Afriques Capitales/Capital Africas: A Barthesian multiplicity of cities presented at La Villette in Paris

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An exterior view of the venue for Episode 1 of “Afriques Capitales/Capital Africas,” exhibited at the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris, 23 March – 28 May 2017. Photo: Carol Dixon.

The curatorial challenge Simon Njami set for himself when conceptualizing the exhibition “Afriques Capitales“[“Capital Africas”] was to provide a discursive, dialogical space where contemporary visual artists from continental Africa and the wider global African diaspora(s) could come together to “invent the city of all cities: a city that belongs to no one but in which everyone can find their own personal bearings” (Njami, 2017: 19).

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“The Minaret” (2012) by Egyptian artist and arts activist Moataz Nasr. This illuminated sculptural installation was displayed on the ground floor of the Grande Halle de la Villette as part of the exhibition “Afriques Capitales” (2017). Photo: Carol Dixon.

The results of this creative, cross-cultural and pluralist dialogue manifested in the form of  a large-scale, international group show of contemporary visual art presented in two episodes (or “chapters”) across expansive exhibition spaces in Paris and Lille:

  1. The first phase (or “Chapter 1”) comprised more than 100 works by 50 artists at the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris – sub-themed “Afriques Capitales, Métropolis: C’est beau une ville la nuit” and  “Intermezzo: un projet stéréophonique, ” 23 March – 28 May 2017 (discussed in further detail, below).
  2. The second episode (or “Chapter 2”) – titled, “Afriques Capitales: Vers le Cap de Bonne-Espérance” / “Capital Africas: From Lille to the Cape of Good Hope” – displayed work by a further 20 artists, combined with additional works by 12 of the same participants from the Paris strand of the exhibition, presented at the Gare Saint Sauveur in Lille (discussed and illustrated online at: http://www.lille3000.eu/gare-saint-sauveur/2017/), 6 April – 3 September 2017.
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Detail from the vivid red wall hanging “Alep” (2016) by Malian textile sculptor and painter Abdoulaye Konaté, displayed at La Villette as part of the exhibition “Afriques Capitales” (2017).

“Referring to Raymond Queneau’s 100,000 billion poems, Roland Barthes reminds us of that essential truth: there is never one city, but always several cities in one – a multiplicity of possible combinations.

[“Roland Barthes, en évoquant les 100 000 milliards de poèmes de Raymond Queneau, nous rappelle cette vérité essentielle: il n’y a jamais une ville, mais des villes.”]

Simon Njami, curator of the exhibition “Afriques Capitales / Capital Africas” (Grande Halle de la Villette, Paris, 2017)

Continue reading Afriques Capitales/Capital Africas: A Barthesian multiplicity of cities presented at La Villette in Paris

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Creating African Fashion Histories – Conference at The Old Courtroom, Brighton, UK (November 2016)

Fashion Cities Africa (2016), edited by Hannah Pool – featuring information about Nairobi, Casablanca, Lagos and Johannesburg.
Fashion Cities Africa (2016), edited by Hannah Pool – featuring information about Nairobi, Casablanca, Lagos and Johannesburg.

On Wednesday 2 November 2016 Brighton Museum and Art Gallery will be hosting a one-day conference – “Creating African Fashion Histories” – in partnership with the Royal Pavilion and Museums, Sussex Africa Centre, the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton.

Coinciding with the first major UK exhibition dedicated to contemporary African fashion – “Fashion Cities Africa” curated by Helen Mears, Martin Pel and Harriet Hughes (on display at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery until 8 January 2017) – this conference will explore the possibilities and limitations of dress and fashion history within the wider context of current and past narratives about African fashion.

Brighton and Hove, Art Gallery, Museum, fashion Cities Africa, exhibition, Brighton, 2016
Brighton and Hove, Art Gallery, Museum, Fashion Cities Africa, exhibition, Brighton, 2016

Presentations and panel discussions will focus on the construction of African fashion histories; the transmission and translation of African fashion identities; new directions in collecting and curating African fashion and the evolution of new platforms for the dissemination of African fashion.

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Exhibition view of “Fashion Cities Africa” at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. Image © Judith Ricketts

Confirmed speakers include: Victoria Rovine (author, African Fashion, Global Style), Carol Tulloch (author, The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora), Christopher Richards (curator, Kabas and Couture: Contemporary Ghanaian Fashion), Erica de Greef, Angela Jansen (author, Moroccan Fashion, Design, Culture and Tradition), Heather Akou (author, The Politics of Dress in Somali Culture), Jody Benjamin, Hannah Pool (author, Fashion Cities Africa, curator, Africa Utopia) Helen Jennings (author, New African Fashion) and others. Continue reading Creating African Fashion Histories – Conference at The Old Courtroom, Brighton, UK (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)

Switch House at Tate Modern: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Tate Modern's new building, Switch House, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron.
Tate Modern’s new building, Switch House, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron. Photo: Carol Dixon (15 June 2016)

It was worth braving the crowds to view the new Switch House extension at Tate Modern on Bankside during its launch week (14-19 June 2016) and explore several new floors of contemporary art from Tate’s permanent collection, as well as selected pieces on temporary display in the featured Artists’ Rooms and themed galleries.

For this inaugural summer season the Switch House displays presented on Levels 2 to 4 of the new 10-storey twisted pyramid-shaped building were designed to tell the story of “how art became active from the 1960s” through to the present day.

A spider sculpture by the French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
A spider sculpture by the French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)

The light, spacious and angular galleries featured a combination of assemblages devoted to the work of individual artists – such as Louise Bourgeois, displayed in the east wing of Level 4 – as well as thematic, narrative-led presentations documenting how contemporary artists have represented their perspectives on modern life through different genres and forms of visual art: from contemporary paintings and sculptures, through to more experimental audio-visual presentations, mixed-media installations and performance works.

Exhibition view of the themed gallery “Between Object and Architecture” at Tate Modern’s Switch House.

Continue reading Switch House at Tate Modern: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

RC21 International Conference: ‘The Ideal City: between myth and reality. Representations, policies, contradictions and challenges for tomorrow’s urban life’ (27-29 August 2015 – Urbino, Italy)

The RC21 Conference 2015 (The Ideal City: between myth and reality…’) will be hosted by the School of Social and Political Sciences – Department of Economics, Society, and Politics at the University of Urbino Carlo Bo, Italy.

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It has been organised to enable sociologists, geographers, urbanists, town planners, artists and other creative professionals to consider the complexities of interactions between utopian imaginings of “cities on paper” and the lived realities of everyday city life.

“By questioning utopian and ideal visions of the city – as represented in policies and public discourses – it aims at putting them in perspective considering actual agency and current structural changes. How does socio‐economic change – neoliberalization? – affect cities and their ideal “diverse” visions? How do poverty and inequalities challenge ideal views of a just city? How are ideal cities contrasting real cities affected by segregation and social exclusion practices? Do different ideals coexist? Does the crisis affect our urban projects? In which direction? Who wins who loses? How do visions and ideals differ across the globe and how are they questioned by increasingly similar challenges?”
(Source: http://www.rc21.org/en/conferences/urbino2015/).

One of the central themes (or “streams”) of the conference is “Images of the City,” and a call for abstracts has recently been issued to attract contributions for the session titled: “Investigating urban image making: actors, processes and tactics.”

The deadline date for the submission of abstracts is 31st January 2015, and authors of accepted abstracts are invited to send their completed papers by 15th June 2015 to: papers@rc21.org.

An extract of the call for papers drafted by the session organisers David Chapin (CUNY Graduate Center, USA), Scott Lizama (CUNY Graduate Center, USA), and Lidia K.C. Manzo (Politecnico di Milano, Italy) is quoted below:

Continue reading RC21 International Conference: ‘The Ideal City: between myth and reality. Representations, policies, contradictions and challenges for tomorrow’s urban life’ (27-29 August 2015 – Urbino, Italy)