THE BERLIN CONFERENCE: How art deals with the carving of a continent (Exhibition Review: December 2014)

The following article by art critic Elsa Guily (published online by Contemporary And (C&) magazine) reviews the exhibition ‘Wir sind alle Berliner: 1884-2014’ curated by Simon Njami (and displayed at SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin, 15 November 2014 – 11 January 2015).

Within this exhibition, the 12 featured artists –  Kader Attia, Theo Eshetu, Satch Hoyt, Cyrill Lachauer, Henrike Naumann, Katarina Zdjelar, Bili Bidjocka, Thabiso Sekgala, Sammy Baloji, Filipa César, Mansour Ciss, and Nadia Kaabi-Linke –  each present contemporary reflections on the historical, social-economic, geo-political and cultural impacts of the colonial ‘scramble for Africa’ Berlin Conference of 1884.

Laboratoire de Déberlinisation, installation by Mansour Ciss © Photo Chiara Cartuccia, 2014 (Source: http://www.contemporaryand.com/)
Laboratoire de Déberlinisation, installation by Mansour Ciss © Photo Chiara Cartuccia, 2014 (Source: http://www.contemporaryand.com/)

One of the images featured in the review piece (shown above) is a photograph of the installation ‘Laboratoire de Déberlinisation’ created by the Berlin-based Senegalese artist Mansour Ciss.This conceptual artwork was first developed by Ciss in 2001 and has been described by the artist as a project for encouraging trans-national ‘North-South’ and ‘Eurafrican’ dialogues about the politics of globalisation in the post-colonial era, and also as a symbolic representation of the intersectional space where “the idealism of art meets the realities of geopolitics and economics.”

Link to the full text of the exhibition review: http://www.contemporaryand.com/blog/magazines/how-artists-reflect-on-the-berlin-conference/

Continue reading THE BERLIN CONFERENCE: How art deals with the carving of a continent (Exhibition Review: December 2014)

“Collectif CONTRE-Exhibit B”: The campaign against Brett Bailey’s ‘Human Zoo’ installation gains pace in Paris…

Carol Dixon at the Place du Trocadéro, overlooking the Eiffel Tower - 15 November 2015
Carol Dixon at the Place du Trocadéro, overlooking the Eiffel Tower – 15 November 2015

How timely to be currently on a research trip in Paris just as the campaign against the presentation of Brett Bailey’s ‘Exhibit B’ (Human Zoo) installation is taking shape and gaining momentum in the French capital.

Over the past few days I have been inspired by the passion and commitment of the Parisian campaign organisers “Collectif CONTRE-Exhibit B” – a recently established collective of writers, artists and political activists who are working tirelessly to spread the word about the problematic content of Brett Bailey’s live performance project so that prospective audiences will not attend… and also to alert the wider public in France about the inappropriate, inaccurate,  insensitive and offensive content in this (so called) theatre arts piece (NB: Please see my earlier blog posts for a description about the content of ‘Exhibit B’ here).

A photograph showing one of the controversial tableau vivant (live performance scenes) in South African artist Brett Bailey's installation - 'Exhibit B: Third World Bunfight'. Source:  The Mail Online - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
A photograph showing one of the controversial tableau vivant (live performance scenes) in South African artist Brett Bailey’s installation – ‘Exhibit B: Third World Bunfight’. Source: The Mail Online – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
The internationally renowned Guadeloupean-born French novelist Maryse Condé has added her powerful voice to the campaign against 'Exhibit B' in Paris. Image source: http://www.africansuccess.org/
The internationally renowned Guadeloupean-born French novelist Maryse Condé has added her powerful voice to the campaign against ‘Exhibit B’ in Paris. Image source: http://www.africansuccess.org/

Many high-profile academics, cultural commentators, writers and performance artists – including the celebrated French-language novelist (of Guadeloupean heritage) Maryse Condé, the political scientist Professor Françoise Vergès, and the French songwriter and recording artist Bams – have added their names and voices to the ‘anti-Exhibit B’ campaign, and are helping to communicate a strong and unified perspective about how dangerous it is for an ill-informed theatre director like Brett Bailey to pursue a project dealing with the physical violence, psychological traumas and painful legacies of past 19th century colonial racisms by falsely depicting African people as silent and passive participants in this historical narrative.
Continue reading “Collectif CONTRE-Exhibit B”: The campaign against Brett Bailey’s ‘Human Zoo’ installation gains pace in Paris…

Africa’s contemporary art change-makers – Who would feature at the top of your list?

A recent series of articles posted to the AADAT (African & Afro-Diasporan Art Talks) website features a selection of visual artists described as “14 Contemporary Artists Who Are Challenging the Definition of African Art.”

The listing was compiled by art historian Martina Dodd and (at the time of writing this blog) features the following 8 out of 14 leading lights  ( with the remaining 6 artists due to be published in the concluding section of the series later in the year):

Artwork from the series 'Tati. Self-Portraits' (1997) by Samuel Fosso, used as the title image for the Africa Remix (2004) exhibition catalogue (Hayward Gallery, London).
‘The Chief (the one who sold Africa to the colonists),’ from the series ‘Tati. Self-Portraits’ (1997) by Samuel Fosso. This artwork was the title image for the Africa Remix exhibition catalogue (Hayward Gallery, London, 2005).
  • Rotimi Fani-Kayode (Nigeria)
  • Samuel Fosso (Cameroon)
  • Ousmane Sow (Senegal)
  • Sokari Douglas Camp (Nigeria)
  • Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) (Nigeria)
  • Romuald Hazoumé (Benin)
  • Hassan Musa (Sudan)
  • Ouattara Watts (Cote D’Ivoire/Ivory Coast)

Although not arranged into any particular hierarchy or rank order, the featured selection are nevertheless the product of the author’s own subjective musings about who should be considered as global change-makers and innovators within the context of contemporary African arts, and the list was deliberately not compiled according to a pre-determined set of aesthetic selection criteria against which prospective entrants might be assessed, compared and contrasted.
Continue reading Africa’s contemporary art change-makers – Who would feature at the top of your list?

Debates about “The War on Black Bodies” (Part 3) – some concluding thoughts on the arts in London

Anti-racism campaigners outside the Vaults show their opposition to 'Exhibit B'. 23 September 2014
Anti-racism campaigners show their opposition to ‘Exhibit B’ outside the Vaults in central London. 23 September 2014.

Following an extremely hard-fought and impassioned anti-racism campaign led by journalist and rights activist Sara Myers, the senior management team of the Barbican arts centre issued a formal statement on Tuesday 23rd September to confirm their cancellation of the controversial installation ‘Exhibit B – Third World Bunfight’ by South African ‘artist’ Brett Bailey, which was scheduled for display at the Vaults in central London from 23rd-27th September 2014.

A section of the Barbican’s statement read as follows:

“We respect people’s right to protest but are disappointed that this was not done in a peaceful way as had been previously promised by campaigners …We believe this piece should be shown in London and are disturbed at the potential implications this silencing of artists and performers has for freedom of expression.”

(Source: http://www.barbican.org.uk/ – News Release, dated 23 September 2014).

Exhibit-B-Photo
Controversial tableau vivant from ‘Exhibit B’ (The Human Zoo)

Despite closing down the event, the Barbican have continued to reiterate that they consider ‘Exhibit B’ to be an important piece of anti-racist performance art which “critiques the ‘human zoos’ and ethnographic displays that showed Africans as objects of scientific curiosity through the 19th and early 20th centuries.” However, the nature of the live performance tableaux featured in this work – which present male and female actors of African descent shackled, enchained and imprisoned in cages with labels stating, “The blacks have been fed” – has led thousands of people (myself included) to question whether this (so called) performance art piece merely reinforces the barbarity and inhumanity of past colonial exhibiting practices in ‘Human Zoos’ without actually doing anything to challenge them, and (more importantly still) fails to achieve any anti-racist outcomes that have the potential to make life better for the communities of people still living with the impacts and legacies of that violent and traumatic history.

Continue reading Debates about “The War on Black Bodies” (Part 3) – some concluding thoughts on the arts in London

Debates about the “The War on Black Bodies,” situated in contrasting cultural spaces in New York and London

“How can we transform the ways in which identity is conceived so that identities do not emerge and function only through the oppression and subordination of other social identities?”
– Elizabeth Grosz (2011). Source: Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (Grosz, 2011: 89)

“The War on Black Bodies” (Part 1) – the debate in New York

Schomburg-Debate-War-On-Black-Bodies
Schomburg debate – American Policing: The War on Black Bodies. Left to right: Khalil Muhammad, Claudia De La Cruz, Joel Diaz, Darnell Moore and Jelani Cobb. Source: http://new.livestream.com/schomburgcenter/events/3357875.

On the 9th September 2014 I went online to view the live stream of a panel discussion and Q&A about racialized policing in the USA – titled, “The War on Black Bodies,” held at the Schomburg (Center for Research in Black Culture) in Harlem, New York (see: American Policing: The War on Black Bodies)* The ‘Town-Hall-style’ forum was moderated by the Schomburg’s Education Associate, Joel Diaz, and featured contributions from Khalil Muhammad (Schomburg Center Director), historian and journalist Jelani Cobb, rights activist Claudia De La Cruz (Founder of Da Urban Butterflies) and activist Darnell Moore (organiser of the Black Lives Matter campaign).

Continue reading Debates about the “The War on Black Bodies,” situated in contrasting cultural spaces in New York and London