Lawrie Shabibi announces a “Gallery Takeover” by Gallery 1957 from Accra, Ghana.
The initiative, running from 20 January to 3 March 2018, is the first of its kind in the Middle East. The takeover exclusively features Ghanaian artist Serge Attukwei Clottey and his multimedia solo show, “The Displaced”, tackling themes of migration, memory and Afrogallonism.
Visitors of Dubai’s Lawrie Shabibi Gallery expect to be challenged; they expect to encounter contemporary Middle Eastern artists that question politicised subjects situated within local and international arenas. The current exhibition, however, will provide gallery guests with a different, yet equally poignant, focus: a collaborative takeover by Ghana’s Gallery 1957. In inviting the African gallery to present an expansive solo show by one of their represented artists, Lawrie Shabibi welcomes broader audiences and, in turn, sets the tone for artistic accessibility, collaboration and cross-cultural exchange. Through this partnership, the directors of both galleries agree an example will be made, hopefully inspiring other institutions to follow suit.
Gallery 1957 founder Marwan Zakhem states:
My aim for the gallery has always been to be firmly established in Accra whilst working globally with a programme that expands outside of the gallery walls focused around artists who are currently bridging the gap between local and international practices. Our public programme has encompassed talks, residencies, performances, commissioning new site-specific installations, and supporting cultural initiatives in Ghana and beyond so we are delighted to have an off-site project in Dubai for the first time in advance of our participation at Art Dubai fair.
In preparation for Art Dubai, Gallery 1957 has selected Ghanaian artist Serge Attukwei Clottey to represent Accra during the ‘takeover’. His solo show, “The Displaced”, utilises multiple media to speak out about politics, religion, sex and tradition.
Representing contemporary Ghana: Serge Attukwei Clottey
Ghana, like much of the developing world, is a place where pre-industrial, analogue and digital technology coexist; where mines, mobile phones, water cans, social media and fishing nets intermingle in daily life. Born in Accra, Serge Attukwei Clottey connects these disparate and competing forces, incorporating contemporary technologies and found objects from the Labadi neighbourhood of Accra.
Despite years of painting and sculpting, his hometown acclaim did not appear until after the artist had accumulated international commercial success – his work being recognised in Africa only after being popularly acquired by western institutions. The 2016 establishment of Gallery 1957 in Accra changed this – bringing his work that is, quite literally, rooted in Ghanaian soil and industry – back home.
For the Lawrie Shabibi takeover, Clottey will be showing a new series of formalist pastel drawings on paper. Many depict disjointed figures and faces, not unlike the visions of many Cubist artists which were, notably, influenced by traditional African tribal sculpture. His new works introduce the subject matter with vivid colour, marking a departure from his earlier charcoal works. In conjunction, Clottey will also be showing his wall-based sculptures created from yellow gallon containers, for which he is best known. The creative manipulation of the imported plastic jerrycans that were once used to carry oil demonstrates his commitment to the found object.
As a young artist, Clottey collected the plastic jugs to paint on, noting their exaggerated size and widespread placement. From this experimentation, he developed ‘Afrogallonism’, an artistic concept which refers to the containters’ prevalent consumption and necessity in the life of the modern African. Alluding to his childhood and early work, the jerrycans serve as the foundation, both physically and figuratively, for the solo show.
Critiquing traditional gender roles in Accra
Textiles and sculptures made from the gallons are intended to highlight Ghana’s water crisis and soaring levels of pollution. But, twinned with his pastel drawings and other media, the cans also say something interesting about female domesticity, duty and daily life. “My mother was collecting the plastic gallon cans for me when she was alive,” says Clottey, continuing:
They are of the streets, they’re everywhere, but they are related to women because most of the time they’re the ones who collect water. So I like to bring them into the gallery space – to give them that prestige.
Alongside these sculptures and drawings, Clottey presents a video installation, The Displaced, which enacts the trade and migration story of the Clottey family. Together with his performance collective GoLokal, Clottey embarks on a symbolic pilgrimage of commemoration on Labadi Beach, Accra.
Directed by Charles Whitcher, the film opens with an images of a mask-like statue made from the same gallons. It then cuts to a close-up of a woman’s face, dusted with white powder – the solemn sound adding to the video’s building suspense. It is evident that the characters are planning a quest, carefully executing their plans by the fire. This is followed by a slow procession to the beach, the women of the village wishing the men – shrouded in fishing nets – well on their mysterious journey. The camera takes vigilant note of the garbage piling up in pools around the beach where the men, both young and old, take ship. After paddling through rough seas, the group returns to crowds of eager women who await the ocean’s bounty. Like merchants landing on Africa’s shores for trade, the characters in Clottey’s film return with bagged items that make those on shore dance with excitement.
Before leaving the beach where Clottey’s Afrogallonism sculptures and textiles are displayed, an old woman gives them her blessings. The artist explains that Accra’s elderly women are believed to be the wisest members of the Labadi community, again highlighting Clottey’s awareness of traditional gender roles in Ghana.
The country’s water crisis and its weak political system are compatible with one another – making the two a popular combination for Ghanian artists – yet, Clottey notes that gender (im)balance and tradition are clashing concepts in his homeland. The comprehensive solo show imaginatively addresses all four subjects, making it quite the spectacle for both Gallery 1957 and Lawrie Shabibi.
Through Clottey’s tactile use of found objects, sound and film, “The Displaced” showcases just that: displacement. For him, stories of migration are rooted deep in one’s traditional and political histories and are intertwined to form personal narratives. Inasmuch as there are documentations of colonial migrations, there are equally as many untold stories of internal ethnic displacements. The exhibition in Dubai accentuates this idea, his family’s migration being only one example of millions.
Because his subject matter so often refers to migration and displacement, much of Clottey’s work ends up in the sea, following the same physical path as those it seeks to discuss. In an interview with curator Anna McNay, the artist explains:
I store some of the work in the sea because I’m interested in issues of migration and how the sea navigates the world. The sea is used to transport goods from one continent to another. I’m interested in how it’s much easier for objects to migrate than for humans, and in how the sea moves the objects around and brings them back to the shore. I document that process and have people looking at the work on the shore. I use the sea as part of my installation.
Having exhibited widely in Europe, Asia and the Americas, Clottey’s ongoing takeover of Lawrie Shabibi underscores his role as a contemporary artist whose work is embedded in community crusading, raising political and environmental consciousness and telling the migratory history of his people. As the sole artist of this recent gallery alliance, Clottey demonstrates that his work is not only materially-capable of encompassing the entire institution, but has both a strong enough message and outreach to be accessible to the diverse audiences that the Dubai-based gallery attracts.
Gallery 1957’s exhibitionary agenda focuses primarily on West Africa, but frequently breaks through its gallery walls to connect the Accra community with a series of public programmes, visiting artist lectures, residencies, performances and off-site projects. Its collaboration with Lawrie Shabibi is one attempt (of many) to support the long-term development of young international artists from the Middle East and Africa.
Asmaa Al-Shabibi, co-director of Lawrie Shabibi elaborates:
Sharing our space with another gallery for a period of time is experimental. It’s exciting for us and the local audience who will be presented with something fresh. Next year we aim to expand this into the whole Dubai gallery community inviting other international galleries into local spaces.
Gallery 1957’s takeover exhibition, “The Displaced”, is on view from 20 January to 3 March 2018 at Lawrie Shabibi Gallery, Unit 21, Alserkal Avenue, Al-Quoz 1, Dubai, UAE.
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- “On the Other Side of the Law:” Palestinian artist Yazan Khalili at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai – May 2017 – Palestinian artist Yazan Khalili re-politicises conceptual art strategies at Lawrie Shabibi
- British-Ghanaian artist John Akomfrah wins Artes Mundi 2017 – February 2017 – Artes Mundi 2017 winner John Akomfrah’s award winning film Auto Da Re (2017) is exhibited alongside the five other shortlisted candidates
- “The Ease of Fiction”: four contemporary African artists at California African American Museum – February 2017 – 4 contemporary African artists residing in the United States join forces for a critical discussion on history, fact and fiction
- Draped in nature: German-Ghanaian artist Zohra Opoku at Gallery 1957 – in pictures – July 2016 – Zohra Opoku explores the somatic culture of textiles in her solo exhibition in Ghana
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