Web dossier – RE/VISIONEN. Contemporary perspectives on art from Africa
With the project RE/VISIONEN – Contemporary perspectives on art from Africa, AfricAvenir International e.V. presented a varied programme of events in 2009. The programme opened with a series of films curated by Julien Enoka Ayemba, continued with dance and poetry performances and at the end of the year presented works by African video artists put together by Dr. Youma Fall from DAK'ART, the Biennial for contemporary African art, and accompanied by a varied programme of discussions and events.
In view of the cultural and artistic richness of Africa it was never the intention of this programme to attempt to cover all aspects of African art, the aim was rather to awaken the interest of the Berlin audience and their desire to learn more. The title of the series is in itself an invitation to the audience to take a closer look, to think about the ideas and visions of the artists and at the same time to critically question their own positions, views and ideas. Taken as a whole, with its broad range of art forms and variety of themes, the series of events has conveyed an alternative picture of Africa, one which corresponds to its complex social, political and economic reality. Whoever did not manage to attend the events or would like to delve deeper into specific aspects of the programme is warmly invited to read our web dossier.
To “discover,” classify and judge visual arts, music, literature and films from Africa has been an area which European academics have long laid claim to. In contrast to this, the authors of this dossier are exemplary in their representation of many academics as well as artists and cultural experts from the African continent, whose (self) critical and expert reflections are still seldom to be heard in such discourse in Europe.
The articles in this dossier take an in-depth look at the themes of visual art, poetry and film. In addition two brief articles discuss the question of identity in contemporary African art as well as the question of gender relations in art using the example of South Africa.
Youma Fall, a member of the curator team of DAK'ART and curator of the exhibition shown in Berlin “La porte étroite” presents the Berlin exhibition in her article. She does this in the context of African art production about which there remains either relatively little or only clichéd knowledge, both within Africa and in the rest of the world. On the one hand, the politics and criticism of culture in Africa are not yet well established or professionalised, on the other hand, African artists are still fighting against being stereotyped by the international art market. Youma Fall rebuts these prejudices, both as curator of the exhibition and as writer in her contribution to the dossier.
Through the presentation of the film series Julien Enkola Ayemba, curator of the series, addresses the issue of how African films are received in Germany and also the great art events on the African continent, above all the film festival FESPACO, which takes place every two years in Ouagadougou/ Burkina Faso. The films shown in Berlin had been selected from the last FESPACO and so mirrored the current state of film-making on the continent.
The poetry performer Shalija Patel presents the rediscovery of the oral tradition in a new form in her article “Power to name ourselves: Poetry and Spoken Word in contemporary Kenya.” In 2006 Patel organised the first open “Poetry Slam” in Nairobi and thereby created for the first time the opportunity on a larger platform for creative debate via poetry on historical and socio-political themes. Above all, however, the Kenyan is concerned with finding her own words to convey her greatest joys and deepest fears.
In his contribution “L’art contemporain de l’Afrique dans le prisme du questionnement identitaire,“ the cultural academic Didier Houénoudé resists the call for a common African identity and culture. Firstly, such an “Africanité” would negate the cultural and artistic diversity of the continent and secondly, it would only serve to segregate Africa from the western world, equated as it still is with modernity and advancement. Such segregation would leave Africa looking backwards at its traditions and myths. Hence Didier Houénoudé puts the case for openness, for an “identity in the making,” which allows African artists to present themselves first and foremost as “contemporary” artists and to continuously ask and answer the question of identity as mirrored by their experiences, personal contact with people and their artistic work.
Finally, the artist and curator Gabi Ngcobo who lives in South Africa discusses in her article “It's Work as Usual: Framing Race, Class and Gender though a South African Lens.” particularly photos. Using chosen works the author depicts the irritation, public discussions and protests which ensued from art projects critically scrutinising the entanglement of race, class and gender in South Africa. Gabi Ngcobo also reflects on her own curatorial work.