Fondation Louis Vuitton brings a renewed focus on African art this summer.
The exhibition marks the first time the Jean Pigozzi collection of African Art will be displayed in Paris. Art Radar takes a look at the show, which covers African art from 1989 onwards.
With renewed international interest in African Art across art markets and within significant institutions, Fondation Louis Vuitton continues the trend of highlighting African art by mounting the wide-ranging presentation “Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier”. Situated in their space in Paris, the exhibition is a significant one. With three different exhibitions on show, including the names of some of Africa’s leading artists such as David Kolana, Zanele Muholi and Jody Brand, “Art/Afrique” puts different generations of African artists into conversation with one another.
Dividing the presentation into three portions, Fondation Louis Vuitton has taken a chronological approach towards the making of the exhibition. The basement of the FLV is occupied by the exhibition “The Insiders”, presenting African art spanning from 1989 to 2009. Curated by Suzanne Pagé, Angéline Scherf and Ludovic Delalande, with assistance from André Magnin, the exhibition draws on the works of 15 different artists within the Jean Pigozzi collection. With names such as Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, Seni Awa Camara and Calixte Dakpogan, the exhibition cuts across geographical boundaries, bringing together diverse artists from different backgrounds and parts of Africa into one space.
Works on show include the terracotta sculptures of Senegalese sculptor Seni Awa Camara (b. circa 1945, Bignona, Senegal). Making clay figurines that are largely distorted and disfigured in some ways, Camara’s subjects are made as a way of representing the myriad number of characters that make up the world: good, bad, beautiful and ugly. Her figures are often revealing of universal meaning. In Untitled (2006), small children cling onto a mother, standing tall amidst the cluster of arms and legs holding onto her.
Hailing from Sierra Leone, artist Abu Bakarr Mansaray’s works are also on show, as part of the Pigozzi collection. His work Alien Resurrection depicts a violent killing machine sailing through the sky in an almost comic book-esque aesthetic, firing through all things in sight. Growing up in a country torn apart by civil war for much of its recent history, Mansaray’s art stems from his love of imagining and creating machines. Part of his artistic practice encompasses preparatory drawings where machines are painstakingly sketched, inspired by his love of science and engineering.
A painterly approach comes from the artist Moke (b. 1950, Bandundu Province, Belgian Congo; d. 2001, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo), also on show as part of “The Insiders”. As one of the leading painters in Kinshasa, Moke’s body of work centres around rendering people and scenes in rich colours and bold forms. His work provides a glimpse into Kinshasa society, depicting situations and characters. His Skol Primus depicts a night out at a bar, where a couple sleeps at the bar surrounded by bottles of Skol beer under bright, bare lights.
Accompanying the exhibition “The Insiders”, much of the Fondation Louis Vuitton space on the upper levels are occupied with “Being There”, a survey of contemporary South African art. Taking its cue from the year 1990 onwards, the curators (Suzanne Pagé and Angéline Scherf, with Ludovic Delalande and Claire Staebler) focused on key generations of South African artists. Selecting artists that have constantly made social and economic engagement part of their artistic practice, the exhibition encompasses the works of artists that speak to their country’s histories and their identity.
Putting together artists from across three different key generations, “Being There” brings together broader themes from within the South African context. The exhibition includes pioneering South African artists such as Jane Alexander and David Goldblatt, positioning them next to artists born during the 1970s (such as Nicholas Hlobo and Zanele Muholi), and artists born during the 1980s (such as Jody Brand). Attempting to trace lineages and continuity, the exhibition takes a look at artistic developments in South Africa today.
David Goldblatt’s work The Dethroning of Cecil John Rhodes (2015) depicts the removal of British colonial servant Cecil Rhodes by students during the University of Cape Town uprisings. Incensed by increases in housing and tuition costs, as well as perceived racial inequalities, the students’ protests resulted in the toppling of the statue of Cecil Rhodes, alongside the burning of paintings and photographs. Goldblatt himself continues to have a complicated relationship with the situation: Goldblatt effectively withdrew his bequest of his archive and a collection of his works to the University, after the instating of a committee to remove all on-campus works deemed offensive of black students. It was the short-sightedness of the policy, according to Goldblatt, that made him withdraw his bequest.
Another leading South African photographer, Zanele Muholi, evokes issues of race, gender and equality through her black and white photographs of South African women. On show is her work Xana Nyilenda Newtown Johannesburg, a stark image where the viewer meets the eyes of Muholi’s subject straight on.
Also on show is the artwork of Lawrence Lemaoana (b. 1982, Johannesburg), who makes extensive use of Kanga fabric in his text-based work. Embroidering text slogans onto Kanga fabric, Lemaoana often references South Africa’s tumultuous history both by the slogans that he makes and by the fabrics that he uses. Made in the East, and then sold in markets and bazaars in South Africa, Lemaoana’s Kanga fabrics often speak to trade imbalances and economic exploitation. Yet, they are also regarded as having significant religious and spiritual power within the community.
With such a broad, extensive coverage of African art, Fondation Louis Vuitton pulls together a dense network of artists from across the continent into one space, aiming to bring a coherent narrative of African art together. Skimming through a broad range of time, space and issues, “Art/Afrique” aims to offer a glimpse into a lesser well-known art world, creating a dizzying, but perhaps no less impressive, view into the artistic practices of Africa.
- Preview: Cameroonian photographers at YaPhoto@Arakawa Africa, Tokyo – August 2017 – the show explores the work of five Cameroonian photographers never exhibited in Japan
- Do Artists Need to Leave Africa to be Successful? Art Basel Conversation – video – July 2017– South African artists Candice Breitz and Zanele Muholi discuss their decisions to leave or stay during Art Basel 2017
- Dia Art Foundation expands collection with Kishio Suga and Lee Ufan works – July 2017 – Dia Art Foundation have announced the addition of important works by Japanese artist Kishio Suga and Korea’s Lee Ufan to their collection
- “African Art Against the State”: advocacy and agency from prehistory to the present – April 2016 – Williams College Museum of Art’s exhibition explores the various ways in which African art has highlighted the continent’s history of activism and resistance
- A selection of Chinese works from Fondation Louis Vuitton Collection – in pictures – March 2016 – the Fondation Louis Vuitton presents the works of 11 artists from its collection
Subscribe to Art Radar for more updates about African art