Circa 1970, and beyond, at the Studio Museum in Harlem (New York)

One of the places designated as a ‘must see!’ during my recent trip to the United States was the Studio Museum in Harlem: a site first established in the iconic New York district  in 1968 as a space for ‘artists of colour’ from the USA, the global African diasporas and Latinx heritage communities to (in the words of the current Creative Director and Chief Curator, Thelma Golden)  “share their gifts of provocation and insight.”

At the time of my visit in mid-February 2017 the Studio Museum’s main galleries featured the following four temporary displays and exhibits, arranged on three levels:

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Exhibition view at the entrance to ‘Circa 1970’ at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Photo: Carol Dixon (17 February 2017)

(1) Circa 1970 (November 17, 2016 to March 5, 2017) – a wide-ranging display of paintings, photographs and sculptures from the Studio Museum’s permanent collections illustrating the changing expression of African-American and wider African diasporan consciousness and socio-political activism by established and emerging artists during  the years 1970 to 1979. As this period represents significant transitions in black and brown American lived experiences and agency following the civil rights era in the USA, the scope and subject-matter of the artworks was highly reflective of an increasing sense of confidence and assertiveness that came through in sublime portraiture and figurative work by artists such as Beauford Delaney and Romare Bearden, but was equally also revealed in more overtly political works about the history of the Black Panthers, the rise of Black feminism/womanism, and the art-political activism of AfriCOBRA (Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists). This radical history was depicted in works by a diverse selection of artists: from Elizabeth Catlett-Mora (1915-2012)  and Norman Lewis (1909-1979), whose portfolios commenced during the Harlem Renaissance and concluded in the 1970s; through to former Studio Museum ‘artist-in-residence’ LeRoy Clarke (b. 1938, originally from Trinidad and Tobago), and Chicago-born feminist artist Senga Nengudi (b. 1943) – two avant-gardists who both initiated their most innovative work in the latter years of that pivotal decade.

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Portrait of a Musician (1970) by Beauford Delaney (b. 1901-1979). Acrylic on canvas. Photo: Carol Dixon (February 2017)

(2) The Window and the Breaking of the Window (November 17, 2016 to March 5, 2017) – an exhibition of hard-hitting typographic paintings, street photography and photo-portraiture documenting the history of public protests within African-American communities. The texts and images presented in the gallery reflected decades of documentation about how black communities in the USA, and African diasporans in the wider West, have risen up and spoken out with a strong collective voice against long-standing racialised injustices, acts of discrimination and cycles of violence meted out by police and other public officials whose unjust and biased policies and practices have blighted black lives throughout the African diaspora(s) for generations. Acts of protest and statements of resistance and resilience presented in works by (among others) Chris Ofili, Deborah Grant, Rudy Shepherd and Kerry James Marshall were some of the most powerful and provocative pieces in this bold, forthright and affirming display. Continue reading Circa 1970, and beyond, at the Studio Museum in Harlem (New York)

Zak Ové’s Triumph at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London (2016)

The 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair presented its fourth consecutive edition at Somerset House in London (6-9 October 2016) – organised by the Fair’s founding director, Moroccan-born entrepreneur and art enthusiast Touria El Glaoui.

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“Blood Type” by Lizette Chirimme (from South Africa), displayed as part of Nando’s Art Collection at the 1:54 Art Fair in London. Photo: Carol Dixon
Coffee being served to visitors viewing Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo's Bandjoun Station display at the 1:54 Art Fair. Photo: Carol Dixon
Coffee being served to visitors viewing Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo’s Bandjoun Station display at the 1:54 Art Fair. Photo: Carol Dixon

Expanding in size and scale by an increase of 40% since its inaugural edition in 2013, this year’s 1:54 showcased works by more than 130 artists from continental Africa and the global African diasporas, represented by 40 of the most important gallerists, curators, agents and exhibitors promoting African-inspired artwork around the world.

My main motivation for visiting 1:54 was (primarily) to view the new art installation by British conceptual artist Zak Ové (b. 1966, London) – an innovative sculptor, photographer and installationist of Trinidadian descent, whose artworks I have admired for many years since he first came to mainstream prominence in the UK following a series of high-profile commissions via the British Museum more than a decade ago.

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Zak Ove’s installation of 40 graphite sculptural figures in the courtyard at Somerset House in London, displayed as part of the 1:54 Art Fair 2016. Photo: Carol Dixon

Walking from the Strand through the archway of Somerset House on the Saturday morning of my visit filled me with sheer delight, because his vast assemblage of 40 larger-than-life-sized graphite figural sculptures – titled, “Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness” (2016) – was instantly visible from the main road, positioned in a military-style formation like a modern-day version of the ancient Terracotta Warriors of Xian in China. The hybrid nature of the installation was the deliberate referencing of ancient and modern cultural, political and corporeal themes encompassing the vast historical and geographical scope of the African diasporas dispersed over several continents – from the fashioning of facial features reminiscent of West African (specifically Congolese) figural sculptures, through to each (male) statue positioned with raised hands in a supplicatory, non-threatening pose as if to adopt the stance of the 21st century #Black Lives Matter and #Ferguson is Everywhere anti-racism, equality and social justice movements in the USA and world-wide, articulating the plea “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!”

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Facial details of one sculpture from Zak Ove’s installation of 40 graphite figures, displayed at Somerset House in London for the 1:54 Art Fair 2016. Photo: Carol Dixon

Continue reading Zak Ové’s Triumph at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London (2016)

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)

“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)