What needs to change for people to feel that contemporary art is theirs too?

Probing the possibilities of contemporary art, ultimately is a way for us to reflect on how our societies are constituted. We recall a concern raised by Nicène Kossentini. The Tunis-based artist, and participant in the forthcoming ‘In/Visible Voices of Women’ artist publication project, raised this pressing concern: “It is a sobering thought, many artists from the region [Tunisia] exhibit and become known elsewhere, more so than at home.” She goes on to describe that even if local citizens are familiar with ancient/traditional art, contemporary art is largely misunderstood. This point is not exclusive to Tunisia, but rather true in most other parts of the African continent.

 

© Amina Menia, Extra Muros (Chapter 1), Bastion 23 Art Center, 2005. Extra Muros Project (2005-ongoing). Courtesy of the artist.

 

As this misunderstanding relates to how women participate, or are held back from being full citizens – visible and audible within public life – we examine the disjunction between the global and local by asking 11 phenomenal women – fearless leaders working as academics, artists, writers, and curators – to join us for the 6-part Commentary Series of the In/Visible Voices of Women project. By fleshing out a diverse terrain of thoughts and opinions, they name some of the most pressing concerns faced by women at large, and the states of being invisible, and becoming visible come to light.

 

#4 What needs to change for people to feel that contemporary art is theirs too?

 

Malala Andrialavidrazana

 

Whether one is based in Africa, Europe or elsewhere, I can absolutely conceive that there could be a kind of virtual fence at several levels between a contemporary creation and any viewer. At the same time, I am convinced that these boundaries are not totally insurmountable, because I can hardly believe that emotions that can be felt, are strictly conditioned by the immediate environment. That said, to promote a good understanding of contemporary art in isolated or poorly educated areas, I think a fair number of wills determined to invest in culture (as well as any other form of learning) is to be gathered, and that they should undertake a vast mediated endeavour to familiarise the public with the different artistic languages. This involves
the selection of a careful, and competent team capable of setting up community structures that adapt to the local rhythm. In fact, we rarely think about it, but, outside of urban centres, distance is one of the major obstacles to accessing culture. Also, with regards to transporting the public towards the main areas and concentration of artworks worldwide, measures to facilitate their circulation should figure amongst the international agreements aimed at improving the dialogue amongst peoples and civilisations. Without the ability to approach these works in a sensible and practical way, the hope to see them adopted by populations remain minimal.

 

Portrait Malala Andrialavidrazana. Malala Andrialavidrazana is a visual artist with a background in architecture. She is interested in notions of frontiers and interactions within cross-cultural contexts. Primarily through photography, she digs behind scenes in a succession of back and forth between private spaces and global issues to explore social imaginaries. She invents a language whose approach is resolutely turned towards History but whose engagement in the City remains active. In her collection of visuals, examining the in-between space in a multitude of heres and nows, she proposes an open frame where borders do not exist.

 

Angèle Etoundi Essamba

 

Contemporary art should be brought to the people who cannot access it. It must be displayed in places other than in museums or in galleries, such as in schools, public spaces such as streets, or parks to raise awareness about contemporary art and to start educating people. Also, I think it is essential that Africa finds its own art ambassadors in different fields – like business, sport or art itself – who would contribute to promoting the art locally.

 

Portrait of Angèle Etoundi Essamba. © Photo Daouda TimeraAngèle Etoundi Essamba (b. Cameroon, raised in France) graduated from the Photo Academy of Amsterdam where she lives. Since her first exhibition in 1985 in Amsterdam, her work continues to be exhibited in museums, institutions, art fairs, biennales and galleries in Africa, Europe, the United States, Latin America, Arab Emirates and Asia. Essamba’s work lies at the intersection of the social/gender and the artistic field. She joins the spirit of humanistic photography with a strong attachment to the values of communion. She is a committed artist involved in a reflection on the identity of the African woman. Keywords for Essamba’s work are: pride, strength and awareness.

 

N’Goné Fall 

 

It is again about perception. How do curators talk about their projects (press release, public talk, writings)? Audience is a major challenge – not just in developing countries. Therefore it is about how to communicate on an artwork, and on an exhibition. If the issue behind is what matters, then we should be able to talk about it in simple (but not weak) ways. If the audience feels that a PhD in art history is needed to understand an art project, then we will keep on failing. Communication is key, as well as the words we use.
People tend to ignore the average citizen. Art in public space is also a strategy to reach out to people. We have to build an audience and it will not happen overnight. Art education for kids, for the middle class and for the elite is what we should keep in mind. Otherwise we will continue to do art projects just for ourselves, and that is absolutely not the goal. We are all doing art projects because we have something to say and share with our audience.

 

Portrait N’Goné Fall. N’Goné Fall graduated with distinction from the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris. She is an independent curator, essayist and a consultant in cultural policies. She has been the editorial director of the Paris-based contemporary African art magazine Revue Noire from 1994 to 2001. Fall has edited books on contemporary visual arts and photography and curated exhibitions in Africa, Europe and the USA. She was a guest curator of the African photography encounters in Bamako in 2001 and the Dakar contemporary art biennial in 2002. As a consultant in cultural policies she is the author of strategic plans, orientation programmes and evaluation reports for national and international cultural institutions and art foundations. Fall has been an associate professor at the Senghor University in Alexandria, Egypt (master department of creative industries) from 2007 to 2011. She is a founding member of the Dakar-based collective GawLab, a platform for research and production on art in public spaces and technology applied to artistic creativity.

 

Tamar Garb 

 

It is true that there can be a disjunction between what is valued in the context of the global contemporary and what is understood or cherished in local, sometimes cut-off, communities and contexts. There is also a perceived tension between so-called traditional practices and skills, and those that are recognised as ‘contemporary’ or international. But the exchange between ‘indigenous’, home-grown or borrowed techniques and images has a long history, and it has always been hard to police clear demarcations between these invented categories. Let us look for example at Ernest Mancoba, to my mind one of the most important painters of the twentieth century to emerge from Africa. True he lived and worked in Paris. But his work is equally engaged with the iconicity of African totemic carving that haunts his paintings as it is with European Abstraction. Or take a more recent example like that of Meschac Gaba who turns the African market place into a museum of competing
modernities. You do not need to be versed in contemporary art to recognise the hybrid nature of these practices. Weaving, stitching, carving, pasting, moulding, cutting and covering may all be old skills, but they now cohabit with new technologies and virtual resources that belong to everyone, and this results in shifting ways of making and seeing. As the world gets smaller and the digital becomes more ubiquitous, the challenge will be to preserve the old skills and practices while engaging in an ever-changing contemporary field. Even if the institutionalised circulation of art as ‘contemporary’ is greeted with suspicion or incomprehension, this does not mean that new forms of creativity and ingenuity are not recognised. That is what is important, not the reification or protection of the latest commodity that is electable for Venice, Kassel or Istanbul.

 

Portrait of Tamar Garb. Tamar Garb is an art historian and curator. She is Professor of Art History at University College London and was curator of ‘Figures and Fictions, Contemporary South African Photography’, (V&A 2011) and ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive’ (Walther Collection, Ulm, New York, Berlin 2013.14). Amongst her publications are ‘The Painted Face: Portraits of Women in France 1814-1914 (YUP 2008) and ‘The Body in Time’ (Washington 2008).

 

Euridice Getulio Kala 

 

The Keeping on Keeping on

It is perhaps our fault if audiences decide not to engage … maybe if we decided that art is no longer contemporary (a term largely used in Western art), and if we gave it a new name, from our local space, language, and energy, then audiences would engage. We have to be honest with ourselves: we are playing on the international field – one that is not concerned with the local, but reveals in larger discourses.

I make art that includes the local, but that also has the ability to travel. Contemporary art – as art – does not belong to anyone, yet, it has always been located in a privileged realm.

What we call ‘traditional’ art today once was ‘contemporary’, ‘modern’, or whatever other denominations one may want to come up with. The only difference, in my opinion, is that due to our limited ability to venture out of our immediate space, it does not speak to as many people.

It is in the interest, in my interest and that of the artist, curator, etc. to communicate that we are still very much defined by the local, and not to be afraid of demonstrating within our/my narratives, who we/I are/am, and why we/I are/am, and those will never be far off from the local, even if we are (and should) naturally be in opposition to our contexts.

 

Portrait of Euridice Getulio Kala . Euridice Getulio Kala (b. Maputo, Mozambique, 1987) is an artist currently based in Maputo, who’s interested in historical cultural metamorphoses, manipulations and adaptation across the period running between the late 1400s and the early 1900s, converging most times with the contemporary context. Kala employs her personal narratives and further delves into her interests, which includes her life in Johannesburg, having been a married woman and being feminist. She works with various media to achieve the finality of her ideas, from performance, video, sculptural-lyrics, installations and photography. Kala was trained as a photographer, and has shown her work in South Africa, Maputo, Amsterdam, Dakar (Off), Apt, Lisbon, Douala and been awarded residencies, both on the continent and internationally.

 

Jessica Horn 

 

I think this depends on the kind of art you are talking about. Across Africa, popular music is very much ‘owned’ by everyday people, from young women MCs in Dakar, to women house artists in Johannesburg, to wassolou singers in Bamako. Visual art seems to be the least accessible, given that there are still very few public art museums, and private galleries tend to be targeted at a wealthier clientele. There are exceptions, when people make an active effort to integrate art into people’s daily lives.
In Ghana, a sister Sionne Neely and her partner Mantse Aryeequaye started the Chalewote street art festival which takes place in the Jamestown neighbourhood of Accra, making art accessible to everyday people and anyone else who wants to join in a creative experience in the streets. Artists can always find ways to make their art accessible and relevant in people’s lives, and by doing so it also helps build a wider audience and taste for experimental art, and not just for ‘pop’.

 

Portrait of Jessica Horn. Photo © Aamal Said.Jessica Horn is a writer, doer, interpreter of the ordinary; heiress of a lineage extending into the Ruwenzori Mountains of western Uganda and the shadows of New York’s Yankee Stadium. Horn has worked for over 15 years with NGOs, donors and the UN on the intersections of women’s health, human rights and freedom from violence. Jessica takes her passion to theorise, cultivate and engage love as a force for revolutionary transformation into activist and artistic spaces, including at TedX Euston Salon and co-curating the blog Our Space is Love. Her poetry pamphlet Speaking in Tongues is included in the Mouthmark Book of Poetry. @stillsherises

 

Valerie Kabov 

 

This is definitely true of Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwean contemporary artists in general. This is not a gendered problem. My view is that in Zimbabwe we have a number of historical factors emerging from colonial history, which persist in segregating visual art from other art forms. Historically, painting, for example, was introduced by missionaries and in a colonial context, and, unlike performing arts and music, was treated somewhat as an art form in the service of the coloniser. Zimbabweans generally prioritise the oral tradition and the philosophical in traditional practices and rituals, so again visual art is less integrated in the process. The more traditional art forms are carving and basket weaving and pottery, but they are all still intrinsically linked
to their utilitarian value, which makes contemporary art in the Western definition of the word difficult. With very limited government support for the arts and poor media training and very limited access to art education at primary and secondary school, it is easy to build up a picture in which the ordinary Zimbabwean does not connect with contemporary art. So we need to get to the grassroots of the problem to achieve long-term change – support art education, and support the professionalisation of art; right now art is not seen as a real profession and there are no international quality degrees in fine arts in the country, or graduate programmes. These things need to change.

 

Portrait of Valerie Kabov.Valerie Kabov is the Director of Education and International Projects at First Floor Gallery Harare, Zimbabwe, which she co-founded in 2009. Valerie holds a Masters in Curatorship and Modern Art from University of Sydney and is a doctoral candidate at University of Paris 1, Sorbonne in Art History (Cultural Policy and Cultural Economics) and is a lawyer with more than a decade of practice in international transactions, with a focus on emerging markets and intellectual property. As researcher and educator, she has focused particularly on the relationship between local and the global in the art market, as well as cultural policy and audience engagement. Kabov is the founder of Art & Dialogue, a professional continuing education programme for curators and cultural practitioners focusing on building skills in engaging diverse/multicultural audiences, and the Editor at Large for Art Africa Magazine.

 

Marcia Kure

 

This is largely due to a dearth of infrastructure to support art and artists on the continent. We need well-resourced programmes, arts education, but, also an appreciation for the importance of old, and new art and cultures in understanding who we are as a people.

In the past decade, there has been an increase in growth of art centres, auction houses, art fairs, studio residencies, commercial galleries, regional and international biennales, and the rise of a new generation of collectors. These all work hand in hand with the growth of contemporary art within, and beyond the continent.

The hope is that in the coming years, contemporary art in different parts of the continent will not only thrive in a sustainable manner, without – and this is very important – having to depend too much on the support of foreign agencies, governments, and institutions.

Unfortunately, we cannot make meaningful progress on that front without strong national economies, and stable governments and societies.

 

Portrait of Marcia Kure. Photo © Chika Okeke-Agulu.Marcia Kure is a Nigerian artist who lives and works in the USA. She trained at the University of Nigeria and is an alumna of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Kure’s work was shown at the 11th Dak’Art, Senegal (2014) La Triennial, Paris (2013), International Biennial of Contemporary Art, Seville (2006), and Sharjah International Biennale (2005). A Research fellow of the Smithsonian Institution (2008), Visual Artist in Residence at the Victoria and Albert Museum (2014) and winner of Uche Okeke Prize for Drawing (1994). Kure’s work is in the collection of major museums in the United States and Europe. Her work was part of BODY TALK: Feminism, Sexuality and the Body in the Work of African Women Artists, WIELS Contemporary Art Center, Brussels, Frac Lorraine, France and Lunds Konsthall, Sweden (2015-16).

 

Ng’endo Mukii

 

This is true here in Kenya. I feel this relates to the residual effects of religious conversion, and the political regimes that have continuously attacked, and undermined artists (visual, literary, music) for being subversive and outrightly critical of their patriarchal structures.

We do not have a strong understanding of our ancient/traditional art as this was wiped out during the colonial era, and our conversion to Christianity came hand in hand with a disregard, fear and demonisation of our previous practices. As such, we keep a fair distance from most of our traditional practices, excepting those rituals that relate to the coming of age, marriage, birth and death. Contemporary art, seen as an offshoot of these traditions, is often perceived as a practice of those outside of the norm, lacking purpose and future.

Within our local education system, Art and Music were the first subjects to be slashed following a reduction in school budgets, being described as disciplines without practical application. Multiple writers critical of our political leaders have been

forced into exile or have mysteriously gone missing over the years. Organisations created to collect royalties for artists, have been under fire for syphoning the collected funds, leaving celebrated artists famous, but broke. As is the case in most societies, the value of our practice is often seen as directly proportional to the financial wealth that we can gain through its exploitation.

All these elements work together to undermine our contemporary culture, and place more value on art created by Western practitioners than our own. As such, it sometimes requires the celebration of our artists, by foreign institutions, to alert our local consumers to the value of our local work. Within niche groups, the creation of art is being celebrated separate from the financial gain it may, or may not, attract. Ultimately, for the majority, commercial viability is the indicator of value. Millennials are creating new ways of achieving financial growth outside of the traditional paths previous generations set. Art and tech fields are experiencing this growth as well, so, perhaps, art and money will begin to cross paths more often.

 

Portrait of Ng’endo Mukii. Photo © Jerri Mokgofe.On the Ides of March, a creature with a fiery afro was born. Small in stature and withdrawn in nature, she led a reclusive life on the green highlands of Kenya, overlooking the savannah seas. Receiving her primary education under the instruction of Catholic nuns, she left her home to experience the Century’s Superpower. She later passed many moons, prancing in the Queen’s country, nibbling on crumpets and searching through the dense fog. Today she can be found armed with a pressure-sensitive stylus, and a macro lens. She spends her time between Nairobi and Tsavo, animating little children, photographing dung beetles, and running away from scorpions. Ng’endo Mukii is a graduate of the Royal College of Art (2012) and the Rhode Island School of Design (2006). She works in Nairobi as an independent filmmaker. She is a Berlinale Talents and Design Indaba Alumni, and has received several accolades for her films

 

Mónica de Miranda

 

Contemporary art sets a relationship between the author of the piece, and the public. As the public of African contemporary art is often outside of Africa, it is important to foster the development of an African public that appreciates contemporary art. It is only when the author and the public have more in common, in terms of their identity and culture, that a sense of belonging can be felt and shared.

There is a need to invest in structures that can sustain and create a real art market in Africa for African artists. There is a need to invest in education too, as there are still countries without formal art education, and where almost all artists are self-taught; this is the case in Angola.

As a result, the Western art system has marketed African contemporary art: African artists are being circulated in the Western art market because it has a demand, and a structure for it. However it seems to be a trap . . . I do not believe that to create a feeling of belonging, the work you create needs to be circumscribed to a geographical place; it needs to circulate. To be shown only as “African” fragments your sense of being an artist. European artists are not confined to shows of “European art”; they have access to a wider range of possibilities. Why should African artists always be labelled and be prevented from accessing the same opportunities as their Western counterparts?

 

Portrait of Mónica de Miranda.Mónica de Miranda (b. Porto, Portugal, 1976, of Angolan descent) is an artist and researcher. PhD in visual art from the University of Middlesex (2014), she has received support from the Foundation for Science and Technology. de Miranda is one of the founders of the artistic residency project Triangle Network in Portugal and the founder of the Project Hangar (centre of artistic research in Lisbon, 2014). She has exhibited in Lisbon, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Dubai, Rome or Singapore, and was included in the 10th Bamako Encounters, the 14th Biennial of Architecture in Venice and the Bienal de São Tomé e Principe. She has participated in various residencies in Mauritius, London, Maputo and more.

 

Suzana Sousa 

 

The same happens in Angola; contemporary art is viewed as foreign, and sometimes disconnected from our national identity. I believe that we have to talk about art, tradition and traditional art. I see neither art nor tradition as fixed constructions. These are historical and cultural constructions, therefore subject to change. I do not have an answer to what needs to change, but certainly an open and public discussion that brings together artists, curators, art historians and audiences could help.

 

aa_suzana_sousa_2150222Suzana Sousa (b. Luanda, 1981) is an independent curator and writer. Her recent curatorial projects include ‘Seeds of Memory’, Angolan Pavilion (Expo Milano, 2015) and ‘Love me Love me Not – Art from the Collection Sindika Dokolo’, Biblioteca Almeida Garreth (Porto, Portugal). Sousa contributes to Contemporary &, Art+Auctions (NYC), the Goethe Institute Magazine and Arterial Network/ Arts in Africa. She is currently developing the cultural collective Pés Descalços with a group of Angolan independent spirits.

 


In spring 2016, Another Africa will launch In/Visible Voices of Women, a long-term publication project. Conceived by Clelia Coussonnet and Missla Libsekal,  it focuses on women artists operating within Francophone and Lusophone Africa. The first stage of the project is the online publishing of short-form English interviews here on Another Africa. Followed by bilingual artist monographs with long form interviews and essays (English/French), to be made available in print and e-Books.

Foregrounding the artist interviews, in which the artist Amina Menia, (featured image) participates, the following commentary series raises 6 urgent questions, posed to academics, artists, writers, and curators. Join in the conversation using the #AFRIFEM, #VISIBLITYNOW hashtags.

The Commentary Series

Q1 | What are the most pressing issues facing women, and women practitioners today? [Read more]

Q2 | Are there still places and spaces where women are not welcome? [Read more]

Q3 | What have been the setbacks, and breakthroughs in the past decade? [Read more]

Q4 | What needs to change for people to feel that contemporary art is theirs too?

STAY TUNED! and find out what the next questions are . . . .


 

We would like to express our deep thanks to all the commentary series participants: Malala Andrialavidrazana (France/Madagascar), Angèle Etoundi Essamba (Cameroon/Netherlands), N’Goné Fall (France/Senegal), Tamar Garb (South Africa/UK), Jessica Horn (Uganda), Valerie Kabov (Belarus/Zimbabwe), Euridice Kala (Mozambique/South Africa), Marcia Kure (Nigeria/USA), Mónica de Miranda (Angola), Ng’endo Mukii (Kenya) and Suzana Sousa (Angola). It is through their generosity, and above all excellence, that this series has materialised.

 

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