“Lucy’s Iris. Contemporary African Women Artists” rightfully centres African female contemporary artists who with their diverse African roots are bringing increased visibility to the African continent’s transformation into a centre, par excellence, of contemporary art.
Though discovered in 1974, in the midst of African decolonial processes and independence struggles, the original ancestor of all humankind, an African woman was given the name Lucy. But what about her African roots? What about her role as the mother of all humankind? “Lucy’s Iris” considers Lucy’s view of her prodigal daughters who are shaping the landscape of contemporary art practice on the African continent.
The most ancient woman on earth is 3.2 million years old, African and was excavated in Ethiopia in 1974 by a paleo-anthropologist named Donald Johnson and graduate student Tom Gray. She was named Lucy after the then popular Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, which was very popular at the time, rather then acknowledging her Ethiopian origins and the colonial processes and the independence struggles happening on the African continent. Ethiopians later named her Dinkinesh, which means “You are marvelous” in Amharic.
As the exhibition press release for “Lucy’s Iris” states (PDF download),
Lucy paradoxically represents here two under-considered groups of humans, namely Africans and…women. Against this historical backdrop, the exhibition project began by adopting Lucy’s point of view as it’s symbolic teenage grandmother of Mankind. Therefore the exhibition sets out to underline the roles of 25 female artists who today are active in putting Africa back on the heart world map.
“Lucy’s Iris” is on display until 15 December 2016 at the Musée départemental d’art contemporain de Rochechouart, opened in the Château de Rochechouart, France in 1985 on the initiative of the Haute-Vienne Departmental Council. The Museum contains a large contemporary art collection and offers a regular exhibition programme.
In addition to the ones profiled below, the 25 female artists whose work comprises this exhibition include:
- Jane Alexander
- Ghada Amer
- Berry Bickle
- Bouchra Khalili
- Nicene Kossentini
- Michele Magema
- Fatima Mazmouz
- Myriam Mihindou
- Aida Muluneh
- Wangechi Mutu
- Otobong Nkanga
- Tracey Rose
- Berni Searle
- Zineb Sedira
- Billie Zangewa
- Amina Zoubir
Art Radar profiled nine of the artists featured in the exhibition.
1. Zoulikha Bouabdellah
Zoulikha Bouabdellah (b. 1977, Moscow) is the daughter of Hassen Bouabdellah, a film director and Algerian writer, and Malika Dorbani, ex-head of the Algiers Fine Art Museum. Bouabdellah grew up in Algiers until the age of 16, and during the Civil War in 1993, her family left Algeria and settled in France. In 2002, Bouabdellah graduated from the Ecole nationale supérieure d’arts de Cergy-Pontoise, and since then her work has focused on duality, imbalances, cultural fusion and the ability to transcend borders. Bouabdellah has been the recipient of the Abraaj Group Art Prize and the Le Meurice for Contemporary Art Prize. Work has been shown in major art fairs and institutions such as the Venice Biennale, Art Brussels, the Bamako Biennial, Art Dubai and the Brooklyn Museum.
Bouabdellah’s work cysts of pushing forward boundaries so as to foment interactions among them. She mixes multiple concepts simultaneously without relying on one method of production. She believes that “Things must be done and remade willingly to the social and cultural contexts, in accordance with time and space.”
2. Safaa Erruas
Safaa Erruas (b. in 1976, Tetouan, Morocco) graduated from the Institute of Fine Arts in Tetouan in 1998. Soon after her graduation, Erruas began a series of exhibitions, in and outside Morocco, and since 1996 she has been exhibiting regularly in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Norway, Algeria, India and the United States. Erruas also participated in the 2002 and 2006 Dak’Art Biennial and the 25th Alexandria Biennial for Mediterranean countries in 2009, where her work entitled The Moon Inside of Me won the Biennial award. In 2015 the artist took part at the 12th Biennial of Habana for the specific project “Beyond the Wall”.
Erruas works are generally produced in large scale and include a white-themed installation leaving light to underline the spaces. As her artist statement explains,
The whiteness of my work is a deliberate constraint. For the past several years, the work has focused on the complexity and permanent tensions between sensation, perception and experience. My materials are varied and highly referential: sewing needles, razor blades, gauze strips, metallic thread, cotton, paper. I control their affect through monochrome, in a conscious attempt to create suggestive forms which delineate borders between the private and social spheres.Experience, perception and sensation are inextricable, and inexpressible with words.Eschewing color is a strategy attuned to the impossibility of voicing my concerns. There is a neutrality of the artist’s persona which frees the viewer to interpret the metaphors according to her own sensibilities. The work produces its own symbols and allows for the creation of polyvalent images. The whiteness of my work is means, medium, message.
3. Kapwani Kiwanga
Kapwani Kiwanga (b. 1978, Hamilton, Canada) is a Paris-based multimedia artist whose work includes video, installation and performance. She was the commissioned artist appointed by the “Focus” curators Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba for the 2016 Armory Show. Her current exhibition “Ujamaa” is on display at French space for contemporary art La Ferme du Buisson in Noisiel, France until 9 October 2016.
An anthropologist by training, Kiwanga’s approach to her artistic practice is similar to that of a researcher. Her methodology includes the creations of systems and procedures that allow her multiple lenses through which to study cultures and their transformation over time. Her oeuvre is comprised of mixed-media, installation, performance and video, which she uses to investigate anti-colonial struggle in her ancestral home Tanzania, spiritual belief systems and popular culture.
4. Loulou Cherinet
Loulou Cherinet (b. 1970, Gothenburg, Sweden) is a practicing artist and Professor of Fine Art at Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design where she was appointed in 2015. Previously, since 1996, she divided her time between Addis Ababa and Stockholm where she was educated at the Addis Ababa University School of Fine Art & Design and the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, respectively. Cherinet has participated in numerous exhibitions such as the biennales in São Paulo, Venice, Bamako and Sydney, as well as Manifesta 8, Murcia and Momentum 7, Moss.
Cherinet uses filmmaking in the post documentary tradition in order to examine how abstract terms and politics penetrate our bodies, the objects that surround us and behavioural patterns. For Cherinet, “Materiality is a broad term with new meanings and interesting multidisciplinary subdivisions in contemporary art.”
5. Julie Mehretu
Julie Mehretu (b. 1970, Addis Ababa) lives and works in New York. Mehretu’s points of departure are architecture and 21st century accelerated, compressed and densely populated urban environments. Mehretu creates large-scale paintings constructed from layers of acrylic paint on canvas overlaid with mark-making using pencil, pen, ink and thick streams of paint.
Mehretu’s work conveys layering, which illustrates a compression of time, space and place. In her thoroughly worked canvases, Mehretu produces new narratives using abstracted images of cities, histories, wars and geographies with a hectic mark-making that depicts the artist’s agency and peels back the layers of her biography.
6. Amal Kenawy
Amal Kenawy (1974-2012) was an Egyptian contemporary artist known for her feminist performance and video work. Kenawy’s artistic career started while she was still a student, collaborating with her older brother and mentor, Abdel Ghany Kenawy. The collaboration resulted in a multitude of works ranging from sculptures and installations to videos that gained several awards and international recognition, including the UNESCO Grand Prize at the 1998 International Cairo Biennale.
In a 2006 article, Simon Njami wrote of Kenawy:
It indeed seems to me that a genuine work of art is always rooted within the author’s personality. Should it dispose of its own distinct life, its interpretation is no less linked to the proposing artist. Amal Kenawy is an ambiguous person. Ambiguous in the sense that, on the contrary to others, what she sustains to be does not necessarily correspond to what she is. This produces the quiet uneasiness that has always inhabited her work. A work leveled off by a subtle tension, a permanent balance between the internalization of an acknowledged discomfort and the longing for a yell of nameless rage addressed to nothing in particular.
7. Pelagie Gbaguidi
Pelagie Gbaguidi (b. 1965, Dakar), of Beninese origin, lives and works in Belgium. She graduated from L’École des Beaux Arts Liège, Belgium in 1995. In her work, Gbaguidi manipulates the misuse of history, the deconstruction of stereotypes, myths as open spaces and the
newly formed landscapes of a global world. Presently Gbaguidi employs history and its diversions, broken stereotypes, and the notion of myths as open spaces as her point of departure. She believes that
identity, on the whole, far exceeds any partisan split between what is or not ‘African’,what is a part of or foreign a given territory. I aim to sharpen the awakened conscience of what I ‘am’ to better convey it to future generations ; and who I ‘am’ is more than my race my culture my beliefs my genes – it’s something unnameable that I hope others will remember.
8. Sue Williamson
Sue Williamson is a Cape Town-based artist, and trained printmaker, internationally recognised for her work. Williamson also works in installation, photography and video, and is part of the pioneering generation of South African artists who started making work in the 1970s during South Africa’s apartheid regime.
Williamson is also a writer on contemporary art, and has authored such books as Resistance Art in South Africa (1989), St Martins Press, and South African Art Now (2009), HarperCollins. In 1987 she founded ArtThrob, an online journal on South African contemporary art .
9. Mwangi Hutter
Mwangi Hutter is a duo composed of Ingrid Mwangi, born in Nairobi, Kenya, and Robert Hutter, who was born in Ludwigshafen/Rhein, Germany. They both received New Artistic Media degrees from the University of Fine Arts Saar, Saarbrücken, and have received scholarships from the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes, and residency scholarships of the Rhineland-Palatinate studio at the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris.
After working together for several years and marrying, Mwangi and Hutter merged their names and biographies and became a single artist, Mwangi Hutter. Working with video, photography, installation, sculpture and performance, they use themselves as the sounding board to reflect on changing societal realities, creating an aesthetic of self-knowledge and interrelationship.
Negarra A. Kudumu
- Turkish artist Gülsün Karamustafa’s “Chronographia” – in Berlin – in pictures – June 2016 – “Chronographia” includes 110 works ranging from the 1970s to the present day and exploring themes such as migration, modernity, feminism and gender
- Kapwani Kiwanga’s largest show to-date “Ujamaa” at La Ferme du Buisson – in pictures – June 2016 – inspired by the Canadian-born artist’s research-based academic training in anthropology, the exhibition features existing works and three site-specific installations
- “Making Africa: a continent of contemporary design”: 120 Africa artists on display in Barcelona – in pictures – April 2016 – “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.
- Confronting the archive, reconstructing history: Yto Barrada’s “Faux Guide” at Carré d’art, in Nîmes – January 2016 – Yto Barrada’s investigation into identity and cultural roots reveals a fascination with her home country’s historical objects, the ways in which they have been collected and the forgery industry that has developed around them
- Bridging gaps between identity and memory: Indian diaspora artist Annu Palakunnathu Matthews at sepiaEYE – December 2015 – a retrospective of the work of Annu Palakunnathu Matthew presents her 20-year career in photography while showing intimate memories of a diaspora artist working with cultural overlapping, history and identity
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