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, I Am Free” (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 Calao” (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)

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Contemporary Art Conversations: “In the Heart of the Lights,” by curator Simon Njami

Wir-Sind-Alle-Berliner-1884-2014-LogoCurator, writer and art critic Simon Njami will be giving a keynote lecture on 17th February 2015 to launch a series of events at the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry to accompany his current exhibition WIR SIND ALLE BERLINER: 1884-2014 – A Commemoration of the Berlin Congo Conference (on display at SAVVY Contemporary  in Berlin until 28th February 2015).

Image: © Solveig Maria Ebbinghaus. Source: http://blog.artconnectberlin.com/2013/08/20/spotlight-on-savvy-contemporary/
Image: © Solveig Maria Ebbinghaus. Source: http://blog.artconnectberlin.com/2013/08/20/spotlight-on-savvy-contemporary/

The content of the exhibition and the focus of its associated programme of talks, workshops, concerts and film screenings features reflections on 130 years since the (so called) “Scramble for Africa” Berlin Conference took place in 1884. The contributing artists and academics seek to facilitate a conversation that provokes audiences to consider the many complex  ideological, economic, political, geographical and socio-cultural repercussions of this historical event through their various aesthetic responses.

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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/

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Reflections on the legacies of ‘Statues Also Die’ (Présence Africaine, 1953) re. the museums sector in France today

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Earlier this year an article by Tom Devriendt was posted to the online discussion forum Africa is a Country’ to commemorate the life and work of French filmmaker Alain Resnais (1922-2014), who passed away on 1st March  (Devriendt, 2014). The central focus of this piece was to celebrate the achievements of Resnais and his co-director Chris Marker (1921-2012) in creating a ground-breaking film from the early 1950s about  African art and French racism, Statues Also Die [Les statues meurent aussi] (Resnais and Marker, 1953) – commissioned and produced by the Parisian-based publishing house Présence Africaine. What is interesting about the film is the way it features a complex mixture of commentary on French museum practices from the 1950s, the history of French colonialism in Africa, and the public’s changing attitudes in the mid-20th century towards African art – referred to throughout the documentary as ‘black art’.

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Continue reading Reflections on the legacies of ‘Statues Also Die’ (Présence Africaine, 1953) re. the museums sector in France today