Saturday 11 October 2014

Shonibare, over 40 African artists converge for Divine Comedy

 ...but no single Nigeria-based artist on the list  
By Tajudeen Sowole
Yinka Shonibare joins over 40 artists from Africa and the Diaspora for a touring art exhibition titled The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Georgia, U.S.

According to Fitz & Co, Divine Comedy is in collaboration with the curator and Cameroonian, Simon Njami. The show, she disclosed during online chat, opens Friday, October 17, 2014 and continues through Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. The exhibition will occupy the museum’s entire gallery space of nearly 20,000 square feet and also extend to the outdoor courtyard and satellite locations, it was disclosed.

Sculptures, How To Blow Up Two Heads At Once by Yinka Shonibare
The organisers stated that the exhibition was originally presented by the Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt/Main (MMK) in Frankfurt, Germany, earlier this year.

Artists featuring with Shonibare include Jane Alexander (South Africa), Ghada Amer (Egypt). Joël Andrianomearisoa (Madagascar), Kader Attia (France), Bili Bidjocka (Cameroon), Wim Botha (South Africa), Zoulikha Bouabdellah (Russia), Mohamed Bourouissa (Algeria), Edson Chagas (Angola), Kudzanai Chiurai (Zimbabwe), Christine Beatrice Dixie (South Africa), Dimitri Fagbohoun (Benin), Franck Abd-Bakar Fanny (Ivory Coast), Jellel Gasteli (Tunisia) and, Kendell Geers (South Africa).

Others are Frances Goodman (South Africa), Nicholas Hlobo (South Africa), Mouna Karray (Tunisia), Amal Kenawy (Egypt), Kiluanji Kia Henda (Angola), Jems Robert Koko Bi (Ivory Coast), Abdoulaye Konaté (Mali), Ndary Lo (Senegal), Ato Malinda (Kenya), Pascale Marthine Tayou (Cameroon), Julie Mehretu (Ethiopia), Myriam Mihindou (Gabon), Nandipha Mntambo (Swaziland), Aïda Muluneh (Ethiopia), Hassan Musa (Sudan), Wangechi Mutu (Kenya), Mwangi Hutter (Kenya, Germany), Youssef Nabil (Egypt), Lamia Naji (Marocco), Moataz Nasr (Egypt), Cheikh Niass (Senegal), Maurice Pefura (France), Zineb Sedira (France), Guy Tillim (South Africa), Andrew Tshabangu (South Africa), Minnette Vári (South Africa).

Artists such as Konaté, Ndary Lo and Amer as well as others who are based at homes have another opportunity to make a strong statement for the contemporary art of the African continent. However, as big as Shonibare is in the Diaspora, it is worrisome that among over 40 artists selected for Divine Comedy, not a single Nigerian artist based at home attracted the favour of the organisers. And one wonders: what did Njami see or feel about the contemporary art scene of Nigeria when the curator visited during the yearly LagosPhoto exhibition last year? As widely conservative and traditional as the Nigerian art landscape remains, there are still quite a number of emerging “contemporary” artists who are doing new thing here and showing abroad.

In the exhibition, Shonibare presents a two-piece sculpture How To Blow Up Two Heads At Once (2006). Clearly from one of his satirical themes of the British aristocrats, the two headless bodies - in the Dutch wax fabric (Ankara in Nigeria’s local parlance) are in combative posture, suggesting a ‘dog eats dog situation. For Shonibare who has, in the past five years built on his identity that emerged on the contemporary art scene of the past one-decade, his work for Divine Comedy is retrospective.

For Divine Comedy, the organisers stated that it was inspired by Dante Aligheiri’s epic poem. And through a variety of media, the exhibition demonstrates how concepts visited in Dante’s poem transcend Western traditions and resonate with diverse contemporary cultures, belief systems and political issues. The gathering, basically, they explained provides probity into life and death as well as stressed the strength of artistic expression.

“The concern here is not with the Divine Comedy or Dante,” explained Njami, “but with something truly universal. Something that touches us all to the very core, regardless of our beliefs or convictions: our relationship to the afterlife. In other words, it’s about our relationship to life and — thus — also to death.”
Originally presented by the Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt/Main (MMK) in Frankfurt, Germany, earlier this year, the SCAD Museum of Art’s presentation will include several works not previously exhibited: neon work by Kendell Geers, a photo series by Youseff Nabil, large-scale works on paper by Christine Beatrice Dixie, a sound installation by Frances Goodman incorporating bridal fabrics cascading from the ceiling, an outdoor calligraphy garden by Moataz Nasr and a collage by Wangechi Mutu.

“The exhibition creates a powerful and culturally-layered dialogue between timeless questions and the voices of exceptional contemporary artists,” said Laurie Ann Farrell, SCAD executive director of exhibitions and organizer of the exhibition who previously served as a curator at the Museum of African Art in New York. “Our hope is that it will inspire the SCAD community of artists and designers, the Savannah community, and audiences from around the world to consider significant philosophical and ethical questions from entirely new and varied perspectives.”

Following the SCAD Museum of Art, the exhibition will travel to the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C

Njami is an independent curator, lecturer, art critic and essayist. He is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the cultural magazine Revue Noire. Previously, Njami was the artistic director of the Bamako photography biennial from 2000 to 2010, co-curator of the first African pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007 and artistic director of the Luanda and Douala triennials and the Lubumbashi biennial. He has curated numerous exhibitions, including Africa Remix (an international touring exhibition 2004-2007), A Collective Diary (2010), A Useful Dream (2010) and the Johannesburg Art Fair (2008). Njami is author of two biographies (James Baldwin, 1991 and Léopld Sédar Senghor, 2007) and has contributed essays for the catalogues for the Sydney Biennale, Documenta and others. The Divine Comedy is Njami’s third collaboration with SCAD. He previously curated Le Miroir (The Mirror) in 2012, an exhibition of Mohamed Bourissa’s work, which was on view at the SCAD Museum of Art as well as SCAD galleries in Atlanta, Lacoste and Hong Kong. He also served as the keynote speaker at the university’s 2010 Art History Symposium: Africa on My Mind. 

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