“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.

MICHELE MAGEMA, 'The Kiss of Narcisse', 2010, black and white video. Image courtesy of the artist.

Michele Magema, ‘The Kiss of Narcisse’, 2010, black and white video. Image courtesy the artist.

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:

Art Radar profiled nine of the artists featured in the exhibition.

SAFAA ERRUAS , 'Invisibles', 2011 installation, cut photographs and strings of cotton. Image courtesy of the collection of CulturesInterface, Casablanca, Morocco.

Safaa Erraus , ‘Invisibles’, 2011, installation, cut photographs and strings of cotton.
Image courtesy the collection of CulturesInterface, Casablanca, Morocco.

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.

KAPWANI KIWANGA, 'Turns of phases: fig 7 (Upendo)', 2005, fabric and wood. Image courtesy collection Musée départemental d'art contemporain de Rochechouart.

Kapwani Kiwanga, ‘Turns of Phases: fig 7 (Upendo)’, 2005, fabric and wood. Image courtesy collection Musée Départemental d’Art Contemporain de Rochechouart.

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.

LOULOU CHERINET, 'Magical Transformation of the Word', 2009 Video, 5 min. Image courtesy of the artist.

Loulou Cherinet, ‘Magical Transformation of the Word’, 2009, video, 5 min. Image courtesy the artist.

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.”

JULIE MEHRETU, 'Zéro Canyon (A dissimulation)', 2006, Ink and acrylic on canvas, 305 x 214 cm, Image courtesy collection MUSAC, (Leon).

Julie Mehretu, ‘Zéro Canyon (A dissimulation)’, 2006, ink and acrylic on canvas, 305 x 214 cm. Image courtesy collection MUSAC, (Leon).

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.

AMAL KENAWY, 'The Purple Artificial Forest', video still, 2005, color video and sound, 8:50. Image courtesy of Foundation Khalid Shoman (Jordan).

Amal Kenawy, ‘The Purple Artificial Forest’, video still, 2005, colour video and sound, 8:50 min. Image courtesy Foundation Khalid Shoman (Jordan).

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.

Installation view. Pelagie Gbaguidi and Julie Mehretu. Image courtesy Musée départemental d'art contemporain de Rochechouart.

Installation view. Pelagie Gbaguidi  and Julie Mehretu. Image courtesy Musée Départemental d’Art Contemporain de Rochechouart.

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.

SUE WILLIAJSON, 'Caroline Motsoaledi', in the series "All of Our Mothers", 2012, photography, 58 x 39 cm. Image courtesy of the artiste and Goodman Gallery (Cape Town/Johannesburg, South Africa)

Sue Williamson, ‘Caroline Motsoaledi’, in the series “All of Our Mothers”, 2012, photography, 58 x 39 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery (Cape Town/Johannesburg, South Africa).

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 .

MWANGI HUTTER, 'Turquoise Realm', 2014, video still, Video Installation, 8:45. Image courtesy of the artists.

Mwangi Hutter, ‘Turquoise Realm’, 2014, video still, video installation,
8:45 min. Image courtesy the artists.

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


Related topics: Women artists, video, photography, installation, Museum shows

Related posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more on African contemporary art







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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *