“Senses of Time” at LACMA: African artists examine the lived experience of time past, present and future

African artists use video to explore diverse temporal realities: the personal and the political, ritual and technology and the body and automation.

The exhibition, on display until 2 January 2017, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), reflects on time through the lenses of history, ancestry and space as understood by five of the African continent’s leading contemporary artists.

Moataz Nasr 1

Moataz Nasr, ‘The Water’, 2002, single channel video projection. Image courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy.

“Senses of Time: Video and Film Based Works of Africa”, launched on 20 December 2015, is an exhibition developed jointly by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. The exhibition focuses exclusively on film from Africa and seeks to engage the viewer in a diversity of perspectives on time.

Time is indeed an intangible; it moves of its own volition. Humans attempt to manipulate it or fill it with endless activity but in the end, it comes and goes and that is the only certainty. As the exhibition didactic so eloquently states,

Our hearts beat to the rhythms of biological time and continents drift in geological time, while we set our watches to the precision of Naval time. Time may be easy to measure, but it is challenging to understand.

Art Radar profiles the five African artists featured in the exhibition.

Berni Seale, 'About to Forget', 2005, 3-channel video projection, shot on 35mmCinemaScope film transferred to flash cards. Image courtesy of the artist.

Berni Searle, ‘About to Forget’, 2005, three-channel video projection, shot on 35mm CinemaScope film transferred to flash cards. Image courtesy the artist.

1. Berni Searle

Berni Searle (b. 1964, Cape Town) works in photography, video and film to produce installations and narratives connected to memory, place and history. She is often a character in her films and draws on universal human sentiments to perform experiences of dislocation and loss. At the core of her performances are issues of identity, namely the interplay between her personal and collective identities.

In this exhibition, Searle features her 2003 single channel video projection work A Matter of Time in which she portrays a jarring commentary on time and identity, literally and figuratively depicted as she walks across a glass surface covered in olive oil – an homage to the diversity of her heritage and her olive toned skin. As Searle attempts to move forward across the slippery surface, with every advance, she falls back again.

Theo Eshetu, 'Brave New World II', 1999, multimedia and video installation. Image courtesy of the artist and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, museum purchase 2008-7-1.

Theo Eshetu, ‘Brave New World II’, 1999, multimedia and video installation. Image courtesy of the artist and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, museum purchase 2008-7-1.

2. Theo Eshetu

Theo Eshetu (b. 1958, London) was raised in Addis Ababa, Dakar, Belgrade and Rome. He received his artistic training in London, where he launched a career photographing rock stars in the 1970s and collaborated with artists before transitioning into a video practice. His interest lies in cultures, namely African cultures, as well as explorations of perception and the sacred through electric, time-based media.

Theo Eshetu, 'Brave New World II', 1999, multimedia and video installation. Image courtesy of the artist and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, museum purchase 2008-7-1.

Theo Eshetu, ‘Brave New World II’, 1999, multimedia and video installation. Image courtesy of the artist and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, museum purchase 2008-7-1.

Brave New World II (1999), named after Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel, questions the linkages between ritual and technological time through a kaleidoscopic illusion that blurs the borders between past, present and future. The component parts of this illusion include the World Trade Center Twin Towers before 9/11, Balinese dancers, traditional Ethiopian Orthodox Epiphany celebration, airplanes and baseball games, which are played on repeat and reversed until they meld into one another.

Sammy Baloji, 'Mémoire', 2006, Single-channel video projection. Image courtesy of the artist and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, museum purchase, 2012-6-1.

Sammy Baloji, ‘Mémoire’, 2006, single channel video projection. Image courtesy the artist and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, museum purchase, 2012-6-1.

3. Sammy Baloji

Sammy Baloji (b. 1978, Lubumbashi) divides his time between Brussels and Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo where his practice includes both video and photographic work. He situates images past and present, pitting one against the other to tease out historical and cultural tensions. Pairing the Congolese past with present day scenes constituted pointed investigations into the human body and architecture as the ephemera of his country’s social history, sites of memory and testaments to the enduring alienation of political power.

In his 2006 work Mémoire, dancer/choregographer Faustin Linyekula performs against the backdrop of abandoned copper mines in Katanga Province, a symbol of the empty promises issued by the DRC’s past and present. Within the context of the  deindustrialised mines of the now postcolonial Katanga Provinc, the living, moving body of the dancer serves as a reminder that time does not stop but that the living are always in constant negotiation and confrontation with the past.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, 'Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball)', 2004, High-definition digital video. Image courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery

Yinka Shonibare MBE, ‘Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball)’, 2004, high-definition digital video. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery.

4. Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare MBE (b. 1962, London) is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice includes sculpture, photography, installation, painting and film. As his biography states,

Shonibare has become well known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation. Shonibare’s work explores these issues, alongside those of race and class, through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and, more recently, film and performance. Using this wide range of media, Shonibare examines in particular the construction of identity and tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe and their respective economic and political histories.

Yinka Shonibare MBE, 'Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball)', 2004, High-definition digital video. Image courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery

Yinka Shonibare MBE, ‘Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball)’, 2004, high-definition digital video. Image courtesy the artist and James Cohan Gallery

The work presented in this exhibition, Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) (2004), draws from Giuseppe Verdi’s 1859 opera about Swedish King Gustav III, who was killed at a masquerade ball. Shonibare’s rendition serves as a commentary on the absurdity of political violence and as an admonition of the rapidity at which history incessantly repeats itself.

The characters are masked and dressed in vestments made of the ever popular Dutch wax print, which is ironically considered traditionally African. The king of the film, like King Gustav, is killed but revives several times over as the film is on a loop, thus reinforcing the notion of the circularity of history.

Moataz Nasr, 'The Water', 2002, Single-channel video projection. Image courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy.

Moataz Nasr, ‘The Water’, 2002, single channel video projection. Image courtesy the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Italy.

5. Moataz Nasr

Moataz Nasr (b. 1961, Alexandria) is a Cairo-based artist working in installation, sculpture, video, photography and textile. Having witnessed the complex transformations currently at play in the Islamic world, he leverages his multimedia practice that – while focused on his home country Egypt – resonates throughout the African continent and conveys his subjects’ connection to global issues and shared human concerns.

Nasr’s contribution to “Senses of Times” is a single-channel video projection entitled The Water (2002), which is the artists study of his personal identity and circumstance. Faces of Egyptian men, women and children reflected in a puddle of water invite considerations of time’s ability to recast individuality. Nasr suggests that perhaps circumstance is more salient than individuality, but he also seems to be making a statement about the fortitude, or lack thereof, of the human conception of time when confronted with politics. Overall, Nasr like all the artists of this show challenges our long-standing beliefs about time by inserting stark realities and suppositions about the past and present and asks us to consider alternate futures.

Negarra A. Kudumu

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Related Topics: African artists, film, museum shows, video art, identity art

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