Five artists from West Africa and its diaspora explore the social and political lives of objects in “Material Effects”.

The exhibition, on display until 8 April 2016 at the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum at Michigan State University, reflects on the ways in which objects circulate the world and the importance of their histories and origins. Art Radar profiles the five West African artists featured in the show.

Jelili Atiku, 'Red Day (In the Red Series #17)', 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 7, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

Jelili Atiku, ‘Red Day (In the Red Series #17)’, 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 7 November 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

“Material Effects” is a major exhibition presented across two galleries in a building designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, housing the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum at Michigan State University. Centered around the reflections of pioneering Senegalese artist and philosopher Issa Samb (b. 1945) featured in Antje Majewski‘s video work La Coquille, the exhibition explores the ways in which objects circulate the world and the responsibility humans have to respect their histories and origins.

Artists in the exhibition include Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Jelili Atiku, Ibrahim Mahama, Antje Majewski, Otobong Nkanga, and Zohra Opoku. Featuring newly commissioned works by Mahama, Atiku and Akoi-Jackson, the exhibition also marks these three artists’ first major exhibition in a US museum. Their works broach and connect Samb’s idea to larger discussions around institutional power and identity construction. As guest curator Yesomi Umolu explains in the exhibition press release,

In “Material Effects” the artists we present use this very basic notion as a platform to explore the relationship between people and things as it relates to global commodity markets, individual and collective identities, and contemporary socio-political realities. It has been truly wonderful to get to know these artists and we look forward to bringing their captivating work to East Lansing and the United States.

Art Radar profiles the five West African artists featured in the show.

Otobong Nkanga, 'Kolanut tales', 2012. Image courtesy the artist and In Sity Fabienne Leclerc Gallery, Paris.

Otobong Nkanga, ‘Kolanut Tales’, 2012. Image courtesy the artist and In Situ-Fabienne Leclerc Gallery, Paris.

Otobong Nkanga

Born in 1974 in Kano, Nigeria, Otobong Nkanga‘s most recent accolades include being a recipient of the 2015 Yanghyun Prize. As both a visual and performance artist, Nkanga’s work interrogates notions of territory, the value placed on natural resources as well as themes of landscape and architecture. Acting as the protagonist in her works, Nkanga uses her own voice and body as a vehicle for ideas that manifest through performances or videos.

Jelili Atiku, 'Egungun Alabama Mandela (Oginrinringinrin I)', 2014. Performance at the University of Texas at Austin. Courtesy the artist. Photo by Hakeen Adewunmi.

Jelili Atiku, ‘Egungun Alabama Mandela (Oginrinringinrin I)’, 2014. Performance at the University of Texas at Austin. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Hakeen Adewunmi.

Jelili Atiku

Jelili Atiku (b. 1968, Lagos) is a multimedia artist whose work reflects his political concerns for human rights and social justice. Since 2008 he has been involved in a performance project called In the Red, which, as his biography states, uses the colour as a a symbol of life, suffering, danger and violence. This work, which has been featured at festivals and fairs across Asia, Africa and Europe, was performed for the seventeenth time during the opening of “Material Effects”.

Jelly Atiku, 'Red Day (In the Red Series #17)', 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 7, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

Jelly Atiku, ‘Red Day (In the Red Series #17)’, 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 7, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

Speaking of his performance work in his artist statement, Atiku explains,

In the recent times, I have been focusing on enacting social intervention and political motivated live art performances – where self-invented costume, audience, etc. are integrated as symbolic contents. This direction is influenced by the gesture to further the expansion of field in visual art by creating “effective” intersection of performance with theater. Pertinently, I am compelled by the foregoing to make preliminary drawings, photographs and filming of my performances and use same for exhibitions.

Bernard Akoi-Jackson, 'Untitled (Vestige: Systems. BLOCKS. Standards)', 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 6, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word

Bernard Akoi-Jackson, ‘Untitled (Vestige: Systems. BLOCKS. Standards)’, 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 6, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

Bernard Akoi-Jackson

Ghanaian multimedia artist and writer Bernard Akoi-Jackson (b. 1979, Kumasi) investigates post-colonial African and other hybrid identities through performative rituals of mundane acts. The newly commissioned work Untitled (Vestige: Systems. BLOCKS. Standards) looks at objects and rituals of contemporary African life informed by tradition and colonial heritage.

Bernard Akoi-Jackson, 'Untitled (Goldman)', 2012. Image courtesy the artist.

Bernard Akoi-Jackson, ‘Untitled (Goldman)’, 2012. Image courtesy the artist.

For the performance, Akoi-Jackson dressed as a fictitious African royal. In this piece Akoi-Jackson breaks down the very core of human identity in an attempt to rebuild it with newfound truths. During a 2014 interview for the Dutch magazine Metropolis, when asked about his views on the notion of identity, he stated:

Identity is a notoriously contested concept. And so gives to a lot of engagement and iteration. My work has considered this concept in several ways. I have dealt, for instance, with notions of identity construction, stereotyping and bureaucracy, as pertains to movement and space politics. But I always look at these issues through a filter of wit and humour. I like them because they become potent decoys to dealing with hardcore iniquities in society.

Ibrahim Mahama, 'Untitled', 2013. Installation view at Saatchi Gallery. Image courtesy of artist.

Ibrahim Mahama, ‘Untitled’, 2013. Installation view at Saatchi Gallery. Image courtesy the artist.

Ibrahim Mahama

Ibrahim Mahama (b. 1987, Tamale) transforms reclaimed jute sacks, once used to transport coal and cocoa, into large scale public installations. These ubiquitous jute sacks are extremely relevant in Ghana’s commercial realm as they are used to transport two of the country’s most important commodities. Intrigued by the fact that the jute sacks in fact disintegrate after sustained contact with coal, Mahama’s works are a commentary on social institutions and their inability to meet the needs of the people they serve.

Click here to watch ‘Post No Bill’ by Zohra Opoku on Vimeo

Zohra Opoku

Based in Accra, Zohra Opoku (b. 1976, Germany) is a versatile artist whose work spans installation, photography and video. Setting out to explore the sophistication of textile cultures in disparate spaces, Opoku targets fashion’s political and psychological role and socio-cultural dynamics in relation to African history and individualistic or societal identities.

Zohra Opoku, 'Ghettohouse No. 1', 2013. Image courtesy the artist.

Zohra Opoku, ‘Ghettohouse No. 1’, 2013. Image courtesy the artist.

This experience roots her aesthetic practice in sculptural modules. Featured in this exhibition is her video work Post No Bill (2013) which investigates West Africa’s vibrant textile culture and its effect on identity formation at the individual and societal levels.

 Negarra A. Kudumu

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Related topics: African artists, performance art, sculpture, textiles, video, museum shows

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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