare MBE and Pascale Marthine Tayou. The exhibition will run through September, 2010.
For further information, visit the Official Website of the Exhibit.