Sunday 1 April 2018

African Artists, Diversity And New Contemporary Statements Headline Art Dubai 2018

Inside Gallery 1957's Booth B4, at Art Dubai 2018
AS art fairs are growing across the world and becoming the 21st Century’s new opium in culture economy, artists of African descents seem to be keeping pace as well. They are increasingly taking the opportunity of the level-playing field that art fairs bring around the world.
  At one of the most global of such art fairs, Art Dubai 2018, new visual culture statements were made by African artists at the Contemporary Gaĺleries Section. Victor Ehikhamenor, Ade Adesina, Victor Ekpuk, Modupeola Fadugba (Nigeria), Zahra Opoku (Ghana), and Wosene Worke Kosrof and Girma Bert (Ethiopia) all showed their works at the Contemporary section. Lisbon, Portugal-based Perve Gallery, made its fourth appearance to the fair with two Mozambican artists at the Modern Galleries Section.

There were ten African artists and two galleries from sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, there was no need for a magnifying lens to notice the presence of art from sub-Saharan Africa during Art Dubai 2018, held at a vast beach-side resort and traditional venue, Madinat Jumeirah. Sponsored by Julius Baer, Meraas and Piaget, Art Dubai 2018 featured a record 104 galleries.

And as the event’s contemporary space blurred geographical, colour and regional lines, the complexity of defining art by an artist’s skin colour or continent of origin was louder in a gathering of 47 countries from across the world. To break such complexity, it was safer to say ‘art from Africa’, for example, rather than ‘African art’ in describing most of the works on display by artists from the Sub-Saharan region.
Young Nigerian artist, Fadugba (b. 1985), whose work made its first major international appearance, was the face of the African continent at Art Dubai 2018. Represented at the fair by Accra,Ghana-based Gallery 1957, Fadugba’s works, interestingly, are typical examples of art from Africa, rather than ‘African art.’ Rendered in crowded swimming suit ladies, her paintings attracted quite a regular flow of visitors to the booth. The coffee-inspired paintings that dwell on the artist’s personal narratives also attracted some red tags, with impressive speed, too.

 “About half of the works have been sold already,” director of Gallery 1957, Victoria Cooke, disclosed at noon of the opening day. “Prospects,” she added, had been expressed for the remaining four pieces. It was hard for any visitors to Art Dubai 2018 not to notice Fadugba’s works within and outside the exhibition spaces. A major culture magazine in the Middle East, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, used Fadugba’s work as cover of its ‘Art’ Issue 30. Interestingly, two covers of the edition had the artist’s works!

  In curatorial context, an all black background of Booth B4, creatively embosses the coffee and gold tone paintings of Fadugba inside the head-turning booth.
  Late last year, Fadugba had her first solo art exhibition under SMO Contemporary, a Lagos-based art space founded by Sandra Mbanefo Obiago. In 2014, the artist who claims to be “self-taught” announced her entry into Lagos art hub, when she picked ‘Outstanding Concept’ prize for her game house-like sculpture titled ‘The People’s Algorithm and the Butterfly Effect’ at Nigeria’s National Art Competition organised by African Artists Foundation (AAF).
  Whatever Art Dubai 2018 meant to the participating artists and galleries - in instant sales and prospects - Fadugba’s works, and those of others among the exhibitors, seemed to have achieved much.
  About three booths further, were Adesina’s monochrome lino-cut pieces that capture typical Middle East skyline of architecture. Though the works depict “scenery of Yemeni” streetscapes, with minarets, facades, columns and other architectural contents, they could as well pass for traditional skyline of any city in the Middle East. Adesina, who grew up in cosmopolitan Nigerian cities before moving to Aberdeen, Scotland, is another example of an African artist that showed works from Africa and not ‘African art.’ The monochrome pieces are so detailed such that tones, shades and light as well as great depth, all coalesce to radiate masterpieces in urban architecture art.

  At the extreme end of the hall were Addis Fine Art from Ethiopia; it showed artists from the country’s two generations and periods. Kosrof (b.1950) revisits his native ‘fiedel’ with signs, motifs and symbols in monochrome large size painting. Truly contemporary African art, the energy displayed in the painting loosely hovers over abstraction and representation. Berta (b.1990), who has been described as “an award winning young artist” in Ethiopia, brings a mix of photography and processed imageries in small sizes.
  Inside Gallery 2 of the Contemporary section, relief sculptures and embossed paintings by Ekpuk, shown under London, U.K-based Tafeta Gallery also attracted appreciation in terms of sales and prospects. “Four of the sculptures, which are in editions, were sold,” director at the gallery, Ayo Tafeta, disclosed on day-2 of the opening.

One of the booths at the Art Dubai Contemporary 2018
A debutant, ‘Residents’ of Art Dubai, which showed nine artists inside converted underground car parking lot, seemed not so visible to quite many of the sea of visitors, so suggested the low traffic flow into the new space. 
However, buried inside the space were rich displays of art from nearly every region of the world.  Ehikhamenor, whose works were among three Nigerian representatives at the last Venice Biennale, showed a sculpture and paintings during the Art Dubai Residents. A roof-to-floor masquerade that the artist called ‘Eliminighanlan’ stood hugely in the foreground of his paintings inside London, U.K-based Tyburn Gallery booth.

Quite in the built of Yoruba’s Iguniko masquerade, the colourful sculpture, Ehikhamenor explained, “contemporarises” the theme by “using materials found in Dubai to reflect my identity.”
  Mounted against the backdrop of seven large size paintings, ‘Eliminighanlan’ reflects the artist’s trajectory of designs and symbols in which he articulates his native Edo content over the years. In a curatorial content separated by his past identity and recent works, again the artist’s proficiency in signs and motifs radiate resplendence in cross-culture narratives.

  Germany-based Opoku, represented by U.S.-based Marianne Ibrahim Gallery inside the ‘Residents’, renders the beauty and complexity of faith-coded fashion. Veiled conservative Muslim women across her home country, Ghana and the UAE take comparative visual analyses in her monochrome figural portrait paintings.

Okpoku noted, “Apart from immigrants in UAE, the Emirati women are not exactly conservatives.” Faith-coded dressing for women has become subject of needless controversy in some countries where intolerance hide under ‘freedom for women.’ How is Ghana handling such issue? “Muslims women in Ghana integrate easily,” Opoku stated. “Even girls are allowed to cover their heads in Ghana’s public institutions.” 

Searching for museum content art that perhaps define geographical or colour identity, Art Dubai Modern 2018 had such rich collection. Yes, it was another opportunity to feel some museum-textured art from across the world. In the paintings of Mozambican modernist, Ernesto Shikani (1934-2010), inside Perve Gallery comes a set of abstracts and stylised representation in figural. But he is bolder in ‘Untitled,’ a mixed media on palex, which revisits pre-1972 war depicting restlessness in Angola. 

  Also, Reinata Sadimba, with figurines in ceramic and graphite, showed modern art at its rich depth. Deeper into Angolan-Portuguese modernism is Cruzeiro Seixas (b. 1920), who worked in Angola for 12 years in the 1950s. The paintings are about his issues with the colonial authority and how that led to his eviction back to Portugal.

 Shortly before the tour of the galleries, fair director, Myrna Ayad told a packed hall of journalists how the “enormous” efforts put into the 2018 Art Dubai “reflect multicultraism, as the world’s globally diverse art fair.”
Wild Awake 2016, linocut Edition of 30, 110 x 160 cm, 431⁄4 x 63 ins
In her second year as director of the fair, Ayad, who had covered nearly every edition of Art Dubai as a writer, boasted: “It is here that new initiatives are made.” For example, she insisted that “the Art Dubai Modern is the only one with museum quality art” among art fairs anywhere in the world.

  The Artistic Director atf Art Dubai, Pablo Del Val, highlighted the debutant Residents’ values and also proudly argued that the new addition made Art Dubai different from other art fairs. “There are many art fairs, but we try to be different.”

Art Dubai 2018 had 77 galleries returned from previous editions while 27 were the first-time exhibitors from around the world.
  In 10 years of partnership between Art Dubai and The Abraaj Group, a pool of collection has appeared via another new entrant, Art Jameel. Works that have won Abraaj Art Prizes, according to the partners, will go to Art Jameel collection. The Abraaj Group Art Prize will henceforth have shortlisted and winning works from the prize’s first 10 years be given on long term loan to Art Jameel, to be exhibited at the Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai. The collection covers works from across the first 10 years of Abraaj Group Art Prize — 30 winning pieces and works by 44 artists, including this year’s winning piece by Lawrence Abu Hamadan. Also, the Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, will officially open on November 11, 2018.

  The announcement came after a major anticipation that U.K.-based Delfina Foundation and Art Jameel were entering a significant new partnership. Last year, Art Jameel’s director, Anthonia Carved, announced the arrival of the new project. With arts centres in Dubai and Saudi as well as the yearly V&A Museum Jameel Prize, Art Jameel’s programmes range from heritage preservation and traditional arts institutes through to contemporary."

- Tajudeen Sowole (was in Dubai, UAE).

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