“Making Africa: a continent of contemporary design”: 120 African artists on display in Barcelona – in pictures

From the visual arts to architecture and design, this exhibition considers what it is to be an artist in Africa today.

“Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design” presents the work of over 120 African artists and designers, and illustrates how design fuels economic and political change.

Nikolaj Cyon, ‘Alkebu-Ian 1260 AH’, 2011, Poster, alternative Map, © Nikolaj Cyon

Nikolaj Cyon, ‘Alkebu-Ian 1260 AH’, 2011, poster, alternative map. © Nikolaj Cyon

“Making Africa” is an exhibition held at the Centre de Cultura Contemporànea de Barcelona (CCCB) from 23 March to 28 August 2016. It is curated by Amelie Klein of the Vitra Design Museum in consultation with Okwui Enwezor, Director of Munich’s Haus der Kunst and curator of the 56th Venice Biennale that took place 2015. It also has an advisory committee of nine experts from cities around the world, such as Cape Town, Lagos, Dakar, London and Nairobi. The exhibition has already been shown at the Vitra Design Museum and Guggenheim Bilbao and will continue touring in the future.

Mikhael Subotzky, ‘Ponte City, Windows’, 2009. © Mikhael Subotzky & Patrick Waterhouse, Image courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

Mikhael Subotzky, ‘Ponte City, Windows’, 2009. © Mikhael Subotzky & Patrick Waterhouse, Image courtesy Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.

The work in the exhibition is eclectic and encompasses creative fields such as object and furniture design, illustration, fashion, architecture, urbanism, art, artisanry, cinema, photography, websites, social networks and publications. Samples of websites sit next to video animation and sculptures, creating the impression of diverse practices.

Ikire Jones, ‘The Madonna’, from "The untold Renaissance" series, 2014, pocket square,. © Walé Oyéjidé [ikirejones.com]

Ikire Jones, ‘The Madonna’, from “The untold Renaissance” series, 2014, pocket square,. © Walé Oyéjidé [ikirejones.com]

In an essay on the exhibition Amelie Klein states that:

Making Africa offers a new history of African design, a narrative that quite possibly has not yet been heard. It’s one possibility among many for seeing this continent—a suggestion, a hypothesis.

The exhibition is divided into four sections: Prologue; I and we; space and object; and origin and future.

Omar Victor Diop, ‘Aminata’, photograph from the series ‘The Studio of Vanities’, 2013, © Victor Omar Diop, 2014, Courtesy Magnin-A Gallery, Paris

Omar Victor Diop, ‘Aminata’, photograph from the series “The Studio of Vanities”, 2013. © Victor Omar Diop, 2014. Image courtesy Magnin-A Gallery, Paris.

Prologue

This section introduces the three key questions of the exhibition: What is design? What is Africa? What is African design? Over two years the curatorial team approached 70 designers, artists, researchers, architects, gallerists and art curators with these questions. The resulting selection challenges the stereotypical view of Africa as a continent of famine, corruption or wide-open landscapes.

Amunga Eshuchi and Cyrus Kabiru, ‘Big Cat’, 2012, image from the "C-Stunners" photography series, edition of 10. © Image courtesy Ed Cross Fine Art Ltd, London. Photo: Amunga Eshuchi.

Amunga Eshuchi and Cyrus Kabiru, ‘Big Cat’, 2012, image from the “C-Stunners” photography series, edition of 10. © Image courtesy Ed Cross Fine Art Ltd, London. Photo: Amunga Eshuchi.

Highlights from this part include eyewear sculptures by Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru, who uses his work as a metaphor for the change of perspective that is needed when thinking about how we look at Africa. Other works consider how we see the physical shape of the continent by inverting maps or readjusting the map of Africa so that it reflects the actual size of the land.

Fabrice Monteiro & Miswudé, Waxology ‘series # 1’, jewellery object and photograph, 2014, © Fabrice Monteiro, courtesy M.I.A Gallery

Fabrice Monteiro & Miswudé, Waxology ‘series # 1’, jewellery object and photograph, 2014. © Fabrice Monteiro. Image courtesy M.I.A Gallery.

I and we

The second section of “Making Africa” looks at social belonging. Belonging to a social group is often expressed through creative means, through what we wear, how we communicate and how we record the life around us. In “Making Africa” one can see how contemporary artists have taken aspects of world cultural trends and adapted them to create a new cultural form that is unique to their localities.

Mário Macilau, ‘Alito, The Guy with Style’, from the "Moments of Transition" series, 2013, photograph. Photo: © Mário Macilau. Image courtesy Ed Cross Fine Art Ltd, London.

Mário Macilau, ‘Alito, The Guy with Style’, from the “Moments of Transition” series, 2013, photograph. Photo: © Mário Macilau. Image courtesy Ed Cross Fine Art Ltd, London.

How the internet is involved in this process of contemporary art-making is present throughout the exhibition. One example is the blog of photographer Jody Brand, who photographs the local spirit and daily life in South Africa.

Other examples of documenting social belonging include The Studio of Vanities by Dakar photographer Omar Victor Diop who captures creative practitioners of his generation, photographers Sabelo Mlangeni and Zanele Muholi who document LGBTQ subcultures in South Africa, and Alafuro Sikoki in The Modern Evolution Suit who presents a criticism of the social impositions of modern life.

Vigilism, ‘Idumota Market, Lagos 2081A.D.’ from the ‘Our Africa 2081A.D.’ series, illustration for the Ikiré Jones Heritage Menswear Collection, 2013,
© Courtesy Olalekan [vigilism.com] and Walé Oyéjidé [ikirejones.com]

Vigilism, ‘Idumota Market, Lagos 2081A.D.’ from the “Our Africa 2081A.D.” series, illustration for the Ikiré Jones Heritage Menswear Collection, 2013. 
© Image courtesy Olalekan [vigilism.com] and Walé Oyéjidé [ikirejones.com].

Space and object

The third section turns towards the individual and how they respond to their environment. It is estimated that by the mid-21st century, between 65 percent and 75 percent of the world population will be living in cities, and cities in Africa are no exception. The growth of cities causes unique challenges, especially for urban artists and designers.

Michael MacGarry, ‘Excuse me while I disappear’, 2014, video still, edition of 5. © Michael MacGarry

Michael MacGarry, ‘Excuse me while I disappear’, 2014, video still, edition of 5. © Michael MacGarry

In this section Michael MacGarry critically examines Chinese investment in residential projects in Angola while Meschac Gaba takes well-known monuments of African and European architecture and reinterprets them as intricate wigs. Some artists imagine what it will be like to live in dense cities, like Justin Plunkett’s corrugated iron building. This section also considers the materials used in constructing cities and how we live in them. For example, designer Porky Hefer makes furniture out of plant materials, and Cheick Diallo uses recycled material for his furniture.

Justin Plunkett, ‘Skhayascraper’, 2013, rendering, limited edition of 20. © Justin Plunkett. Image courtesy The Cabinet, Cape Town.

Justin Plunkett, ‘Skhayascraper’, 2013, rendering, limited edition of 20. © Justin Plunkett. Image courtesy The Cabinet, Cape Town.

Gonçalo Mabunda, ‘www.crise.com’, 2012, throne, Collection Vitra Design Museum, photo: © Vitra Design Museum, Jürgen Hans

Gonçalo Mabunda, ‘www.crise.com’, 2012, throne. Collection Vitra Design Museum. Photo: © Vitra Design Museum, Jürgen Hans.

Cheick Diallo, ‘Fauteil Sansa bleu’, 2011, chair. © Cheick Diallo

Cheick Diallo, ‘Fauteil Sansa bleu’, 2011, chair. © Cheick Diallo

Origin and future

The last section in “Making Africa” looks at the colonial past in order to explore visions for the future. It is an opportunity to look at the possibilities for African nations, exploring utopias that posit optimistic scenarios and ask, “why not?”

One example of this alternative world building is from filmmaker Frances Bodomo, who mixes reality and fiction in Afronauts, a story about a Zambian project to beat the US in the race to be first on the moon in 1969. Another work looks at what Lagos may look like in the year 2081, by artist Vigilism, while Duro Olowu references traditional cultures in the vibrant colours and materials of the collection Birds of Paradise.

The exhibition has an eclectic and diverse mix of artists and style, giving the impressions that it’s an exhibition that just touches the surface of contemporary African art and design.

Claire Wilson

1110

Related topics: African artists, sculpture, photography, museum show, film, video art, political art, social art

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