Reflections on a “Festival for the World” and Alpha Diagne’s “Blue House” at the Southbank in London

For the past four years the Southbank Centre in London has hosted an event called “Africa Utopia.” Typically, this diverse programme of talks, marketplace activities, displays, fashion shows and other artistic happenings takes place over the course of a weekend in early autumn and is marketed as one of the Southbank’s “Festivals for the World” series.

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Carol Dixon with musician, writer and graphic designer Natalie Cooper at Africa Utopia 2016

The artistic and strategic collaborations that produce this extensive cultural programme involve a number of key players – most importantly, the event’s co-founders: the Senegalese singer and human rights advocate Baaba Maal; and the Southbank Centre’s artistic director Jude Kelly CBE  – as well as a host of commercial sponsors, media partners and arts organisations contributing to the talks, performances and market place activities.

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Carol Dixon with globally renowned Senegalese singer and human rights advocate Baaba Maal at Africa Utopia 2016

Central to the success of Africa Utopia is its ability to remain topical, informed and up-to-date about artistic and aesthetic innovations emerging from all regions of the continent, as well as from the communities of African diasporans settled all over the world. This is one of the reasons why hosting the event in the heart of an urban metropolis like London is always such an interesting mix of cultural and political fusion, shown through a variety of arts and crafts created by established and emerging designers, photographers, textile artists, creators of African inspired couture and contemporary art installationists.

For me, the highlight of Africa Utopia 2016 was the range of talks and debates – not only in relation to literary, visual and performing arts, but also in terms of how such cultural discourses intersect with the political, economic, environmental and technological concerns affecting people’s daily lives. This year’s panel sessions were programmed by Hannah Pool and curated with a focus on themes such as arts activism, social justice and inclusive practices within the cultural  and creative industries – especially in relation to TV, cinema and online broadcasting platforms.

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Audience members  listening to the debate about activism and social change at Africa Utopia 2016

Continue reading Reflections on a “Festival for the World” and Alpha Diagne’s “Blue House” at the Southbank in London

Walthamstow, Women and William Morris: Claire Twomey’s “Living Installation” in East London

I was fortunate to visit the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow (east London) this weekend to view a beautiful art installation by British ceramicist Claire Twomey before this temporary exhibition closed to the general public on 18 September 2016.

Detail from the contemporary ceramic art installation "Claire Twomey: Time Present and Time Past" (2016), nspired by the work of William Morris. Photo: Carol Dixon
Detail from the contemporary ceramic art installation “Claire Twomey: Time Present and Time Past” (2016), inspired by the work of William Morris. Photo: Carol Dixon
Photographic portrait of the artist, graphic designer, philanthropist and social justice campaigner William Morris. The original was taken in the 19th century.
Photographic portrait of the artist, graphic designer, philanthropist and social justice campaigner William Morris –  taken in 1857

The one-room installation – Claire Twomey: Time Present and Time Past (William Morris Gallery, 18 June – 18 September 2016) – was initially inspired by William Morris’s working drawing Chrysanthemum (1877) and took the form of a series of 150 ceramic tiles, each measuring 30 x 30 cm, placed on a large table covering the entire ground floor temporary exhibition gallery next to the museum’s café/restaurant

The enlargement and transformation of Morris’s 19th century floral design into a vast 21st century ceramic installation by Claire Twomey was a visual reflection of a poignant statement about temporality and the importance of tangible, inter-generational acts of cultural remembrance that William Morris wrote more than 120 years ago:

Design for Chrysanthemum (1877) by William Morris. This unfinished design is on display in Gallery 2 at the WMG (Walthamstow) and inspired Claire Twomey's 2016 installation. Photo: Carol Dixon
Design for Chrysanthemum (1877) by William Morris. This unfinished design is on display in Gallery 2 at the William Morris Gallery (Walthamstow) and inspired Claire Twomey’s 2016 installation. Photo: Carol Dixon

“The past is not dead, but is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.”
William Morris (1893) – quotation taken from the preface to “Medieval Love,” by Bartholomew Anglicus

Rather than painting all the individual tiles independently, the ingenuity of Claire Twomey’s artistic intervention was to make the new installation an entirely collaborative process – from the commissioning of digital technicians and expert tile makers from Stoke-on-Trent in the Potteries to assist with the initial digital transfer techniques onto blank white tiles, right through to extending an open invitation to local artists to volunteer as “apprentices” to help paint each individual tile periodically throughout the duration of the exhibition (over c.100 days) using a combination of regular enamel paints with muted colour tones of sage green, ochre, rusts and greys, and also over-layering thin coats of 22-carat gold enamel paint to create a subtly intricate floral mosaic with a spectacular, shimmering surface lustre. Continue reading Walthamstow, Women and William Morris: Claire Twomey’s “Living Installation” in East London

Installation Art by Otobong Nkanga (on display in Oxford, UK, until November 2016)

otobongnkanga-installation-at-portikusThe angular and multi-layered, architectural installation “Tsumeb Fragments” (2015) by Nigerian contemporary artist Otobong Nkanga is on display at Modern Art Oxford as part of the exhibition “KALEIDOSCOPE: It’s Me to the World” (20 August – 17 November 2016).

Like many works from Nkanga’s portfolio, Tsumeb Fragments addresses the themes of landscape, memory and the legacies of colonialism throughout continental Africa, utilising a diverse array of mixed-media and materials: from metal frames, paper and natural minerals, through to photographic stills and film footage.

THE HISTORICAL AND GEOGRAPHICAL CONTEXT TO “TSUMEB FRAGMENTS”

Detail from Tsumeb Fragments (2015) by Otobong Nkanga
Detail from “Tsumeb Fragments” (2015) by Otobong Nkanga featuring photographic images of Tsumeb, Namibia.

In spring 2015, Otobong Nkanga travelled to Tsumeb in Namibia to an area called The Green Hill – a site known for its precious minerals, natural crystals and copper reserves. However, throughout the late-19th and 20th centuries, when Namibia was colonised by the Germans, the entire area was exploited for these natural resources and over-mined until the landscape was almost totally depleted, left in ruins and transformed into an open-pit. At the time when Nkanga took images of Tsumeb in 2015 the site was no longer a green hill. However, some slight traces of green remained in the tiny, scattered fragments of malachite and azurite minerals – the only remains of the past to  evidence the area’s former environmental beauty and wealth. The artist’s inkjet-printed images on Galala limestone in this multi-level installation, therefore, symbolise an act of remembrance, and also a ‘re-imag(in)ing’ of times and places in the past – the palimpsest of memory.

Reflecting on her travels in Namibia, and her artistic process during the design and assemblage of Tsumeb Fragments, Nkanga said:
Continue reading Installation Art by Otobong Nkanga (on display in Oxford, UK, until November 2016)

ECAS: 7th European Conference on African Studies (Basel, 29 June-1 July 2017)

The 7th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS) will be taking place at the University of Basel (Switzerland) from 29th June to 1 July 2017. The theme for this year is “Urban Africa – Urban Africans: New encounters of the rural and the urban,” and I am aware from the preliminary call for panels that there is considerable interest in discussing and addressing issues about how current urbanization trends are impacting societies and individuals in terms of artistic, aesthetic and cultural responses, just as much as the more widely discussed dynamics and precarities of socio-economic, political and environmental change.

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Two sartorially elegant men from Congo Brazzaville involved in the lifestyle and performance of “La Sape” / “Sapeur aestheitcs.” Image source: c/o The Telegraph.

This conference is a gift for contemporary cultural geographers from continental Africa and the global African diasporas who wish to actively challenge and push back against the highly contentious and problematic pedagogies associated with so-called “African Studies” within the European academy. Indeed, the conference conveners at the University of Basel (CASB)  have stated the following in their recently issued call for papers, presentations and other contributions:

“The key issue… is how urbanization processes in Africa transform conventional objects of African Studies and how [you/me/we] gear up to face such changes … While the urban will be prominent, the proposed conference theme will also look into the entanglements of the rural with the urban, especially with a view to addressing an implicit assumption underlying the study of Africa and which concerns the supposed rural ‘nature’ of the continent as well as the constitutive nature of the tension between tradition and modernity.”

CASB conference conveners, University of Basel (Switzerland)

Continue reading ECAS: 7th European Conference on African Studies (Basel, 29 June-1 July 2017)

“Senses of Time”: an exhibition co-organized by LACMA and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (2016-17)

“Senses of Time” is a series of films and video-based contemporary artworks by six artists from the global African diasporas. In each case the contributors invite their audiences to consider the various tensions, contradictions and ambiguities that can exist between personal and political time, ritual and technological time, and corporeal and mechanical temporalities.

Un Ballo in Maschera, by Yina Shonibare MBE (RA)
A still from the film “Un Ballo in Maschera” [“Masked Ball”] – an installation by Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA). Image courtesy of Yinka Shonibare and James Cohan Gallery, New York. Source: The Washingtonian.
The following six film and video-based installations  feature as part of a new touring exhibition, organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC:

  • Sammy Baloji‘s project “Mémoire” [“Memory”] examines the themes of memory and forgetting and is set within the socio-political context of postcolonial de-industrialisation. For much of the film, a dancer (the renowned Congolese dancer-choreographer Faustin Linyekula) can be seen dancing amongst ruins. Baloji states that the 5-minute film is meant to symbolise:

“…the story of politicians and the working classes…of those in power and the work of those who are governed. It is also the story of a body that moves among the ruins of what was once the heart of the DR Congo.”
– Sammy Baloji (cited by Milbourne et. al. 2015: 78)

  • Theo Eshetu‘s film features a kaleidoscopic art installation that examines the convergence of space and time in relation to the past, present and future.
  • Moataz Nasr’s work  “The Water” focuses on identities distorted by the march of time.
  • Berni Searle‘s artistic ccontribution features ancestral family portraits being blown about in the wind as a way of representing the “slippages and fragility of time” aligned with issues of identity.
  • The film “Un Ballo in Maschera” by Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) features a lavish and ornately decorative ballroom scene with masked dancers dressed in the signature ‘Dutch-wax’ patterned fabrics that have become a major feature of his conceptual and performance-based art installations over several decades.
  • Sue Williamson‘s artwork – a 36-minute video projection, titled “There’s Something I Must Tell You ” – considers inter-generational dialogues.

Continue reading “Senses of Time”: an exhibition co-organized by LACMA and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (2016-17)